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California Wine Shows Traces of Fukushima Fallout

by Meilan Solly Smithsonian.com from 2018

The aftershocks of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster are still being felt to this day: Although the Japanese government has lifted eviction orders for the more than 100,000 individuals evacuated during the power plant’s meltdown, many are reluctant to return home, citing concerns over radiation, ongoing dismantling of the nuclear power plant and radioactive wild boars that roam the region’s abandoned streets. Across the Pacific Ocean, Fukushima’s fallout is also apparent, albeit in a wholly surprising source—northern California wines, from rosé to cabernet sauvignon.

Last January, researchers at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, or CNRS, chanced upon a series of California wines dating between 2009 and 2012. Inspired by similar tests conducted in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the French team decided to analyze the California wines for traces of radioactive particles, specifically cesium-137, a man-made isotope.

Their findings, newly published in the pre-print online journal Arxiv, suggest that currents and atmospheric patterns carried radioactive particles across the Pacific, where they settled on grapevines growing in California’s wine regions. The team writes that bottles produced following the nuclear meltdown contain increased levels of cesium-137, with the cabernet revealing double the amount of pre-Fukushima radiation.

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