Radioactive Debris Washing Up on Pacific Coast

BBC reported last week:

Japanese fishing vessel washed away by tsunami and spotted off Canada (23 March)

A Japanese fishing vessel swept away by the March 2011 tsunami has been spotted adrift off the west coast of Canada.

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It is believed to be the first large item from the millions of tonnes of tsunami debris to cross the Pacific.

We noted last year:

An island of debris the size of California is expected to hit North America:

See this for background.

Some of the debris could be radioactive. As the Star notes:

[Seattle oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer] says he’s concerned that some of the debris washing ashore on Pacific Northwest beaches could be contaminated by radioactive material, suggesting Tofino should have at least one Geiger counter to measure radioactivity.

Ebbesmeyer told AFP:

We are not prepared for this. Nobody is prepared. Nobody has even thought through the dimensions. This is unprecedented in scientific history. It’s unprecedented in recorded history. There’s never been a devastation on one continent that has moved off to the other continent and actually recorded.

And AFP reports, “Scientists like Ebbesmeyer say the debris could bring toxic or radioactive contamination from Japan all the way here.”

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Reuters reports that Alaskan seals are suffering mysterious lesions and hair loss:

Scientists in Alaska are investigating whether local seals are being sickened by radiation from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Scores of ring seals have washed up on Alaska’s Arctic coastline since July, suffering or killed by a mysterious disease marked by bleeding lesions on the hind flippers, irritated skin around the nose and eyes and patchy hair loss on the animals’ fur coats.

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“We recently received samples of seal tissue from diseased animals captured near St. Lawrence Island with a request to examine the material for radioactivity,” said John Kelley, Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“There is concern expressed by some members of the local communities that there may be some relationship to the Fukushima nuclear reactor’s damage,” he said.

Anyone who doubts that some of the debris may be radioactive should read this ABC News report from March 14, 2011 (3 days after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan):

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and other US Navy ships in the waters off the quake zone in eastern Japan were repositioned after the detection of a low-level radiation plume from the troubled Fukushima nuclear plant located 100 miles away.

According to 7th Fleet Commander and Spokesman Jeff Davis, the ships were moved away from the downwind direction of the plant as a precautionary measure on Sunday.

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The ship’s crew was exposed to a very low level of radiation.

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According to Davis, the radiation was first detected by air particulate detectors aboard three helicopters located 60 miles away from the shoreline.

The helicopters were returning to the carrier from a relief mission to the quake and tsunami ravaged city of Sendai.

Detectors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan also sounded while it was located 100 miles north east of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Low amounts of radioactive materials have been released into the atmosphere as plant officials desperately try to prevent a meltdown of the nuclear cores at two of the plant’s reactors.

Davis said the source of the radiation was a radioactive plume emitted by the plant.

If there was a plume of radiation 100 miles from Fukushima 3 days after the accident, then it is likely that some of the debris was also irradiated (and some of the debris would have been caught in areas of calm water or eddies before being swept out to sea).

Indeed, Fukushima likely started leaking radiation even before the tsunami hit.

Note 1: In terms of the debris, people should not worry that all of the debris is radioactive. I am sure that a much smaller percentage is.

However, if even one-half of one percent of the debris is radioactive, that could still bring substantial amounts of radiation to some shore areas on the West Coast of North America. In other words, people should keep their kids away from picking up debris on the beach unless it has first been tested with a geiger counter.

Note 2: In addition to radioactive debris, MIT says that seawater which is itself radioactive may begin hitting the West Coast within 5 years. Indeed, according to global marine consulting firm ASR, at least some radioactive seawater is likely now hitting Hawaii.

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