Fukushima & Our Oceans – Part 2

Written by on December 10, 2013 in Other News, Physical Oceanography

Editor’s note — Kristen Spruill is a graduate from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology and a frequent contributor to MST. The following article is the second part of an overview of the current science, news and reports about the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Click here for Part 1.

Fukushima & Our Oceans – Part 2
By Kristen Spruill

Are Our Oceans Safe?

Only until recently, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has been denying that any contaminated water has been leaking into the ocean. Prior to Tepco admitting the leak, other independent studies had been reporting increasing radiation levels in the ocean.

“The delayed announcements underscored the criticisms the company has faced over the Fukushima crisis. TEPCO has been repeatedly blamed for overlooking early signs, and covering up or delaying the disclosure of problems and mishaps.” (Source)

How long has contaminated water been leaking into the ocean? Shunichi Tanaka, head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has reported that water has probably been leaking since the earthquake/tsunami back in March of 2011.

Here you can see two types of above-ground water storage tanks.

An IAEA team visited the site in April 2013 as part of a mission to review Japan’s plans to decommission the facility. Here you can see two types of above-ground water storage tanks. Photo credit: IAEA Imagebank via photopin cc.

With nuclear waste leaking from Fukushima for almost three years, and with no solid possibility of it stopping it anytime soon, information about how it is affecting our oceans has been varied, and unreliable. Various news media outlets, scientists, and experts are commenting on the effects the leak is having on our oceanic ecosystem:

  • A study is reporting “unequivocal evidence that the Pacific bluefin tuna, Thunnus orientalis, transported Fukushima-derived radionuclides across the entire North Pacific Ocean.”
  • Recently, of greater concern is the increasing quantity of strontium-90 that is being detected in the waters off Fukushima. Strontium-90 mimics calcium and is deposited in the bones. In relation to fish, this should be more of a problem for sardines that are eaten bone-in.
  • The primary worry from scientists at the University of Alaska is the lack of a monitoring plan to provide baseline data to better understand the overall environmental picture. “The general concern was, is the food supply safe? And I don’t think anyone can really answer that definitively.”
  • In October, the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe visited the port of Soma in Fukushima where fishermen have resumed catches. The Minister ate octopus and assured the country that “fishery products from Fukushima are good and safe”
  • Researchers emphasize that environmental levels of radiation outside the 20-kilometre evacuation zone around the power plant are currently far below levels that warrant concerns about human health. The greatest threat to human health from the disaster is consuming contaminated food and drink.
  • What about contaminated seafood? Ken Buesseler believes the risk is confined to local fish that live on or near the seafloor where radioactive material settles.
  • Scientists are struggling to find an answer to the recent ‘sea star wasting disease’ that is ravaging starfish all along the west coast. The melting starfish are raising concerns about the source of the disease. Many are suggesting that it is a result of radiation, but that has not be confirmed.

Overall, the information regarding the health of our oceanic ecosystem is widespread and diverse.

Pacific bluefin tuna, Thunnus orientalis.

Pacific bluefin tuna, Thunnus orientalis. Photo credit: tomosuke214 via photopin cc.

The Future?

Time is critical. The circulation of misleading, confusing, and distorted information is inhibiting the public from making informed decisions. It is imperative that the continuous leak of radionuclides into our ocean is addressed, so that cleanup and restoration work can begin.

An interesting article by Robert Cringely highlights a majority of the political issues surrounding the Fukushima disaster. One of many eye opening lines:

To review, there is a 90 percent chance of a large earthquake in the minimum three years required to remove just the most unstable part of the fuel load at Fukushima Daiichi. The probability of a large earthquake in the 10+ years required to completely defuel the plant is virtually 100 percent. If a big earthquake happens before that fuel is gone there will be global environmental catastrophe with many deaths.

Something a little closer to home that should be kept in mind:

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates the operation of 100 commercial nuclear power reactors that generate electricity. 76% of the nuclear power plants are located east of the Mississippi. Only two facilities have been in operation between 10-19 years; the rest of the facilities have been in operation 20+ years. Fukushima’s power plant was commissioned in 1971.

Click here to see the complete list of sources.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

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