News Feature | December 8, 2014

Radioactive Water From Japan Nears U.S.

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

fukushima

Radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown site in Japan is approaching the U.S. 

"A plume of water containing small amounts of radiation from the 2011 explosion at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant has been detected 100 miles off the coast from [Eureka, CA, researchers said in November]," according to KTVU.

The plume contains radioactive cesium-134, the report said. Researchers with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution discovered it as part of a water monitoring project.

"Researchers said the cesium level is far below where one might expect any measurable risk to human health or marine life. It is more than 1000 times lower than acceptable limits in drinking water set by the EPA," the report said.

The radioactivity was measured at 2 becquerels per cubic meter, KSBW reported.

The backdrop: "The blast and collapse of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant as a result of a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 released cesium-134 at unprecedented levels. This and other radioactive elements have been slowly making their way across the Pacific Ocean, becoming diluted as they go," USA Today reported.

Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, explained the implications of the findings.

"A swimmer who spent 6 hours every day for a year in water with 10 Becquerels per cubic meter of cesium-134 would still receive 1,000 times less radiation than the dose from a single dental X-ray, Buesseler said," according to Live Science.

When it comes to swimming, the coast is clear, according to Buesseler.

"Now, we have measurements that confirm that for human health, when a mother from Santa Cruz calls me and asks if it's safe for my son to go surfing, we have far fewer concerns," he said, per the report. 

Japan has not been quite so lucky. Three years after the disaster, contaminated water continues to plague the cleanup site.

"The contaminated water is a most pressing issue that we must tackle. There is no doubt about that," Akira Ono, head of the plant, said to CBC News. "Our effort to mitigate the problem is at its peak now. Though I cannot say exactly when, I hope things start getting better when the measures start taking effect."

Image credit: "Fukushima Sea Water Sampling-3," IAEA Imagebank © 2013, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/