Fukushimas’ fishes:

Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdowns happened in nearly five years ago on the 11th of March 2011. Along with obvious mixing of radioactive waste with the water directly, the four chemical explosions also released radioactive material into the air, and allowed it to travel through the wreckage into the ground water. More about the incident here:

 

So what was the damage done?

Well trace amounts of radioactive particles have been found all around the world from the incident, including Caesium-134/137 and Iodine-131². The coast around Fukushima has some of the strongest currents which means that any radioactive material that entered the water was quickly circulated around the global, and it’s still moving now. But radiation levels are lower than what we believe is dangerous for marine organisms and humans³ so we shouldn’t worry should we?

Yes. We should. In some recent studies done around the Fukushima coast there were results showing persistent contamination of some marine species, most of which were fish.⁴ But it’s okay right it’s just some fish. Radioactive material can move up the food chain spreading the radioactive material higher and higher, spreading across the oceans. For example, there have been higher levels of Caesium-134 found off the coast of California, not seen there before the Fukushima disaster⁴.

The disaster might be over but the problem isn’t. Caesium-137 has a half-life of thirty years, which means it could still be polluting out water for decades to come, especially through a food chain. It’s been predicted that it would take one year for Caesium-137 to reach it’s theoretical maximum in small fish and invertebrates, and up to 10 years for larger fish and around 15 for organisms such as killer whales⁵. Some people do believe that the increase in tumours seen on marine organisms is linked to the Fukushima disaster, but it’s honestly too early to tell yet with research still going on and new finding being released everyday.

We are still safe to eat fish, do not panic and start throwing away your fish fingers! The levels of radioactive molecules are still under the safe to eat limit, just higher than previously.

 

Solutions! I know, I always have some form of solution for this, but this time, I don’t. There is no solution to the isotopes which have already been released. But fighting towards more regulations around nuclear power plants can help prevent another incident like this happening again.

For more information about nuclear waste, look at our previous post, here.

Lauren x

 

References:

  1. Feature image
  2. Doughton, S. (2011) ‘Universities come through in monitoring for radiation’, Seattletimes.nwsource.com. (accessed 24th February 2016)
  3. Buesseler, KO. Jayne, SR. Fisher, NS. Rypina, II. Baumann, H. Baumann, Z. Breier, CF. Douglass, EM. George, J. MacDonald, AM. Miyamoto, H. Nishikawa, J. Pike, SM. Yoshida, S. (2012). ‘Fukushima-derived radionuclides in the ocean and biota off Japan’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109 (16). pp. 5984–8.
  4. DJ, Baumann, Z. and Fisher. NS, (2012). ‘Pacific bluefin tuna transport Fukushima-derived radionuclides from Japan to California’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109 (24) pp. 9483–9486.
  5. JJ, and Gobas. FAPC, (2015) ‘Modeling 137Cs bioaccumulation in the salmon–resident killer whale food web of the Northeastern Pacific following the Fukushima Nuclear Accident’ Science of the total environment. 544. Pp. 56-67

Nuclear waste, what’s the issue?

The Wall Street Journal has recently published an article about plutonium levels of the coast of San-Francisco. They claim that plutonium levels are a thousand times above the average on the sea floor. 50,000 containers of radioactive waste were dumped 75 miles of the coast of San-Francisco some 20 years ago and the study claimed this affected the eco system not just locally but globally. This was the first study of its kind.

When nuclear waste is properly disposed of it is placed into steel containers that are then placed inside a further cylinder made of solid concrete. These protective layers prevent radiation from leaking out and harming the immediate environment that surrounds it. This is a cost effective way of dealing with hazardous material, however there is still great debate about the dangers economically and environmentally that surround nuclear waste disposal.

One of the problems is the extent of time that the waste remains radioactive this is due to its long half-life. Nuclear waste continues to be radioactive and therefore dangerous for thousands of years. This causes a problem because if the steel containers that the waste is stored in are damaged then the volatile substance will leak out and have an adverse effect on the environment for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Ocean disposal of nuclear waste was actually implemented by 13 different countries but thankfully this ceases to be the case for obvious reasons. The hazardous effect that nuclear waste could have on animal and plant life in the ocean is tremendous. Exposure to the radionadides that nuclear waste contains increases the risk of damage to tissue, DNA and overall health of any living organism. It can also cause huge birth defects.

In 1982 the US government made a federal law that states that highly radioactive wastes must be permanently disposed of in a safe fashion, instead of just dumping in its raw form anywhere. This was one of the first laws passed on nuclear waste disposal.

Nuclear waste can come in many forms; it can be solid, liquid or gas depending on the number of radionadides contained in it. They can remain radioactive for seconds or millions of years. Thankfully nuclear waste disposal in our oceans is now illegal on the world stage. When correctly disposed of many people believe that nuclear waste has no negative effects and can be a great alternative to oil and coal driven power but this is still under great scrutiny and discussion.

Tom 🙂