Japan's six reactor Fukushima Daichi nuclear complex has
inadvertently become the world's bell-weather poster child for
the inherent risks of nuclear power ever since the 11 March
Tohoku offshore earthquake, measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale,
triggered a devastating tsunami that effectively destroyed the
Ever since, specialists have wrangled about how damaging the
consequences of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami actually
were, not only for the facility but the rest of the world.
The Fukushima Daichi complex was one of the 25 largest nuclear
power stations in the world and the Fukushima I reactor was the
first GE designed nuclear plant to be constructed and run
entirely by the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO.
Needless to say, in the aftermath of the disaster, both
TEPCO and the Japanese government were at pains to minimize the
disaster's consequences, hardly surprising given the country's
densely populated regions.
But now, an independent study has effectively demolished
TEPCO and the Japanese government's carefully constructed
minimalist scenario. Mainichi news agency reported that France's
l'Institut de Radioprotection et de Surete Nucleaire (Institute
for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, or IRSN) has
issued a recent report stating that the amount of radioactive
cesium-137 that entered the Pacific after 11 March was probably
nearly 30 times the amount stated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. in
According to IRSN, the amount of the radioactive isotope
cesium-137 that flowed into the ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi
nuclear plant between March 21 and mid-July reached an estimated
27.1 quadrillion becquerels.
Why should this matter? Aren't the Japanese authorities on top
of the issue?
Cesium-137 can cause burns, acute radiation sickness and
even death at sufficient doses. It can contaminate food and water
and, if ingested, gets distributed around the body, where it
builds up in soft tissues, such as muscles. Over time, it is
expelled from the body in urine.
And where might tingested cesium-137 come from?
Seafood, anyone? One of the problems of the release of
radioactivity into a maritime environment is that is represents a
cumulative food chain, from plankton consumed by larger
organisms, as evidenced by mercury contamination of swordfish,
none of whom swam around ingesting globules of the silvery
IRSN estimated that of the total amount, 82 percent had
flowed into the sea by 8 April, adding that the Pacific was
polluted at exceptional speed because the devastated Fukushima
Daichi nuclear power plant (
) is situated in a coastal area with strong currents.
If the IRSN report contained any good news, it was that
the impact of the cesium-137 contamination on marine life in
remote waters is likely to lessen later this year.
The radioactive silver lining? Radioactive cesium-137
has a half life of roughly 30 years, so if the IRSN estimates are
accurate, then my 2041 the Pacific's aquatic life will only be
subjected to a mere 13.55 quadrillion becquerels of
This is not to suggest that Japanese will shortly be
keeling over from consuming their sushi but rather, that for
better or for worse, a significant amount of cesium 137 has
entered the Pacific's aquatic environment, and the long-term
effects of low-level exposure on the population consuming Pacific
seafood are unknown. Numerous tests since 1945, when before it
was believed that only massive bursts of radiation were hazardous
to human health, have documented the insidious effects of
long-term, low level radiological exposure to humans.
Fukushima sits at the nexus where the Kuroshio Current,
running northward off the eastern coast of Japan, collides with
the cold subarctic Oyashio Current that flows southwards,
circulating counterclockwise along the western North Pacific
Ocean. Their interaction produces the North Pacific Current, a
slow warm water eastwards flowing current between 40 and 50
degrees north in the Pacific Ocean. In the eastern northern
Pacific, the North Pacific Current divides into the southern
flowing California Current and the northern Alaska Current.
The potential level of pollution outlined in the IRSN
report indicate that it is long overdue for both TEPCO and the
Japanese government to stop dribbling out information about the
true state of events since Fukushima was devastated, and that
foreign governments, particularly the United States, whose
western shores are washed by the same currents that pass by
Fukushima, insist that they do so.
While trillions of dollars are at stake in the worldwide
nuclear industry, the potential health consequences are now
simply too significant to ignore.
By. John C.K. Daly of