Let’s watch the oceans die while we worry about other things!
Summary: While we worry about other things, including the possible fate of the world in 2100, the oceans are dying. Dying right now. The world’s oceans were suffering from pollution and overfishing, destroying the major fisheries. Now we administer another blow, with radiation from the Fukushima reactors flowing into the Pacific. Here we look at some of the sad details. Our indifference to the ocean’s death is more evidence of our dysfunctionality
“The planet’s future has never looked better. Here’s why.”
— “Earth Day, Then and Now“, Ronald Bailey, Reason magazine, May 2000
- Radiation flows on the oceanic highways
- “Mishaps Underscore Weaknesses of Japanese Nuclear Plant”
- “Japanese Nuclear Plant May Have Been Leaking for Two Years”
- “State withholds more than 60% of Fukushima cleanup budget”
- “TEPCO’s plan to halt spread of radioactive water based on shaky theory”
- Destruction of the world’s fisheries
- For More Information
- Another view of the oceanic highways
(1) The worlds oceans are highways for radiation
NOAA developed a model (see map below) to show where radioactive debris from Fukushima will circulate in the Pacific Ocean. (NPR, 9 March 2012):
(2) “Mishaps Underscore Weaknesses of Japanese Nuclear Plant“, New York Times, 10 April 2013 — Excerpt:
More than two years after multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a series of recent mishaps — including a blackout set off by a dead rat and the discovery of leaks of thousands of gallons of radioactive water — have underscored just how vulnerable the plant remains. Increasingly, experts are arguing that the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, cannot be trusted to lead what is expected to be decades of cleanup and the decommissioning of the plant’s reactors without putting the public, and the environment, at risk.
At the same time, the country’s new nuclear regulator remains woefully understaffed. It announced Wednesday that it would send a ninth official to the site — to monitor the work of about 3,000 laborers. “The Fukushima Daiichi plant remains in an unstable condition, and there is concern that we cannot prevent another accident,” Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said at a news conference. “We have instructed Tepco to work on reducing some of the biggest risks, and we as regulators will step up monitoring.”
The biggest scare at the plant in recent days has been the discovery that at least three of seven underground storage pools are seeping thousands of gallons of radioactive water into the soil. On Wednesday, Tepco acknowledged that the lack of adequate storage space for contaminated water had become a “crisis,” and said it would begin emptying the pools. But the company said that the leaks will continue over the several weeks that it will likely take to transfer the water to other containers.
… Tepco stores more than a quarter-million tons of radioactive water at the site and says the amount could double within 3 years. But as outside experts have discovered with horror, the company had lined the pits for the underground pools with only two layers of plastic each 1.5 millimeters thick, and a third, clay-based layer just 6.5 millimeters thick. And because the pools require many sheets hemmed together, leaks could be springing at the seams, Tepco has said. “No wonder the water is leaking,” said Hideo Komine, a professor in civil engineering at Ibaraki University, just south of Fukushima. He said that the outer protective lining should have been hundreds of times thicker.
(3) “Japanese Nuclear Plant May Have Been Leaking for Two Years“, New York Times, 10 July 2013 — Excerpt:
The stricken nuclear power plant at Fukushima has probably been leaking contaminated water into the ocean for two years, ever since an earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the plant, Japan’s chief nuclear regulator said … In unusually candid comments, Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, also said that neither his staff nor the plant’s operator knew exactly where the leaks were coming from, or how to stop them.
The operator, Tokyo Electric Power, has reported spikes in the amounts of radioactive cesium, tritium and strontium detected in groundwater at the plant, adding urgency to the task of sealing any leaks. Radioactive cesium and strontium, especially, are known to raise risks of cancer in humans.
Mr. Tanaka’s comments bring into sharp relief the precariousness of the cleanup at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where core meltdowns occurred at three of the six reactors. A critical problem has been the groundwater that has been pouring into the basements of the damaged reactor buildings and becoming contaminated. Workers have been pumping the water out to be stored in dozens of tanks at the plant, but have not stopped the inflow.
Until recently, Tokyo Electric, known as Tepco, flatly denied that any of that water was leaking into the ocean, even though various independent studies of radiation levels in the nearby ocean have suggested otherwise. In recent days, Tepco has retreated to saying that it was not sure whether there was a leak into the ocean.
Mr. Tanaka said that the evidence was overwhelming.
(4) “State withholds more than 60% of Fukushima cleanup budget“, The Asahi Shimbun, 12 July 2013 — Opening:
The central government held back more than 60% of the 255 billion yen ($2.57 billion) recovery budget earmarked in fiscal 2012 for radioactive cleanup efforts overseen by municipal governments in Fukushima Prefecture. … It pays for the work initially, but later sends corresponding bills to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator.
The thriftiness is apparently partly due to consideration for TEPCO, which eventually has to cover the expenses of the cleanup. Rigorous restrictions apply. The finding by The Asahi Shimbun raises questions over the consistency of the practice, given the Abe administration’s official pledge to speed up the decontamination work.
(5) “TEPCO’s plan to halt spread of radioactive water based on shaky theory“, The Asahi Shimbun, 12 July 2013 — Excerpt:
Tokyo Electric Power Co. has started taking measures to contain highly radioactive groundwater at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, but its strategy is based on a theory that is disputed by industry experts. … The utility’s measures, intended to prevent the underground radioactive water from spilling into the sea, could end up exacerbating the problem, some experts have warned.
… On July 12, TEPCO said the No. 3 observation well at the plant produced a total reading of 1,400 becquerels of radioactive substances that emit beta rays, including strontium, per liter of water sampled on the previous day. No radioactivity had been detected in the No. 3 well a week earlier. The No. 3 well is about 200 meters south of the No. 1 well, where high radioactive levels have been detected for some time.
Water sampled on July 8 from another well, 21 meters seaward of the No. 1 well, produced a record 630,000 becquerels of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. That level is about 10 times higher than the legal safety limit.
The latest developments date back to late May, when water from the No. 1 well, on the seaside of the No. 2 reactor turbine building, produced high levels of radioactive substances. The readings were 500,000 becquerels of tritium per liter, or eight times the legal limit, and 1,000 becquerels of strontium per liter, or 30 times the legal limit. TEPCO had earlier dug a number of observation wells to check for any new influx of radioactive water into the sea because seaborne levels of radioactive cesium had been slow to decline.
After the spread of radioactive substances was confirmed, TEPCO rushed to dig four additional observation wells near the No. 1 well. It also began analyzing seawater north of the water intakes for the reactors. High radioactivity levels continue to be detected in the observation wells. TEPCO officials said they need more data to determine how the radioactive materials have been spreading.
“NRA chairman says release of radioactive water into sea is inevitable“, Asahi Shimbum, 25 July 2013 — Excerpt:
“The Fukushima No. 1 plant is filling up with water,” Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, told a news conference on July 24. “Inevitably the contaminated water will have to be discharged into the sea after TEPCO processes it properly and lowers (its radioactivity levels) below the standards.”
… At the Fukushima plant, an estimated 400 tons of groundwater is flowing into its reactor buildings daily. The groundwater is mixed with water used to cool the melted fuel, and is accumulating with high radioactive levels at the plant. Purification systems can remove some radioactive substances, including cesium, from water, but cannot isolate tritium.
“Fukushima trench water crisis returns“, The Japan Times, 27 July 2013 — “Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Saturday that the trench problem at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has cropped up again and is sending highly radioactive water into the sea.”
(7) Destruction of the world’s fisheries
(a) “Pollution and overfishing are destroying this vital resource“, Philipp Neubauer et al, Science, 19 April 2013 — Abstract:
Recovery of overexploited marine populations has been slow, and most remain below target biomass levels. A key question is whether this is due to insufficient reductions in harvest rates or the erosion of population resilience. Using a global meta-analysis of overfished stocks, we find that resilience of those stocks subjected to moderate levels of overfishing is enhanced, not compromised, offering the possibility of swift recovery.
However, prolonged intense overexploitation, especially for collapsed stocks, not only delays rebuilding but also substantially increases the uncertainty in recovery times, despite predictable influences of fishing and life history. Timely and decisive reductions in harvest rates could mitigate this uncertainty. Instead, current harvest and low biomass levels render recovery improbable for the majority of the world’s depleted stocks.
(b) Other articles about this serious problem:
- “Globalization, Roving Bandits, and Marine Resources“, Science, Boris Worm et al, 17 March 2006
- “Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services“, Boris Worm et al, Science, 3 November 2006 – The author’s forecast that unless global policies change, 100% of seafood-producing species stocks will collapse by 2048.
- “Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse?“, Costello et al, Science 19 September 2008
- “Science Lags on Saving the Arctic From Oil Spills“, Michael Torrice, Science, 11 September 2009
- “Ecologists fear Antarctic krill crisis“, Nature, 1 September 2010 — “Fishing industry threatens to destabilize stocks.”
- Overfishing: Plenty of Fish in the Sea? Not Always, National Geographic website — articles, videos, graphics
(8) For More Information
Articles about Fukushima:
- “FDA claims no need to test Pacific fish for radioactivity“, Anchorage Daily News, 16 April 2011
- “Effects of Tohoku Tsunami and Fukushima Radiation on the U.S. Marine Environment“, Eugene H. Buck and Harold F. Upton, Congressional Research Service, 17 August 2012
- “Elevated airborne beta levels in Pacific/West Coast US States and trends in hypothyroidism among newborns after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown”, Joseph J. Mangano and Janette D. Sherman, Open Journal of Pediatrics, 29 January 2013
Posts about pollution:
- Aerosols (pollutants, like soot) as a driver of climate change,
8 May 2009
- Good news: air quality in the US has improved!, 12 March 2010
- Valuable background information about oil slicks, 2 May 2010
- About the long-term effect of giant oil spills, 17 May 2010
(8) Another view of the oceanic highways
This map shows the maximum wave amplitude of the Fukushima tsunami. Radiation released from the Fukushima reactors now travels along the same pathways.