Wine

Your favorite California wine may contain radioactive particles — from Japan

French researchers found that California wines may contain trace amounts of radioactive particles as a result of the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan in 2011.
French researchers found that California wines may contain trace amounts of radioactive particles as a result of the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan in 2011. McClatchy Newspapers

If your favorite California red wine was made anytime after 2011, it may contain trace amounts of radioactive particles — from a nuclear disaster in Japan.

In a recent study, French nuclear physicists reported that they tested 18 bottles of rosé and cabernet sauvignon from the years 2009 to 2012 and found radioactive traces from the disaster, according to the study and The New York Times.

The researchers hoped to see whether they could find more particles of cesium-137, a radioactive isotope, in the wines made after the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan melted down in 2011. Researchers were interested to see if results paralleled what happened in Europe after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant melted down in 1986 — when researchers found elevated levels of cesium-137 in French wines.

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Researchers first tried to detect radioactive particles by using a gamma detector, without opening the bottles, according to the study. They couldn’t detect any cesium-137 that way, so they opened the bottles and conducted a “destructive analysis,” in which the wine was vaporized to ashes.

When researchers conducted that analysis, they found twice as much cesium-137 in wines from after 2011, compared to before.

The levels of contamination in bottles of rosé were lower than in red wines, which also happened in French wines tested after Chernobyl, according to the study.

However, the contamination level was still “extremely low.”

The California Department of Public Health said in a statement to The New York Times on Friday that “there were no health and safety concerns to California residents.”

Philippe Hubert, a pharmacologist who helped conduct the study, invented this method of testing wines for radioactive particles to find out whether rare vintage wines were frauds — not for safety reasons, according to SFGate.

French wines purporting to be produced before 1952 shouldn’t have any traces of cesium-137 because they would pre-date nuclear tests and nuclear explosions, SFGate reported.

Michael Pravikoff, a French physicist who worked on the study, told The New York Times that he was shopping at grocery store two years ago when he found some bottles of cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley, produced after Fukushima, that inspired him to test the wines for radioactive particles.

“It is more for the pure scientific aspect that we were interested in measuring them,” he told the newspaper. “These levels are so low, way below the natural radioactivity that’s everywhere in the world.”

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