Water Pollution from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant

Introduction

The March 11th earthquake that measured 9.0 on the Richter scale on the Japan’s East Coast is the largest earth tremor to be recorded in the area. The catastrophe caused a Tsunami that in turn led to the meltdown of three Fukushima Daiichi Plant’s nuclear reactors. Consequently, large quantities of radiation were accidentally released into the air and the waters of the Pacific. These included more than triple the levels of noble gases’ pollution of the 1986 Chornobyl Nuclear Plant catastrophe and hazardous radioactive elements such as Caesium, Rubidium and Plutonium (Caldicott). It is now six years after the nuclear meltdown accident in Fukushima. Studies however still reveal that the effects of the disaster on marine live have lingering impacts to date. Nevertheless, the regulations that were passed after the incident have significantly reduced the risk posed to human beings through food chain. This tragedy has thus been placed as the world’s greatest industrial accident (Caldicott). This paper will analyse the Pacific Ocean waters contamination which has an impact on the North America’s West Coast aquatic life, economy, and human health.

Ocean Currents

The North Pacific Ocean Current results from the interaction between the Oyashio Current, which runs southwards from Russia, and the Kuroshio Current, which on the other hand extends northwards, off the Japanese East coast in the eastern side of North Pacific. The current further splits into two as it approaches the North America’s West Coast; The northward Alaska and the southward California currents, which can potentially transport the radiations from the Fukushima nuclear plant to the waters of the United States. However, the flow of the currents is slow to transfer a significant amount of pollution. Moreover, the levels of radioactive contaminants in the Ocean waters under the American jurisdiction are yet to surpass the permitted background levels ( Buck, Upton and Folger 1).

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Facts

Ocean currents have been reported to be transporting radiation to other areas away from Fukushima. The U.S., therefore, raised concerns on the potential contamination of the marine waters, environment and resources under its jurisdiction with radioactive emissions. Considerably high levels of Iodine-131, Cesium-134 and Cesium-137, all of which are radioactive elements of half-lives of eight days, two, and thirty years respectively have been reported after an analysis of the seawater directly adjacent to the Fukushima’s Daiichi site. Similarly, the U.S.’s Environmental Protection Agency’s rainfall monitoring data of Minnesota, Idaho and California has shown traces of the radioactive elements Tellurium, Iodine, and Caesium. The findings are consistent with the Fukushima’s nuclear incident. Nevertheless, the concentrations of these radioactive pollutants have been reported to be too low to raise concerns. It is also yet to be determined whether the migration of aquatic animals with accumulated radioactive elements from the polluted Pacific Ocean shores near the controversial nuclear plant to the North American West coast occurs, which can make the consumers of seafood from the region vulnerable. Besides, studies have revealed that the reported radiation levels are likely to get lower and negligibly insignificant due to dilution ( Buck, Upton and Folger).

Human Health, Marine Life and Economic Effects

Caesium- 134 and Iodine- 131 in contaminated water are readily absorbed by the human body orally through ingestion of water or seafood with accumulated levels of the pollutants. These radioactive elements are transported to body organs by blood where they remain until they decay after their respective half-lives. The emission of gamma and beta rays during the decay of these nuclides can significantly interfere with the genetics of the animals and human beings. Iodine- 131 is particularly absorbed in the thyroid glands where it can lead to cancer. Children are more vulnerable as adults are usually resistant (Povinec, Hirose and Aoyama 327). Cesium-137 also decays through beta and gamma radiation emission and has a half-life of thirty days. The contaminant bio-accumulates in the bodies of living things including human beings and marine animals and its levels concentrates in all living cells, posing a risk to genetic disorders, muscle tumours, brain, ovarian, and testicular cancers (Caldicott).

The Pacific Ocean is the widest water body in the world According to scientists, any form of radioactive pollution from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea that is directed to the North American West coast and other areas by the currents and tides earlier discussed gets rapidly diluted to very low concentrations. Thus, the residents of Hawaii, California and other areas in the West coast can be considered as not vulnerable. However, according to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute researchers, frequent monitoring of radiation levels in the West coast is vital. Also, any imported sea foods from Japan are entitled to nuclear material level examination before they reach the consumers. Besides, the Food and Drug Administration of the United States (FDA) limits importation of food products from the Fukushima region (Buck, Upton and Folger 4).

Although some traces of radiation of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster reached the waters of the West coast, the impact on aquatic life cannot be quantified. The United States’ West coast fisheries, for instance, are highly unlikely to be affected by the nuclear pollution traces that reach the fishing grounds of the area. However, previous studies by the Japan’s Fisheries Research Agency have reported that Caesium- 137 can accumulate into the muscles of fish. Nevertheless, the U.S.’s West coast is insignificantly polluted ( Buck, Upton and Folger 4). Similarly the economy of the region was not affected. Speculations and studies not based on evidence suggest that the impacts of the radioactive pollutant emissions from the Fukushima Daiichi disaster might affect the marine live and human health in the North American shores in future. Thus, the United States should maintain a constant monitoring of the of the West coast waters as a precautionary measure (Marcovici 49).

Conclusion

The environmental pollution from radioactive material emissions after the Fukushima disaster is likely to be felt for thousands of years in Japan. The transport of traces of radioactive elements from the Pacific Ocean shores of Japan’s Fukushima to the United States’ West coast marine waters by ocean currents is a slow process. Negligibly low levels of radiations are however detected in the North pacific waters. The traces are however below the background limits and thus do not pose a risk to human beings. Nevertheless, the bio-accumulation of the contaminants in aquatic animals and plants may take place over time making it necessary to screen sea foods before they reach the consumers. Frequent monitoring of the West Coast waters under the jurisdiction of the United States should be effected for safety purposes.

 

Work Cited

Buck, Eugene H., Harold F. Upton and Peter Folger. Effects of Radiation from Fukushima Daiichi on the U. S. Marine Environment. Washington D.C.: Congresissional research Service, 2011.

Caldicott, Helen. Crisis Without End: The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe. New York: The New Press, 2014.

Marcovici, Michael. Lesson Learned?: Nuclear Energy after Fukushima. Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 2013.

Povinec, Pavel P., Katsumi Hirose and Michio Aoyama. Fukushima Accident: Radioactivity Impact on the Environment. Massachusetts: Newnes, 2013.