Fukushima Radiation Now Extends through the Pacific Ocean

Ed. Note: Some of the information contained in this story is not verifiable. Author RP Siegel has penned an updated article, available here. 

 

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Some rather disturbing news came out this weekend about the impact of the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima. While the incident took place five years ago and is no longer in the news, that does not mean it has been resolved. A recent report claims radioactive contamination from the accident has now spread across the entire Pacific Ocean, the massive body of water that covers nearly a third of Earth’s surface. Scientists now say the Pacific is at least five to 10 times more radioactive than it was when the U.S. began testing nuclear weapons there. Western Canada experienced levels of radioactive iodine-131 that were 300 times higher than normal background levels since the accident. Pacific herring have been found bleeding from their mouths, gills and eyes.

As the contamination made its way across the water, Oregon tuna were found in 2013 with radiation levels triple their previous levels. Starfish began dying off. The following year, California beaches recorded radiation levels that had increased by 500 percent.

As bad as that sounds, it gets worse. Remember the Deepwater Horizon oil spill? The broken pipe from the well gushed out roughly 2.4 million gallons of toxic crude into the Gulf of Mexico each day, posing a potentially lethal threat to the Gulf itself. There was a profound sense of relief around the world when the well was finally capped after 87 days.

But five years after the meltdown, radioactive waste is still pouring forth from the ruins of the Fukushima plant. Not just a little, but rather an estimated 300 tons of radioactive waste continues to spew into the ocean every day. The site, between the radioactivity and the heat, is still far too dangerous for humans or even robots to approach in an effort to try and contain the leaking cooling water that must continue to be circulated over the failed reactors, to prevent a catastrophic further meltdown.

TEPCO, the public utility that owns and is responsible for the plant, submitted a plan for decommissioning the facility, which includes dismantling the buildings, removing the fuel rods, and freezing the ground surrounding the facility to impede the flow of water. The company submits progress reports on a monthly basis to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

There are a couple of caveats here. First, TEPCO and the Japanese government have been less than forthcoming about the entire episode — denying, for example, that a meltdown had actually occurred until two months after the fact. Misinformation is widespread. There are a lot of websites, either spouting complete hysteria on one hand, or other sites, such as this one, that claim that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. They don’t deny that the radiation has spread as described above, but rather they maintain that the levels being measured are not yet harmful.

If you’re comfortable with that and feel ready to go ahead and start building more nuclear plants, as apparently the U.K. is, I’d think about that carefully. The U.K. is considering the deployment of dozens of small modular reactors (SMRs) that could be in place as soon as 2030. There are several of these planned in the U.S. as well. These new designs are expected to be considerably safer than previous plants, but then again, the previous generation were supposed to be virtually foolproof. But making them smaller would be a good idea, since that would likely limit the level of damage in the case of an accident.

Plenty of analysis shows that renewables, when paired with storage and a smart grid, will provide nearly all, if not 100 percent, of our electrical energy requirements. At the same time, it has been clearly demonstrated that all forms of highly concentrated energy, be it fossil fuels or nuclear, bear considerable downside risks. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Japan started to reverse the trend, which was moving away from renewables until 2012. There will likely continue to be some legitimate need for new conventional sources as economies transition, but we need to be careful to maintain absolute priority for clean, safe, renewable power before approving any additional nuclear, coal, or even natural gas plants, to be sure that these are not just the most expedient, or the most profitable for those that have the ear of whoever is watching the henhouse.

Image credit: IAEA Imagebank: Flickr Creative Commons

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RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com

14 responses

  1. You are admitting this is only an opinion and no scientific fact basis exists. Yet this is published as a scientific news article by Yahoo. EVERYONE should know this. THIS ARTICLE IS AN OPINION – – NOT NEWS!!!!!!!

    1. It is NOT an opinion. Do your research! Starfish are disintegrating on the Pacific Northwest shores and fish are being caught covered in tumors. You are a moron if you think that amount of radioactive material will be just absorbed by the sea. Look at Chernobyl. That area is not only still a hot zone, the animals are radioactive from eating the vegetation there. Get your head out of your backside!

      1. There is a difference between correlation and causality. In order to tie the purported tumors to radiation, you need to show that radiation causes the types of tumors reported, and that there is no other significant cause for said tumors. You would also need to show that the incidence of such tumors changed significantly after the accident. My thought is that if anyone has a problem with ICD-10-CM Diagnosis Code T18.5, it might be waters.

      2. The cause of the starfish die-offs is believed to be a virus. If the timing is not a coincidence, I’m wondering why it did not occur in a wider variety of species that are about equally susceptible to radiation. Fortunately, Homo sapiens isn’t one of them: I live on the West Coast of the US, and have not seen anyone modify their lifestyle in any way.

      3. We should hope that no one ever uses nuclear weapons again, and should help cities recover from their use…

        But look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki – they are prosperous, busy cities today.

  2. First we cannot minimize the impact of the disaster at Fukushima, and the mistakes of TEPCO. Still, we must add this article to the list of hysterically exaggerated articles mentioned in paragraph 6. Exaggerated articles like this allow skeptics to point out hyperbole and so diminish the reaction to accidents, so this article does not help us recover!

    The author hysterically mentions Pacific herring bleeding from their mouth, gills, and eyes. But where is this reported and where is their any evidence that it has anything to do with radiation? The Pacific is unfortunately contaminated with oil spills, waste from the land, waste from ships. We need to find sources of this and stop them, it distracts us when we chase “red herrings” (yes, some humor here) like this. The author hysterically claims that the entire Pacific is contaminated by radiation – does this mean that people in San Diego cannot go swimming in the ocean? The author hysterically claims that robots cannot approach Fukushima and yet there are robots (and people) working there every day. The author hysterically works in a mention of nuclear testing as if it has any similarity to nuclear power.

    I will certainly know to avoid future “articles” from Mr Siegel since he evidently has lots of time to type but little time to do research.

    We should remember that many thousands of people were killed by the tsunami, we will probably never know how many since entire villages were swept out to sea. Does anyone advocate moving all villages inland? No. How many people were killed by the Fukushima reactors? None? Not even one?

  3. I think that by now it’s clear that using nuclear energy is like playing with fire (or giving a loaded gun to a child). Eventually, disaster WILL strike. It makes absolutely no sense to put ourselves and the planet at such risk. Other technologies need to be sought out/developed and perfected, safer technologies.

    1. There were 49 immediate deaths at Chernobyl from a combination of acute radiation sickness, trauma, thyroid cancer, and helicopter crash. It is estimated that there will ultimately be a total (over 50 years) of roughly 4000 premature deaths stemming from that accident. On the other hand, there are roughly 13,000 premature deaths ANNUALLY in the US that stem from coal-fired power plants in the US.

      Burning coal for generating electricity is literally playing with fire. By comparison, nuclear energy is very, very clean.

    2. Are you willing to NOT use energy (not drive your car, not use air conditioning, not cook your food) until these new technologies are developed, proven, and deployed??

      Petroleum, coal, and other power sources also have significant problems. When you are ready to stop using power please let us know.

  4. It has been 2034 days since the Fukushima accident. The only isotope mentioned in the article is I-131. The half life of I-131 is 8.02 days. This tells us that there have 253.6 half lives for the I-131. There is only 4.55 e-77 of the original amount of I-131 remaining from that disaster. In other words, the I-131 hasn’t been a problem for a very, very long time. Of course, other isotopes were released, but except for Cs-137 and Sr-90, most of the other highly radioactive fission products will have decayed to nothing. The citation of Pacific herring bleeding is literally a red herring. There is zero (repeat, 0) likelihood that such effects on fish can be due to radioactive sources at this date. This article is ignorance and hyperbole of the worst kind.

  5. If anyone who reads this has any pull “up on high” please pass along,
    After 5 years this is the proverbial Elephant in the Room that everyone is pretending that they cannot see.
    Since the reactor(s) are too hot to get near for humans or remote controlled/robotic equipment.
    Here is a possible solution: JDAM(s) tipped with a low yield nuclear warhead(s). Yes, it will be awkward posing this solution to the world (and the Japanese especially) considering history. However, it will burn the remainder of the existing nuclear fuel that is poisoning an indeterminate amount of water every day that is being dumped into the Pacific Ocean.

  6. If we created a diabolically super strong magnetic field that is able to stretch across far reaches like maybe multiple ones that are each like a tall building in size then in theory it may act as to emit the radiation away from the earth and water just as the earth’s magnetic field would protect us from the sun??

  7. Everybody knows that GE is to blame as the corporate citizen behind the approximately 300 tons per day entering the Pacific. Right? Wrong? You mean corporate media has successfully covered it up?

    How about these long standing questions that have never been answered about the alleged “accident” (asked the week of the event)

    GE (yes, General Electric) doesn’t want you to know that Fukushima Radiation Has Contaminated The Entire Pacific Ocean (And It’s Going To Get Worse)

    The nuclear disaster has contaminated the world’s largest ocean in only five years and it’s still leaking 300 tons of radioactive waste every day.

    Here’s what the government didn’t want to answer in 2011 and will never answer.

    1. If we are bringing in fresh water by barge (after 2 weeks of oxygenated corrosive salt water) why can’t they use similar barges to temporarily store radioactive water they are pumping into the ocean?

    2. Why did they wait to run a mile long power cable instead of accepting two offers from our military ships to provide the electricity to keep the pumps running? Or, they could have airlifted portable generators (2MEGAWATT), tied them in parallel, and provided power to avoid the partial melt downs and explosions?

    3. Have any ballistic forensic teams investigated the 3 explosions to verify they were hydrogen? (standard due diligence in ANY explosion of this importance)

    4. Why can’t they get protective gear for their workers from SOMEWHERE on the planet? They are using Tyvek® suits that aren’t even thick enough for mold remediation.

    5. How does TEPCO’s lack of profitability factor into this?

    6. The site stored all of Japan’s spent nuclear fuel. What happened to it? Is it safe? Did it conveniently “blow up”?

    7. Why does TEPCO criticize their employees for not wearing proper footwear and taking a bad reading when the finger points back to TEPCO?

    8. Why did the media stop reporting on the play by play the minute TEPCO finally accepted our offer to bring in fresh water 2 weeks into this? Did the US media-machine have a “sit down” with the less savvy executives?

    9. What did Thursday’s (4/7) massive earthquake do to containment efforts? You say it’s okay, but why are there NO more reports. NO more readings. It’s all okay while you said another meltdown was inevitable?

    Instead of answering these damning questions, Obama’s EPA raised the bar on the acceptable level they say the population can absorb safely:

    A nearly 1000-fold increase for exposure to strontium-90;

    A 3000 to 100,000-fold hike for exposure to iodine-131; and

    An almost 25,000 rise for exposure to radioactive nickel-63

    No More Bush/Clinton/Obama! We’re heading for extinction.

    MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.

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