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SSCA Clean Wake Project: Monitoring Radiation in the Pacific

By Sue Richards last modified Jun 20, 2012 01:19 PM

Published: 2012-06-20 13:19:04
Topics: Environment
Countries: Canada , Federated States of Micronesia , Guam , Hawaii , Japan , Kiribati , Marshall Islands , Northern Marianas , Palau (Belau) , USA


The SSCA Clean Wake project for Tsumani Debris and Radiation, is getting in data. So far lots of plastic-sacks, fishing line, some submerged items but no trigger of the RADTriage Badges.

Participating boats include one on passage from the Marshalls to Hawaii, another from the Marshalls to Alaska, a third heading from the Solomons west though Micronesia. One boat is still in Fiji and we have one land based radiation sticker in Guam. Other boats taking part are waiting for the cyclone season to slow down.

In addition, SSCA is collaborating with data for NOAA as part of NOAA Marine Debris efforts. Of great interest is the addition of a scientific boat taking the NW Passage and Gulf of Alaska route in 2013. That gives more time and information on an area mostly ignored by cruisers.


Project Background

In March 2011, Japan's Fukushima nuclear plants were damaged by earthquake and tsunami. Four nuclear reactors suffered severe damage, explosive events and core melting. Radioactivity was released into the air, onto land and into the sea. Ongoing problems at the plants have resulted in continued contamination of the region. The exposure that cruisers might be subjected to as the result of this contamination is not known.

The SSCA discovered that no systematic monitoring of radiation has been done in the Pacific since this event. This concerns cruisers who will transit through these waters, who collect and use materials from the sea (such as fish or shellfish), who obtain water via reverse osmosis of seawater or by catching rainwater and who experience tsunami debris. Boats may discover large tsunami debris fields, fields reported to be spreading across the Pacific. This debris has already been discovered on December 15, 2011 east of Midway Islands, and was reported landing in British Columbia, Canada, December 16, 2011. The Canadian media reports the public should take care in regards to what is in the debris (remains, radiation, etc.) and to utilize a dosimeter when in contact with items. The same is assumed for boats on passage or in harbor.

The SSCA Clean Wake Project

Because there is no easy way for cruisers to monitor their exposure to radiation, the SSCA Clean Wake Project was started. Following discussions with several SSCA members in the Pacific, it was clear that they too were concerned with radiation exposure and wanted a simple way to monitor this.

In June 2011, after some research on possible systems, a RADSticker (a small stamp with chemical indicators that records and warns of exposure) was identified which could at least offer an “early warning system“ for cruisers in the affected areas of the Pacific. The stickers were small, were designed for use by early responders in nuclear events, and were suitable for shipping via UPS regular mail in a standard envelope.

Various SSCA vessels and contacts in Australia and Hawaii were sent these stickers as a test. When tested in the Marshall Islands the SSCA were able to detect some radiation when the vessel visited one former atomic test site. A number of SSCA vessels now have RADStickers and are documenting any debris they come across and any indications of radiation.

The SSCA Clean Wake (Radiation) project will continue for the next cruising year. At that time the SSCA PM (SV Carina, and SV Growltiger) for the project will assess the findings to determine what results have occurred. If it seems reasonable, the project will continue with the following year's boats. NOAA have indicated a strong desire to work with the SSCA on this project as a way to ID debris/location. Once a determination is made of scope (# of emails) then the SSCA can make more plans to assist NOAA in information gathering if it seems to be useful.

How you can get involved

In order to open up this monitoring to a wider group of cruisers, the SSCA are keen for non-members to get involved. For boats wanting to join the project, e-mail SY Growltiger ([email protected]) to register your interest and report on any debris experienced so far whilst in the Pacific.

Those interested in participating in the project can get a RADSticker easily from Amazon (see below). Information sent to the SSCA needs to have the boat name, contact information for the Captain of the boat, debris information, and the Lat/Long/DTG of the observation. The email address will be used only for reporting, and will be removed at the end of this cruising year.

All vessels who have submitted information will be acknowledged, and provided with a final report for the 2012/2013 sailing season.


For those wanting to obtain the RADStickers (Radiation Badges) used by SSCA, has them available for private purchase( at approx. US$30 each. Boats are responsible for obtaining their own badges at this time.

Should a badge trigger, it will be the decision of the captain on each boat as to what procedure to follow, such as backtracking to a known safer location from intelligence provided by other boats or from ship’s logs. Immediate contact (if possible) is to be made to s/v Growltiger. Use of marine and amateur HF Radio Nets, in addition to email, could also be used to keep boats in contact with others. When possible, a digital photograph of the badge should be made to determine the level, if any, of radiation exposure.

It is hoped the badges will alleviate some fears that radioactive contamination might be affecting cruisers in the Pacific, while offering a simple verification.

Final Note

The goal is to ensure boats are able to stay out of danger areas (if they exist). The SSCA hope that their findings are that cruisers are not affected by these radiation releases, but their monitoring will provide a degree of security not currently available. The most dangerous scenario is ignorance.