Monday, July 4, 2016

A Little Good News from the Sea

A man fishes in the town of Hirono, Fukushima Prefecture, in November 2015. The town is located near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. | KYODO 

Pacific Ocean radiation back near normal after Fukushima: study

The Japan Times  AFP-JIJI  Jul 4, 2016 

SYDNEY – Radiation levels across the Pacific Ocean are rapidly returning to normal five years after the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant spewed gases and liquids into the sea, according to a study released Monday.

In the days following the start of the crisis on March 11, 2011, seawater meant to cool the nuclear reactors carried radioactive elements back into the Pacific, with currents dispersing it widely.

Five years on, a review by the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research, which brings together ocean experts from across the world, said radioactive material had been carried as far as the United States.

But after analyzing data from 20 studies of radioactivity associated with the plant, it found radiation levels in the Pacific were rapidly returning to normal after being tens of millions of times higher than usual following the disaster.

“As an example, in 2011 about half of fish samples in coastal waters off Fukushima contained unsafe levels of radioactive material,” said Pere Masque, who co-authored the review published by the Annual Review of Marine Science. “However, by 2015 that number had dropped to less than 1 percent above the limit.”

But the study also found that the seafloor and harbor near Fukushima No. 1 were still highly contaminated in the wake of the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

“Monitoring of radioactivity levels and sea life in that area must continue,” said Masque, a professor of environmental radio-chemistry at the Edith Cowan University in Western Australia.

The research examined radioactive cesium levels measured off the Japanese coast across the Pacific to North America.

Cesium is a by-product of nuclear power and is highly soluble in water, making it ideal for measuring the release of radioactive material into the ocean, the study said.

Although no one is recorded as having died as a direct result of the nuclear accident, tens of thousands of people were uprooted, with many still unable to return home because of persistent contamination.

Cleaning up Fukushima and making the area habitable again is a crucial plank of government policy, with the Abe administration keen to prove nuclear power is a viable form of energy production.

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