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FAQ: Radiation from Fukushima

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake—one of the largest ever recorded—occurred 80 miles off the coast of Japan.

(From WHOI / by Ken Buesseler) – The earthquake created a series of tsunamis, the largest estimated to be over 30 feet, that swept ashore. In addition to the tragic human toll of dead, injured, and displaced, the earthquake and tsunamis badly damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, eventually causing four of the six reactors there to release radiation into the atmosphere and ocean.

Since mid-2011, I have worked with Japanese colleagues and scientists around the world to understand the scope and impact of events that continue to unfold today. In June 2011, I organized the first comprehensive, international expedition to study the spread of radionuclides from Fukushima into the Pacific, and I or members of my lab have participated in several other cruises and analyzed dozens of samples of water, sediment, and biota. In addition, I began my career in oceanography by studying the spread of radionuclides from Chernobyl in the Black Sea. These are a few of the most common questions that people have been asking me lately. -Ken Buesseler, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Human sources of radiation released into the atmosphere over the past 60 years, although serious, pale in comparison to the radionuclides already naturally present in the ocean. (Illustration by Jack Cook, courtesy Coastal Ocean Institute, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

(Click to enlarge) Human sources of radiation released into the atmosphere over the past 60 years, although serious, pale in comparison to the radionuclides already naturally present in the ocean. (Illustration by Jack Cook, courtesy Coastal Ocean Institute, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

What is the state of fisheries off Japan and along U.S. West Coast?

The coastal fisheries remain closed in Japan near Fukushima, where there is a concern for some species, especially the bottom dwelling ones, which are being tested and many have been found to be above the Japanese government’s strict limits for cesium in seafood. These contaminated fish are not being sold internally in Japan or exported. Because of the dilution that occurs even a short distance from Fukushima, we do not have a concern about the levels of cesium and other radionuclides in fish off the West Coast of the U.S.

More about the state of Japanese fisheries (pdf).
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