As of last month, around 300 tons of contaminated water is pouring into the ocean per day from the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan. In March 2011, following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, a series of equipment failures and nuclear meltdowns caused the nuclear plant at Fukushima to release large amounts of radioactive material. It was the largest disaster since the events in Chernobyl back in 1986.
Pollutants have spread through soil, air, and water, causing the government to restrict shipments of food products from the surrounding area. The water encompassing Fukushima is undoubtedly tainted with radioactive material and has been unsafe for consumption for a while. In the U.S. we don't have to worry about eating fish caught in the North Pacific, but fish exports from Japan are a great concern.
Seafood exports in Japan total around $1.6 billion and represent .3% of the nation’s exports. Higher levels of radiation have been detected in the fish surrounding the area of the disaster. An entire year after, sea fish caught near the power plant still contained the same levels of radioactive material compared to fish caught in the immediate aftermath. Later in 2012, some fish were found to have more than 25,000 becquerels/kilogram of cesium, more than 250 times Japan’s safety limit. Findings published in Science says that radioactive particles have accumulated on the bottom of the seafloor and could contaminate sea life for decades. More than 40% of the fish caught around Fukushima have too much cesium to safely consume.
"The fact that many fish are just as contaminated today with cesium 134 and cesium 137 as they were more than one year ago implies that cesium is still being released into the food chain," said Ken O. Buesseler, a chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This particular variety of cesium has a half-life of 30 years, meaning "Sediments would remain contaminated for decades to come."
Tokyo Electric is constructing a 2,400-foot-long wall between the leaking reactors and the ocean. This project could take up to the end of 2014 to complete and efforts to contain contaminates are failing. A report suggests that around 400 tons of groundwater seep into the reactor's basement every day, where it mixes with the water used to cool the reactor, eventually escaping into the sea. Until now, Tokyo Electric had maintained that they were able to stop the flow by using large storage tanks. Last month they admitted that there was some leakage. Over 1,000 water containers are in place to block the flow of the tainted water, but more issues will arise once these are completely filled.
The company plans to reduce the leakage to 60 tons per day by December, but it is not enough. Currently, the release of 300 tons of contaminated water is equivalent to 661,387 pounds of toxic pollutants. That means around 79,000 gallons of contaminated water are flowing into the ocean every day.
However, due to Fukushima’s strong coastal currents, much of the water is carried out into the Pacific Ocean, dispersing a significant portion of the radioactive material. As a result, seafood caught in the Northern pacific water near the U.S. has not shown abnormal levels of radiation and is not dangerous to consume.
Persistent radiation levels in Japan are the primary concern following this disaster. Shipping bans on regular soil and meat products continue to be in effect. Raw milk, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and some meat are all restricted from being shipped out. In locations cattle have been found to contain unsafe levels of radiation as well. The economic and health effects are profound, and the lasting radioactive imprint is damaging. It is important that the Japanese government continue to advance measures to contain the adverse effects of the disaster.