Thursday, February 27, 2014

Radiation: The Next Round!

The aftermath of the Japanese 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami still makes the news today. The Japanese Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered a melt down after the disasters on the March 11, 2011. Environmental and public health concerns, and even government and corruption controversies surround the whole incident. All of which have validity. For the sake of science, this post will only focus on the most recent developments from the disaster that are affecting North Americans. 

Recently this moth, Canadian and U.S. scientists have detected radio active isotopes, cesium-134 and cesium-137, on the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia. The radioactive material has yet to reach the west coast of the U.S. according to Woods Hole ocean scientists. Isotopes are atoms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei. For example cesium-134 has less neutrons than cesium-137. Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years and remains in the environment for several decades. The problem, at least right now, is cesium-134. It only has a half life of two years, but it is more toxic and can cause more problems than cesium 137. 

What makes cesium-134 bad? Currently, any detectable isotopes can be traced back to Fukushima. Surprisingly, cesium-137 has already been present in the atmosphere for decades. Besides Fukushima, sources of cesium-137 can be traced back to nuclear weapons testing overseas and all the way back to the Manhattan project. 

Scientists have been on the look out for radiation along the west coast since the wake of the disaster. All of the cesium-134 was concentrated in the upper 100m of the ocean according to the most recent tests. The results from the February 2014 sampling will be ready soon.  

Despite how scary this all sounds, it is still to early to tell how this will affect certain things. Also, the levels scientists are detecting are very minimal and are not high enough to cause any harm. The infamous Chernobyl disaster released 1000s of times more radiation than what is currently being detected. Currently, scientists are monitoring the Fukushima radiation closely and diligently. Just like the Bluewater Horizon disaster, the management of the Fukushima disaster is a giant science experiment because nothing like this has ever happened before. 

Fukushima's radiation reached coastal Canada first due to the Kuroshio Current. This is a powerful current that flows from Japan across the Pacific. In time, the current and the radiation it is carrying will flow downy he coast of North American and circle back toward Hawaii. This is however, only predictions based of models of the current. To this day, radioactive materials are still leaking into the water and are being carried across the ocean to North America. 

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1 comment:

  1. Although it is a scary subject to think about, a wave of radioactive waste hitting the U.S west coast shores, we really do not have much to worry about. Research has shown that by the time this wave of "radioactivity" hits our shores, it will be as toxic to us as anything we are exposed to on a daily basis.This could mean left over pesticides on a banana we just peeled, or changing the batteries in our smoke detectors. Although this radioactive disaster caused many problems off the coast of Japan, the U.S west coast really has nothing major to worry about.