It’s interesting — but also depressing — how you see the same story arc with major environmental disasters, even different types of pollution, on opposite ends of the world. A major catastrophe is the lead story in the news for several weeks. Dire impacts are predicted, but then the journalists move on and the corporate and government flaks take over, assuring us that everything is back to normal. But the reality is that those severe consequences that were feared in the early days of the story have actually come true. As regular readers know, that is what happened in the case of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf — but it’s also the sad plotline we’re now watching from the 2011 nuclear accident in Japan.
Most of the media moved on from the Fukushima crisis months ago — and yet the actual fallout in some ways may be worse than was predicted when a tsunami swamped the seaside nuclear plant in April 2011. The authorities warned us that any radioactive contamination of seafood in the Pacific waters near the plant would be a minor event that would soon fade away.
For scientists monitoring the effects of last year’s devastating nuclear accident on nearby marine life, one surprising finding stands out: Well over a year after reactor meltdowns released huge amounts of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi plant into the ocean, some fish caught offshore are still showing extremely high levels of radiation.
That must mean the fish are being exposed to a continuing source of radioactive contamination, writes Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in an article to be released Friday in the journal “Science.”
“The fact that many fish are just as contaminated today with [radioactive elements] cesium 134 and 137 as they were more than one year ago implies that cesium is still being released to the food chain,” writes Mr. Buesseler, who has studied data on fish released periodically by Japan’s agricultural ministry.
This wasn’t the result many scientists were expecting.
So how could this be happening? Initial predictions focused on the release of radioactive water directly from the contaminated plant. However, the accident at Fukushima spread contamination on the land outside the plant as well, so one possibility is that contaminated runoff from Japanese streams and rivers is carrying additional cessium 134 and 137 into the Pacific. The experts say the contaminated species tend to be bottom feeders, which would suggest radioactive contamination of the sediment on the sea floor is entering the food chain.
So could this radioactive contamination spread thoughout Pacific seafood, even to our shores? It already is:
Since the early 1950s, scientists have argued about one of the West Coast’s most popular fish — albacore tuna.
Are the silvery streaks that tempt thousands of anglers each year part of one family of highly migratory fish? Or are there really two groups of speedy tuna, each traveling a different route around the sea?
Now this half-century-old argument could be clarified by a disturbing new pollutant: radioactive isotopes from Tokyo’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Oregon State University researchers and federal scientists are finding exceedingly tiny amounts of radioactive cesium in albacore caught off the coast of Washington and Oregon. And it’s clear the radionuclide originated with the nuclear accident that followed the deadly tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011.
The scientists are remarkably blase about this discovery. I think it’s a cause for significant concern — one more sign that radiation pollution from Fukushima is worse than the authorities are telling us, and is in fact an ongoing situation that we’ll need to be monitoring for years. That means that public health officials — not just in Japan but here in North America — really need to re-double their testing programs to guarantee that the seafood we’re eating is safe to eat. The story from the Wall Street Journal about the ongoing discovery of radioactive fish includes the usual mush from the Japanese utility Tepco claiming that radioactive levels are declining in the ocean and in the seabed. But when it comes to Fukushima, we should trust less, and verify more.
To find out more fom the Wall Street Journal about contaminated seafood discoveries in the waters near Fukushima, please read: http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2012/10/26/fukushima-watch-the-riddle-of-the-radioactive-fish/
To learn about the discovery of radioactive cessium in albacore tuna off the U.S. West Coast, please read: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2019542474_tunaradiation28m.html
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