In 1990, Norm Buske was expelled from France for collecting plankton at the Mururoa atoll, an underwater nuclear-bomb test site.
That same year he sent the governor of Washington a jar of radioactive mulberry jam made from fruit picked near the Hanford nuclear reservation.
On Tuesday, this researcher with a flair for the dramatic goes on trial in U.S. District Court on a charge of criminal trespass for swimming into a restricted area of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on Sept. 11.
It wasn’t the first time Buske had put on a wet suit and breached the security zone to test kelp and seaweed for radiation, which he contends could leak from the nuclear-propelled engines used by the Navy.
Buske has twice published reports contending that he detected low levels of radiation at the Bremerton shipyard, 12 miles west of Seattle.
The Navy, which has its own monitoring program, contends it has never spilled any measurable radioactive material in the waters around the shipyard, a repair facility for ships and submarines.
Late last year, a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Health and the Navy detected very low levels of radioactive Iodine-131 in shipyard waters.
Iodine-131 is a product of nuclear fission that has been linked to cancer.
The source has not been determined, but it could be a nearby sewer pipe, which carries trace amounts of radioactive material from a hospital. The amount detected was so small that it wasn’t harmful, the study said.
Buske contends the Navy’s been caught with egg on its face even if the trace radiation comes from the sewer.
“All along the Navy has said, ‘Trust us, we’re monitoring ourselves, and we’re not finding anything.’ Now we find radioactivity right in the middle of the shipyard,” Buske said.
“Why didn’t they find it? It shows us either the Navy’s self-monitoring is no good, or they’re not telling us everything.”
The Navy did not detect the radioactive iodine in the shipyard waters because the concentrations are below “any legitimate concern for health and safety or environment,” said Navy spokesman John Gordon.
Buske was arrested when he swam into the shipyard last fall. If convicted of trespass, he could face six months in jail and a $500 fine.