Radiation Leaking Into The Sea
The events in Japan following the tsunami damage to several nuclear powerplants have lead to the possibility of radiation leaking into the sea. On March 31, 2011, the Japanese nuclear watchdog agency announced that high levels of radiation have consistently been found in the sea immediately surrounding the crippled nuclear reactors.
The watchdog group, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, made the announcement, saying that leakage was a “possibility”. Unfortunately, no one has been able to pin down the exact source of the leaks.
When seawater samples were taken, it was found that radioactive iodine near the drains of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was over 4,000 times greater than the legal limit. Needless to say, such conditions are a source of concern to the Japanese government and people, and are being actively monitored. The use of a radiation detector around the damaged reactors are the primary means of monitoring the situation.
The individuals at greatest risk are the brave workers at the nuclear reactors who may face crippling disease and/or death if they receive an overexposure to ionizing radiation. This type of radiation emanates as X-rays and gamma rays from radioactive materials. Ionizing radiation is energetic enough to strip electrons from atoms, creating ions. In some cases, it is strong enough to split atoms.
The higher levels of radioactivity found in the Japanese seas raises questions about fish and the fishing industry. Japan will have to be very vigilant in monitoring its fish supply, which is a major protein staple of the Japanese diet. Cooking doesn’t affect radioactive levels, so there is no difference in this regard between raw and cooked fish.
Of concern also is fishmeal used to feed other animals, such as cows. Radioactive milk is being closely monitored by the Japanese government, and no doubt it is taking steps to control fishing activity directly around the powerplants. One concern is that food-borne radiation is more long lived than the air-borne variety, so tainted seafood would truly be a nightmare scenario for the island nation.
The vast amount of water separating Japan from the U.S. West Coast leaves little cause for concern at this time, since the radiation would be greatly diluted by the time it reached us. Nonetheless, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has increased its surveillance of water and food products just to be prudent until the emergency resolves itself.