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Nuclear Energy Surface (0–200m) of Cesium-137 concentrations (Bq/m3) by (a)April 2012, (b) April 2014 (c) April 2016 and (d) April 2021.
Image Credit: University of New South Wales

Published on September 2nd, 2013 | by James Ayre


Fukushima Radioactive Plume To Hit The US By Early 2014

The first radioactive ocean plume released by the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster will finally be reaching the shores of the United States sometime in 2014, according to a new study from the University of New South Wales — a full three or so years after the date of the disaster.

Many researchers, and also officials from the World Health Organization, have argued that the radioactive particles that do make their way to the US will have a very limited effect on human health — as the concentration of radioactive material in US waters will be well below World Health Organization safety levels. But needless to say, there is some debate on this matter…

For the new work, the researchers utilized a number of different ocean simulations to track the path of the radiation from the Fukushima incident — the models used have identified the most likely path that the plume will take over the next ten years.

fukushima radiation

Surface (0–200m) of Cesium-137 concentrations (Bq/m3) by (a)April 2012, (b) April 2014 (c) April 2016 and (d) April 2021.
Image Credit: University of New South Wales

“Observers on the west coast of the United States will be able to see a measurable increase in radioactive material three years after the event,” stated study author Dr Erik van Sebille. “However, people on those coastlines should not be concerned as the concentration of radioactive material quickly drops below World Health Organization safety levels as soon as it leaves Japanese waters.”

The University of New South Wales has more:

Two energetic currents off the Japanese coast — the Kuroshio Current and the Kurushio Extension — are primarily responsible for accelerating the dilution of the radioactive material, taking it well below WHO safety levels within four months.

Eddies and giant whirlpools — some tens of kilometers wide — and other currents in the open ocean continue this dilution process and direct the radioactive particles to different areas along the US west coast.

Interestingly, the great majority of the radioactive material will stay in the North Pacific, with very little crossing south of the Equator in the first decade. Eventually over a number of decades, a measurable but otherwise harmless signature of the radiation will spread into other ocean basins, particularly the Indian and South Pacific oceans.

“Although some uncertainties remain around the total amount released and the likely concentrations that would be observed, we have shown unambiguously that the contact with the north-west American coasts will not be identical everywhere,” stated Dr. Vincent Rossi.

“Shelf waters north of 45°N will experience higher concentrations during a shorter period, when compared to the Californian coast. This late but prolonged exposure is due to the three-dimensional pathways of the plume. The plume will be forced down deeper into the ocean toward the subtropics before rising up again along the southern Californian shelf.”

“Australia and other countries in the Southern Hemisphere will see little if any radioactive material in their coastal waters and certainly not at levels to cause concern,” Dr van Sebille continued.

Those interested in doing so can track the path of the radiation on a website created by the researchers.

The new research was just published new in the journal Deep-Sea Research 1.

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • tweenk

    The red areas have activity of 1000 Bq/m3. A typical human has a volume of around 0.065 m3 and contains 7000 Bq of natural radioactivity, or around 107,000 Bq/m3. In other words, even the red areas are many times less radioactive than a typical human.

    Note that the map shows only the contribution from the radioactive release. Normal seawater has activity around 12 Bq/m3 from potassium and rubidium, so cyan areas and everything below would have basically the same activity as normal seawater.

  • Robert Simoneau

    I worry that this data has taken so long to be published and will generally be ignored by the media. We know so very little about the oceans, this is tragic and we and our habitat will suffer the consequences. For any researcher(s) to claim to understand concentration levels and effects on the food chain is a mistake. We have no history of such an occurrence so all this is pure computer generated speculation. I am sure this model was made with many “underlying assumptions” to make it easier to generate.

  • stephengn

    Please look carefully at those images. Note that they (and thus the study) assume no further releases from Fukushima. The world will see that nothing could be further from accurate over the next few decades

  • Russ Finley

    “But needless to say, there is some debate on this matter…”

    Apparently not …at least according to your article.

  • bussdriver78

    What people don’t realize is the “safe” levels of anything are quite HIGH. It only seems safe to say that .1% will be impacted but when you expose millions of people a tenth of a percent becomes a sizable number. This radioactive waste is going to increase odds of cancer for many people and it won’t ever be connected, just like smoking only increases odds and doesn’t clearly and directly do it’s damage.

    • whatever

      Our country has a big investment in people having cancer. Multi billion dollar business. And since business is the way we roll, then we really can’t expect much to be said about things that increase it.

  • Neil Blanchard

    The leaks that are happening right now are worse than they had been saying. And the radiation will probably continue to leak for decades *at least*.

    They have to continue to use water to cool the destroyed nuclear cores, and that water has to be stored in tanks on site – and this will continue to be needed for as long as the nuclear reaction continues.

    It is those storage tanks that have *already* had massive leaks. They are making mistake after mistake – and I think that even if they we not making mistakes, that it would likely still fail. Fukushima is a fuster cluck.


    • tweenk

      “this will continue to be needed for as long as the nuclear reaction continues”
      There are no nuclear reactions occurring in Fukushima right now.

      • Bob_Wallace

        What’s causing the apparent heat increases in Unit 2?

        • tweenk

          Faulty thermal sensor

          • Bob_Wallace

            Multiple faulty sensors? Going in the same direction?

          • tweenk

            There were not “multiple” but 2 faulty sensors, and yes, they both failed in a way that showed maximum temperature. This is very old news. There is no overheating or nuclear reactions right now, it’s physically impossible.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Why is it necessary to pour hundreds of tons of cooling water on the fuel each day?

          • tweenk

            Some cooling is still needed to remove residual decay heat (heat that comes from radioactive decay, not from nuclear fission), but there is no overheating. I don’t think “hundreds of tons … each day” of water are used anymore.

          • Bob_Wallace
  • Kevin McKinney

    I presume that doesn’t include the release(s) which seem to be in the offing as a result of leaking tanks and contamination of the groundwater.

    Obviously, it doesn’t include potentially much larger releases which could eventuate:

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