Scientists predict future radiation danger at Amchitka site

Posted: Wednesday, August 03, 2005

ANCHORAGE - A study of plants and animals in the waters around Amchitka Island last summer found no sign of seepage from underground atomic tests conducted there more than three decades ago, according to a new study.

But radionuclides left from the atomic blasts will eventually start leaking from Amchitka and remain dangerous for thousands of years, according to the report released Monday.

Amchitka, located 1,340 miles southwest of Anchorage, was the site of three underground nuclear tests conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission from 1965 to 1971, including the largest underground test by the United States.

The island is uninhabited, but has supported military installations since the testing program ended and is occasionally used by subsistence hunters and fishermen.

The researchers do not know when the seeping will begin and have found subsistence foods and fish harvested by commercial fishermen are currently safe for human consumption, said Charles Powers, head of the project and a professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey.

The scientists advocate a long-term sampling program for the nuclear leftovers.

"We think one of the real challenges is to remember that it's going to take a long time for that stuff to (decay)," Powers said. "It is eventually going to come out."

Powers and a team of scientists working through the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation, or CRESP, spent about six weeks on and around Amchitka last summer. They collected biological samples from more than 20 species and geophysical samples from ocean sediments.

Joanna Burger, lead biological researcher from Rutgers University, sampled species including kelp and algae, sea urchins, halibut, cod and other fish, and puffins and eagles. She also questioned Aleut hunters and fishermen.



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