The March 11, 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant attracted thousands of reporters and photographers from around the world, but most have since gone home hoping to forget about the indelible and poisonous stain left on the town of Okuma, Japan and it’s rural residents.
Some European countries have decided to phase out nuclear programs entirely. In other countries, nuclear plans are proceeding with caution. In the US even the reactor which some experts refer to as America’s most Dangerous nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon - a plant built directly over a dangerous fault line – continues to operate near full capacity despite it’s recent difficulty combatting a much smaller problem… simple jellyfish. Even unregulated nuclear plants continue to exist.
Could the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima prove to be a cataclysmic event? More importantly, why should us mariners care?
Because we are drinking the water.
The problem is that nuclear fallout is being detected in most of the Pacific, even along the distant shores of America’s coast line. A source tells gCaptain that radiation has been detected in most of the Pacific kelp and some fish oil samples scientists have tested and Cal State Long Beach tells us that radioactive isotope iodine 131 was indeed present in California kelp as soon as a month after the tsunami.
Their findings appear in an article, “Canopy-Forming Kelps as California’s Coastal Dosimeter” in the online edition of the journal of Environmental Science & Technology.
Rainstorms contributed to depositing the airborne contaminants into the ocean, said Professor Steven Manley, an expert in marine algae and kelp.
“We measured significant, although most likely non-harmful levels of radioactive iodine in tissue of the giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera. Although we measured iodine 131 because we were limited in what our instrumentation allows us to do, the big question was, is another major isotope that came over in the cloud, cesium 137, present in the kelp, too? It has a half-life of 30 years, where iodine 131 has a half-life of eight days,” so cesium may still be present.
If fallout is present in kelp, it’s also likely to be present in the freshwater produced aboard ships and in the seafood caught by Pacific fishermen.
Rainwater may not be the only problem.
The continued release of contaminants coupled with the natural currents of the Pacific ocean might soon become a greater risk. After being used to cool the reactors, water taken from the Pacific ocean contains massive amounts of radioactive substances and is put into the water-processing facility so it can be recycled and reused. But on March 26th, 2012 TEPCO announced that approximately 120 tons of this coolant water leaked from a contaminated treatment pipe, forcing them to halt operations at the treatment facility. This was the second time in two weeks that contaminated water leaked from the nuclear power plant.
In an interview conducted by the Asia Pacific Journal, a Japanese nuclear worker told reporters:
“Everyone there knows that the amount of water is huge but does not speak about it. Anyone who works there understands that nothing can be done except to leak the water! The contamination will spread all over the world, reaching to Kamchatka, Hawaii and the U.S. soon.” Toward the end of the interview he added, “You know, in Japan, there is ‘honne’ (honest feeling) and ‘tatemae‘ (polite-face). “Our tatemae is that we are doing our utmost to stop the leakage of contamination, and our honnne is that we are dumping massive amounts of contaminated water into the ocean.”
According to Hiroaki Koide, a Nuclear Reactor Specialist and Assistant Professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, “Now, even taking low estimate the amount of cesium-137 that is contained in the [No. 4] spent fuel pool, it’s roughly 5,000 times the amount of cs-137 released during the Hiroshima bombing.” and that worries us.
But it’s not just kelp that is effected, the entire food chain may be contaminated. According to Nicholas Fisher, a researcher at Stony Brook University and author of a new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the results are startling.
According to Fisher’s research, which included testing of Pacific bluefin that were caught off the coast of San Diego last year, levels of radioactive cesium were 10 times higher than previous amounts measured in tuna off the California coast, the result of radioactive cesium absorbed by the tuna swimming through contaminated waters and feeding on contaminated prey such as krill and squid.
Scientists admit that the research is not conclusive and the levels of radiation where lower among eastern Pacific yellowfin tuna, a species that does not migrate to the distant waters of Japan, but more tests are needed and the real test of how radioactivity pacific marine life will suffer comes this summer when researchers planned to repeat the study with a larger number of fish.
For a solution we need the government to monitor the levels of radiation in the water from which mariners drink and fish, then we need to consider the long-term viability of Diablo Canyon and the rest of America’s aging power plants.