Radiation Readings on Cortes Island

Christian Gronau

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

The Electromagnetic SpectrumIn December, I had the loan of the “Gamma-Scout” Geiger counter from the Watershed Sentinel/BC Environmental Network and conducted a casual survey of various locations on Cortes Island in northern Georgia Strait, BC.

No radiation hot-spots were found. There are no indications that the 2011 disaster in Fukushima has had any measurable effect on our local environment. As far as levels of ionizing radiation are concerned, Cortes Island appears safe.

Here is a simplified account of what the “Gamma-Scout” observed: the beach kelp is clean; the forests are quiet; the soils are fine; even the rocks produced almost nothing, which is to say that all tested samples read zero above general background radiation.

The background values I have established are hovering around 50% of what they are in Heidelberg – the place where the instrument was manufactured. Indeed, the Cortes background levels are slightly below global-average. By the safety margins placed on nuclear industry workers and uranium miners by the National Research Council of Canada, Cortes Island is exposed to only 1.4% of the allowable dose. (Global average is 1.74%.)

The topic of radiation is fraught with hazards: it is complex to the point of being confusing (the jumble of measurement units alone – Roentgen, Curie, Becquerel, Gray, Rad, Rem, Sievert – is enough to make even the experts cringe). It certainly doesn’t help that the term “radiation” encompasses widely-differing phenomena, from the warm glow of your fireplace to the radioactive blast of a nuclear explosion.

The distantly-related concerns about non-ionizing radiation coming from Smartmeters have been brought to my attention. It seems somewhat silly to worry  about single Watt microwave bursts, a few times per day, from a power pole usually many yards away, while sitting in a home office with WiFi routers, remote controls and cell phones cluttering the place  (and maybe a microwave oven in the kitchen). As far as Fukushima is concerned, the danger is far from over: were another major earthquake to strike now, the consequences for Japan could be truly catastrophic – but it would take some extraordinary circumstances to affect the North American west coast in any major way. For the time being at least, we have little to fear.

Some places on this planet have very high natural radiation levels, without any apparent negative health consequences to the resident population. Finland, for instance, receives 10 times the amount Cortes Island gets.

Life evolved and adapted on this planet to the constant and inescapable bombardment by cosmic and terrestrial radiation. There are indications that natural background radiation is of some benefit to the immune systems of living organisms, by activating and exercising cellular and gene-repair mechanisms. We are more deeply connected to the universe than we may think.


Christian Gronau studied palaeontology and geology in Germany. He and his wife live on Cortes Island.

Friends of Cortes Island has purchased a “Gamma-Scout” and will be monitoring any impact the aquatic Fukushima plume might have on west coast waters.


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