Hey, Where’s the Fukushima Plume?

Mike RothschildBy Mike Rothschild via Skeptoid

After I started writing about the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it quickly became clear that there was a huge amount of fearmongering about it. Garbage anti-science pieces like “At the very least your days of eating Pacific Ocean fish are over” and “28 Signs the West Coast is Being Absolutely Fried by Fukushima Radiation” were needlessly scaring the crap out of those who didn’t have the training, knowledge, or common sense filter needed to see through them.

fukushima bread 02_200pxThe result was that people became afraid that radiation was melting all life in the Pacific Ocean, that cancer was slamming the West Coast, that fish were inedible, that the beach was a death zone, that Japan would be obliterated, that half of America would have to be evacuated, that giant marine animals were washing ashore, that the ocean was broken, that life as we knew it was over, and on and on.

And all of that horror was before “the plume” reached the West Coast.

The radiation leak from Fukushima actually has two components. One was the initial leak from the incident itself, which hit the US fairly quickly. The other was the much slower moving “plume” of radioactive water, the extent of which only became clear last year after Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitted that 300 tons of runoff was leaking into the Pacific every day, with no way to stop it.

The New York Times’ map of the Fukushima Plume projection. (click image for larger view)

The New York Times’ map of the Fukushima Plume projection. (click image for larger view)

There were generally two reactions to the news that a plume of radioactive water was heading straight toward the West Coast:

Scientists did science. They researched, they set up studies, they developed computer models, they wrote papers, they disseminated their findings, they adjusted their hypotheses accordingly. The aim was to determine when the plume would arrive, what danger it carried, and what the next steps should be.

Panicmongers mongered panic. They wrote long blog posts trumping up the unknown dangers, they spread false stories, they relied on dubious sources, they sold anti-nuclear products, they accused researchers and government officials of covering up the “real story” of how bad it was. The aim was to make money, abolish nuclear power, and spread fear.

What the researchers looking into the plume found was, at least to me, fairly comforting:

  1. Traces of Fukushima radioactivity would reach the West Coast of the US sometime in early 2014.
  2. Because of the natural dilution of a relatively small amount of water in the hugeness of the ocean, they would be just that – traces.
  3. However, there was no way to tell exactly when the radiation would arrive.
  4. Therefore, monitoring of the radiation levels in sea life and water should continue.
  5. While that’s happening, go about your business safe in the knowledge that you aren’t being fried.

So here we are, past early 2014. Almost halfway through the year, really. What’s the status of the plume?

For one thing, we still don’t know when the plume will hit, or if it actually has. The estimates are still a moving target.

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