Saturday, February 15, 2014

Fukushima and the Danger it Doesn’t Present to the U.S.

Even if you’ve lived under a rock for the last few years, it’s unlikely that you haven’t heard of the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Plant Disaster, when an earthquake and tsunami duo caused the three main reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to meltdown within three days. It’s also no secret that Japan is still trying to control and clean up the mess three years later—but with debris, temporary unstable water storage, and patchwork leaks, they’re having a difficult go of it. And if you’ve been on the internet, you’ve seen at least one social media post predicting the end of our days because of the radiation leaks into the Pacific Ocean.
So, if there’s radiation headed our way by ocean current, doesn’t this mean we’re doomed?!
The answer is a pleasant, “No, we’re not doomed…we’re not really even affected.” It’s true that since the meltdown, amounts of radiation contaminated water have been leaking into the ocean, but, despite what fear-mongers would have you believe, in such a vast solute as the Pacific radiation is diluted to an insignificant amount by the time it reaches our coasts. Admittedly the levels are traceable, but scientists such as Nicholas Fisher and other local West Coast governments assure that the concentrations are so low we’re exposed to higher concentrations from naturally occurring sources, like bananas.
Other biologists, including Steven Manley, are quelling the people’s fears by starting Kelp Watch 2014. In the next year, biologists up and down the West Coast will be sampling coastline kelp for radiation deposits, since they’re sponge like and soak up particles in their environment. Manley admits, that it’s “mostly because the public is freaked out by all this talk of radioactivity” and if they could “see the numbers and a commentary as to what they mean, hopefully that’ll put them at ease.” Do he and his colleagues expect to find anything significant? No, but they’re hoping the bare facts will control the doomsday beliefs.
Marine scientists, including Fisher, have already calculated the exposure rate on the coast, saying it’s roughly a tenth of our average daily dose here in the U.S. Where the worry lies, in the end, is in Japan where all the radiation is at its highest levels and undiluted by the sea.


  1. Glad to see that you were finding the same information on the spread of the radiation from Fukushima that we did in marine biology. Here is a YouTube video also describing the radiation in the water:

  2. That's a terrific WHOI video, cnix. I particularly liked the specifics about isotope chemistry and how different types of pollutants "behave" in the ocean.

    All the research I've heard about shows that it's really the people around Fukishima, including food producers, that are dealing with the harshest consequences of the accident. It will be interesting to learn what the Japanese decide about continuing use of nuclear power, given this experience and how it may affect perception of risk/benefit. This NPR report says that the Japanese population is "highly divided on the issue (of continuing to) rely on nuclear power."