MANOA (HawaiiNewsNow) - A research ship from Hawaii is carrying an international team of scientists. They're studying the impact of radiation releases in the waters off Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The Japanese government and the owner of the power plant started measuring radiation in the ocean 10 days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated the facility. They monitored the water around the reactors up to 19 miles from shore. Now this international project being led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute will build on that research.
The University of Hawaii's research vessel, Ka'imikai-o-Kanaloa, left Yokohama, Japan on June 4 for an important expedition. 17 scientists, including one from Hawaii, are onboard the ship.
"Basically, they'll provide a baseline for where the radioactive material is now at very low concentrations and how it may disperse across the Pacific," said Alexander Shor, associate dean for research at UH Manoa's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.
The researchers are collecting water and biological samples. They're also measuring ocean currents.
"We want to learn how it affects us people, how big of a health risk it is, and second, it's important to learn about the ocean, how currents behave and how they spread radioactive material," explained Henrieta Dulaiova, an assistant professor in UH Manoa's Department of Geology and Geophysics.
"Atmospheric measurements, people know a bit more or can measure more directly, more rapidly. The ocean, the currents, and how they're transported is more complex," said Shor.
Dulaiova will analyze some of the samples in her lab. There are still many questions, but she was quick to offer reassurance about the impact on Hawaii.
"We don't know much, but I think we can confidently say we know enough that we can predict where radioactivity is spreading with the Kuroshio Current, which is the prevailing current that comes from Japan which is not hitting Hawaii directly. It goes toward the north," Dulaiova said.
Dulaiova said she understands people's concerns about radiation, but she doesn't want those fears to be blown out of proportion in areas thousands of miles away from Japan.
"If I didn't know anything about radioactivity, I probably would have stopped fishing just because I don't know so I'd rather play it safe, right? But this basic research is needed to show what's safe and what's not," Dulaiova said.
The 15-day expedition ends in Yokohama, Japan on June 17.