Traces of Fukushima Radiation Found in California Wines
Experts say levels are too low to pose a danger to human health
A group of scientists have detected traces of radioactive material from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in bottles of wine made in California at levels higher than before the power plant exploded and melted down.
Years after the disaster, a group of French nuclear physicists set out to determine whether the nuclear isotope cesium-137 was more present in wines produced after the Fukushima meltdown than before the disaster. To find out, they tested bottles of rosé and Cabernet sauvignon that were made from 2009 to 2012.
The result: Some wines made after 2011 contained twice as much cesium-137.
After the Fukushima Daiichi power plant went into meltdown following a massive earthquake and tsunami, a radioactive cloud was released that eventually crossed the Pacific Ocean to California, so the team wondered if wines made in the Napa Valley region of the state would contain higher levels of cesium-137.
The researchers first used a gamma detector to figure out what radioactive particles were inside the wine bottles without opening them. When that failed, they used a “destructive analysis” to vaporize the wine into ashes.
Significantly higher levels of radioactive material were found in wines made post-2011. The cabernet tested by the team contained twice as much cesium-137 as bottles of the beverage made before the disaster.
After the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 in the Ukraine, wines made in various regions of Europe also contained higher amounts of cesium-137.
The EPA Says the Levels of Cesium-137 are Safe
According to both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the researchers, levels of cesium-137 contamination found in the wines are so low that there is no risk in drinking them. 
Study co-author and CNRS physicist Michael Pravikoff said:
“These levels are so low, way below the natural radioactivity that’s everywhere in the world.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) also states that foods and beverages made outside of Japan that contain traces of cesium-137 are safe for consumption, though at higher levels, the isotope increases the risk of cancer.
In nature, cesium-137 may be present in contaminated soils or waste, but a person is more likely to come into contact with the isotope at hospitals and research facilities, where it is found in low levels, according to the EPA. 
More than 50 years ago, at the height of U.S. nuclear weapons testing, wines contained significantly higher concentrations of radioactive material than what researchers detected in the Napa Valley wines. Toward the end of the 1950’s, nuclear contamination levels dropped in wines, but shot back up again in the 1960’s during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Levels once again fell dramatically in the years following the 13-day confrontation.
Cause for Concern
Drinking a glass of Napa Valley wine won’t make you glow green or worse, but it’s hard to determine just how concerned Americans should be about radiation from Fukushima.
Days after the explosion and subsequent meltdown, a government expert stated that the Fukushima fallout in California was “a thousand times greater than we expected,” yet the remark – and the explanation behind it – was not widely publicized. In fact, few people heard it at all.
The latest study only looked at wines made in California from 2009-2012. Could newer wines contain even more contamination?
In 2017, TEPCO, the company that owns Fukushima, announced a plan to dump 580 barrels of water contaminated with tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, into the Pacific Ocean. That’s a whopping 77,000 tons of nuclear waste.
According to an April 2018 Wired article, the crippled plant is still home to more than 1 million tons of waste and TEPCO is struggling to figure out what to do with it.
Radioactive waste from Fukushima will likely be a problem for many generations to come.
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.