A magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, triggering a massive tsunami. This tsunami caused a cooling system failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, resulting in a nuclear meltdown and leak of radioactive waste that crossed the Pacific Ocean to the U.S. west coast, according to Live Science. Though there were no deaths or instances of radiation sickness from the Fukushima nuclear accident, three employees working at the plant were killed by the earthquake and tsunami.
And there is still fallout from the disaster over seven years later —including traces of radiation in wine produced in California.
A group of French nuclear physicists tested 18 bottles of rosé and cabernet sauvignon produced between 2009 and 2012. After vaporizing the wine, they found twice as much cesium-137 (a radioactive isotope) in cabernet produced after 2011, compared to wine produced prior to the Fukushima accident.
But, what does this mean for us?
Should we panic over traces of Fukushima radiation in California wine?
The World Health Organization notes on their website that radiation levels resulting from the Fukushima accident “measured to date in other countries are far below the level of background radiation that most people are exposed to in every day circumstances and do not present health or transportation safety hazards.”
“We can measure some radioactive level that is much higher than the usual level,” Michael Pravikoff, one of the physicists that worked on the study, told the New York Times. But, the contamination in the wine tested by these physicists was still “extremely low.”
And, wine made around any major nuclear event (like the Chernobyl accident) should show higher levels of cesium-137.
When exposed to large amounts of cesium-137, one might experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, coma and even death (AKA acute radiation syndrome), according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.
However, radiation found in the California wine is not seen as a health hazard. “These levels are so low, way below the natural radioactivity that’s everywhere in the world,” Pravikoff said.
And, in response to this Fukushima radiation study, the California Department of Public Health told the Times that there are no “health and safety concerns to California residents.” The report, a department spokesperson said, “does not change that.”