Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, radioactive waste leaked into surrounding areas and contaminated waters and food. Seven years later, traces of the disaster were found half a world away — in California's wine.
A group of French nuclear physicists tested 18 bottles of California's rosé and cabernet sauvignon produced in 2009 and onward and found that the wines produced after the disaster had increased levels of a man-made radioactive particle. Cabernet sauvignon, for example, had double the amount. [Tracking Japan's Tsunami Debris (Infographic)]
They reported their findings in the pre-print online journal Arxiv.
The researchers used two methods to look for traces of a radioactive isotope called cesium-137. The first method was developed about 20 years ago and could detect the particles through the wine bottle, without destroying or opening it. Since the presence of cesium-137 prior to 1952 is impossible (it's a man-made isotope first released into the surroundings by nuclear testing in the mid-20th century), it has proven quite effective for detecting fraud in old vintage wines, according to the study.
For a more accurate detection, the researchers destroyed the wines through heating and reducing them "to ashes," they wrote. They tested for the cesium-137 in those ashes.
Though they did find increased levels of the radioactive waste, experts say there is nothing to worry about, according to The New York Times. There are no "health and safety concerns to California residents," the California Department of Public Health told the Times.
Even in Japan at the core of the meltdown, though over 100,000 people were evacuated from their homes, there have been no deaths or radiation sickness reported so far, according to the World Nuclear Association. Further, most bottles of wine made after 1952 do contain at least a little bit of this nuclear twist.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.