After the tragic earthquake turned the world's eyes towards Japan, the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant kept them there. Reaction around the globe filled the entire spectrum--from ill-founded panic over drifting radiation in the United States to surprising nonchalance from myriad opinion-makers to outraged calls for policy change in Germany, Fukushima revived fears of nuclear power in the global zeitgeist. And those fears may find even more fodder here: A new report reveals that the disaster led to the "greatest single nuclear contamination of the sea ever seen," according to PhysOrg.
Fukushima's aboveground horrors are thankfully unlikely to rival those of Chernobyl--though the disaster was certainly still wrought with unspeakable tragedies. And some of those are in areas less visible to the evening news' camera lens: Throughout the disaster, unprecedented amounts of caesium 137 leaked into the Pacific, causing the worst nuclear pollution at sea in history.
From March 21 to mid-July, 27.1 peta becquerels of caesium 137 entered the sea, the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) said. One peta becquerel is a million billion bequerels, or 10 to the power of 15. Of the total, 82 percent entered the sea before April 8, through water that was pumped into the Fukushima's damaged reactor units in a bid to cool them down, it said.
"This is the biggest single outflow of man-made radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed," the gency said in a press release. Caesium is a slow-decaying element, taking 30 years to lose half of its radioactivity.
The IRSN notes that the caesium was quickly diluted as it was swept out to see, and only poses a major threat to sea life along the coast. But it's still difficult to predict what the impact of so much radioactive material entering the sea will be precisely, and the contamination is predicted to gravely impact local fish and mollusk populations.
In a scenario that's unfortunately reminiscent of the chemical dispersants blasted into the Gulf during the BP disaster, we're witnessing a large-scale, unintentional 'experiment' on marine ecosystems unfold in the Pacific.