28 fallacies about the Fukushima nuclear disaster’s effect on the US West Coast

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is back in the news, with recent reports of continued leaks. Coming on the heels of these new reports is a viral blog post entitled 28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima. The article is a paranoid, poorly reasoned attempt to link the tragedy of the Fukushima disaster to just about every environmental issue facing the US west coast in the last few months. At its best, it’s an illogical piece of post-modern absurdism. At its worst, its empirically false and intentionally misleading, rife with out-of-context quotes and cherry-picked data. The author had 28 chances to make a single reasonable point, and every single one rang hollow.

Of course it went viral.

Since I believe in open, honest discourse, let me begin by pointing out that I am not a physicist, nor do I have any particular credentials when it comes to nuclear energy. I am a marine ecologist. You’ll find, however, that for these 28 points, the devil is not in the details. Most are the result of logical fallacies, rather than technical inaccuracies. Many are simply articles taken out of context or unbelievably tenuous observations followed by “couldn’t it be Fukushima?” In a follow up, the author even argues that he’s “Just asking questions” a phrase I thought was long ago relegated to Glenn Beck parodies. A fifth of these points don’t even have to do with the North American West Coast.

So here we go, with a point by point debunking of this unfortunate article. I’ve broken them out into larger themes which I hope will make the many logical fallacies apparent. For reasons that will become obvious, we begin with point 20.

An article arguing that the West Coast is being “absolutely fried” by radiation also argues that the radiation won’t reach us until 2014.

“20. One recent study concluded that a very large plume of cesium-137 from the Fukushima disaster will start flowing into U.S. coastal waters early next year…
Ocean simulations showed that the plume of radioactive cesium-137 released by the Fukushima disaster in 2011 could begin flowing into U.S. coastal waters starting in early 2014 and peak in 2016.”

The title of this article is “28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima”, but buried deep in the text is point 20 — the radioactive plume won’t reach the West Coast of the United States until 2014. Are you familiar with the old robot folk-saying “Does not compute”? Keep this point in mind while reading through the rest of these points. Interestingly, the whole paragraph that the 2014 line was cherry picked from reads:

“Ocean simulations showed that the plume of radioactive cesium-137 released by the Fukushima disaster in 2011 could begin flowing into U.S. coastal waters starting in early 2014 and peak in 2016. Luckily, two ocean currents off the eastern coast of Japan — the Kuroshio Current and the Kuroshio Extension — would have diluted the radioactive material so that its concentration fell well below the World Health Organization’s safety levels within four months of the Fukushima incident. But it could have been a different story if nuclear disaster struck on the other side of Japan.”


Points with no connection to Fukushima

These are real issues affecting the ocean but there is no evidence that any of them are connected to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Remember, the original article itself even noted that the first radioactive ocean plumes wouldn’t reach the Pacific coast of North America until 2014.

1. Polar bears, seals and walruses along the Alaska coastline are suffering from fur loss and open sores…

From the actual article cited:

“Reuters noted that preliminary studies do not support a theory that the disease is due to contamination from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.”


2.  There is an epidemic of sea lion deaths along the California coastline…

This is true, and those dead sea lions were killed by starvation. One theory is that a decline in food fish populations has made it harder for mothers to nurse newborn pups.

From one of the sources:

“Sarah Wilkin is a marine biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Asked why it has reached this point, she said: “We’re looking at whether the prey that these animals should be eating just isn’t available to them for some reason, and that could be because there’s less of it or because it’s moved and it’s not accessible.””


3.  Along the Pacific coast of Canada and the Alaska coastline, the population of sockeye salmon is at a historic low. Many are blaming Fukushima.

There is no mention in the source article of anyone blaming Fukushima. Salmon populations have been struggling for decades. What the article does say is:

“Conservation groups have sounded the alarm, saying Alaskan commercial fishermen are contributing to the problem as Skeena River sockeye get caught in the nets of Americans fishing for pink and chum sockeye.”


4. Something is causing fish all along the west coast of Canada to bleed from their gills, bellies and eyeballs.

The suspected cause is viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a disease known from other Pacific fish species. Again, no mention in the source of anything to do with Fukushima.

Points that are misleading or deliberately distort facts

5. A vast field of radioactive debris from Fukushima that is approximately the size of California has crossed the Pacific Ocean and is starting to collide with the west coast.

The 2011 earthquake and tsunami was an unprecedented natural disaster. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was an unprecedented human disaster. They are related, but they are not the same thing. There was a large amount of debris washed into the Pacific by the tsunami. A very small component of that debris may have come from Fukushima. There is not a California-sized island of radioactive debris making its way across the Pacific.

6. It is being projected that the radioactivity of coastal waters off the U.S. west coast could double over the next five to six years.

Technically true, egregiously misleading. From the source:

Tentatively assuming a value of 10 petabecquerel (PBq) for the net 137Caesium (Cs) input during the first weeks after the Fukushima incident, the simulation suggests a rapid dilution of peak radioactivity values to about 10 Bq/m³ during the first 2 years, followed by a gradual decline to 1–2 Bq/m³ over the next 4–7 years. The total peak radioactivity levels would then be about twice the pre-Fukushima values. “While this may sound alarming, these levels are still lower than those permitted for drinking water,” said Böning.


7. Experts have found very high levels of cesium-137 in plankton living in the waters of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the west coast.

True, but again, misleading. Cesium-137 doesn’t biomagnify like mercury. Cesium has a biological half-life of 70 days. Claiming that cesium-137 will travel up the “food chain” like mercury and other heavy metals do is simply wrong.

8. One test in California found that 15 out of 15 bluefin tuna were contaminated with radiation from Fukushima.

Again, the article ignores the fact that they found low-levels of cesium. From the source:

Low levels of radioactive cesium from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident turned up in fish caught off California in 2011, researchers reported Monday.

The bluefin spawn off Japan, and many migrate across the Pacific Ocean. Tissue samples taken from 15 bluefin caught in August, five months after the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, all contained reactor byproducts cesium-134 and cesium-137 at levels that produced radiation about 3% higher than natural background sources


9. Back in 2012, the Vancouver Sun reported that cesium-137 was being found in a very high percentage of the fish that Japan was selling to Canada…

There are important health issues associate with seafood caught near the power plant. Because of that, Japan has since suspended fishing activities near Fukushima and established an exclusion zone.

10. Canadian authorities are finding extremely high levels of nuclear radiation in certain fish samples…

The source for this is talking about fish from Japan, not Canada, although the author makes it sound like he’s talking about fish caught in Canada. Points 9 and 10 are actually the same point.

11. Some experts believe that we could see very high levels of cancer along the west coast just from people eating contaminated fish…

The science says otherwise:

The additional dose from Fukushima radionuclides to humans consuming tainted PBFT in the United States was calculated to be 0.9 and 4.7 μSv for average consumers and subsistence fishermen, respectively. Such doses are comparable to, or less than, the dose all humans routinely obtain from naturally occurring radionuclides in many food items, medical treatments, air travel, or other background sources. Although uncertainties remain regarding the assessment of cancer risk at low doses of ionizing radiation to humans, the dose received from PBFT consumption by subsistence fishermen can be estimated to result in two additional fatal cancer cases per 10,000,000 similarly exposed people.


Points that lacks sufficient context to be informative

13. An EU-funded study concluded that Fukushima released up to 210 quadrillion becquerels of cesium-137 into the atmosphere.

Ok, but how much is that? Is that a lot? Is that a dangerous amount? The total radiation from Fukushima is currently estimated to be about 5.5% of that released by Chernobyl.

14. Atmospheric radiation from Fukushima reached the west coast of the United States within a few days back in 2011.

When we measured that radiation in 2011, it was found to be too low to have any effect.

15. At this point, 300 tons of contaminated water is pouring into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima every single day.

The mass of water in an olympic swimming pool is 2500 tons. At this rate, it would take more than 8 days for that contaminated water to fill an olympic swimming pool. The Pacific ocean is significantly larger.

16. A senior researcher of marine chemistry at the Japan Meteorological Agency’s Meteorological Research Institute says that “30 billion becquerels of radioactive cesium and 30 billion becquerels of radioactive strontium” are being released into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima every single day.

Again, the article gives us no indication of whether those numbers are meaningful? Is that a lot?

17. According to Tepco, a total of somewhere between 20 trillion and 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium have gotten into the Pacific Ocean since the Fukushima disaster first began.

What does that mean? Where is the context. Just throwing out big numbers without providing any sort of explanation is nothing but scaremongering.

19. It has been estimated that up to 100 times as much nuclear radiation has been released into the ocean from Fukushima than was released during the entire Chernobyl disaster.

Fukushima is on the coast. Chernobyl was in the middle of the Ukraine. Of course there was more radiation released into the ocean by Fukushima. That doesn’t change the fact that the total radiation released by Fukushima is about 5.5% of that released by the Chernobyl disaster.

24. The Iodine-131, Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 that are constantly coming from Fukushima are going to affect the health of those living the the northern hemisphere for a very, very long time. Just consider what Harvey Wasserman had to say about this…

There are no scientific studies cited by this source. Harvey Wasserman is an anti-nuclear activist. There’s nothing inherently problematic about that, and I’m sure he’s got some interesting ideas to discuss, but I need to see the data backing up these (very vague) claims and the data is not provided.

Points that have nothing to do with the premise of the article, AKA non-sequitors

These next 6 points have plenty of issues, but the most pressing of which is that they have nothing to do with the US West Coast or how it is currently being fried by radiation from Fukushima. As they are non-sequitors, they do not warrant further analysis here.

12. BBC News recently reported that radiation levels around Fukushima are “18 times higher” than previously believed.

18. According to a professor at Tokyo University, 3 gigabecquerels of cesium-137 are flowing into the port at Fukushima Daiichi every single day.

21. It is being projected that significant levels of cesium-137 will reach every corner of the Pacific Ocean by the year 2020.

26. A study conducted last year came to the conclusion that radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster could negatively affect human life along the west coast of North America from Mexico to Alaska “for decades”.

27. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is being projected that the cleanup of Fukushima could take up to 40 years to complete.

28. Yale Professor Charles Perrow is warning that if the cleanup of Fukushima is not handled with 100% precision that humanity could be threatened “for thousands of years”…

Points that are just, plain wrong

22. It is being projected that the entire Pacific Ocean will soon “have cesium levels 5 to 10 times higher” than what we witnessed during the era of heavy atomic bomb testing in the Pacific many decades ago.

It is not easy to find direct comparisons between nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors, which makes me think this factoid was invented whole cloth. The closest I can find are comparisons in ‘units-Hiroshima’. In the Pacific, Castle Bravo alone had a 1000 times greater yield than Hiroshima. And Castle Bravo was only one of over 100 high yield nuclear weapons tests conducted by the United States. An additional 193 test were conducted by France in Polynesia. The most liberal sources I can find, place Fukushima at somewhere around 4000 Hiroshimas. That’s high, but it’s nowhere near the claim of 5 to 10 times higher than the Pacific nuclear weapons testing era.

23. The immense amounts of nuclear radiation getting into the water in the Pacific Ocean has caused environmental activist Joe Martino to issue the following warning: “Your days of eating Pacific Ocean fish are over.”

Actually, Gary Stamper said that. And Gary Stamper’s claims were completely debunked.

25. According to a recent Planet Infowars report, the California coastline is being transformed into “a dead zone”…

No. Just no. Planet InfoWars? No.

I have been to the California Coast, recently. It does not look anything like this bizarre article describes.


The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was an unparalleled environmental catastrophe and we will be seeing fallout from it for years to come. I honestly cannot think of any reason to fabricate a bunch of paranoid talking points to make it seem worse. Thousands of people were displaced from their home, many of them permanently. Contaminated waste was, and still is, being dumped into the water surround the plant. The energy infrastructure of an entire nation was compromised. Do we really need to blame Fukushima on a viral outbreak in British Columbia, too?

To put things in perspective, the Fukushima disaster released approximately one ten-thousandth of the total radiation produce by the world’s coal power plants annually. That number will either be reassuring or terrifying, but, really, it should be both.

There is another reason why articles like this are so compelling, particularly to those in rich, developed countries. It gives us the ability to blame the “foreign other” for our own environmental crises. It’s not our fault that salmon stocks are collapsing, it’s the Japanese! We aren’t the ones driving polar bears and marine mammal moralities, Fukushima did it! The West Coast of the United States is being fried. It’s being fried by over-fishing, agricultural run-off, runaway development, and a host of other issues, but it’s not being fried by Fukushima, and articles that promote that fallacious argument are distracting us from the dominant causes of environmental degradation on our coasts: Us.


  1. Joanne Panek-Dubrock · October 29, 2013

    So well addressed that even a grade school level brain can understand it……only if they truly read it.

  2. shortstack81 · October 29, 2013

    Thank you.

  3. John McKay · October 29, 2013

    Point 1 – There are no polar bears or walruses on the Pacific Coast. Polar bears are only found on the Arctic coast and walruses are only in the Bering Sea and Arctic.

  4. Lucia Malla · October 29, 2013

    Thank you SO MUCH for this article.

  5. Bob Danforth · October 29, 2013

    Key fact – Cesium has a short half life, a problem at first but not later. If we were talking Uranium, or similar long lived isotope it would be a lot more problematic. (why is long lived isotopes not being found?) The radiation counters that pegged at 100 and for months it was that 100 that was reported is very problematic and should not be ignored.(Is that where the 5.5% of Chernobyl numbers came from?) Even if the reported post was was bogus and hyperbole, there is more here than nothing, and all needs to be addressed..

  6. Chew · October 29, 2013

    Great takedown. I made this chart to help people who were freaking out about the Plume o’ Death stories to put things into perspective:


    • Andrew David Thaler · October 30, 2013

      Thanks, but I’m having trouble reading you map. The color scheme makes it very difficult to distinguish anything.

    • Chew · October 30, 2013

      The chart shows that all the world’s oceans have the isotope concentrations listed in the key. The latest plume study shows Cs-137 will reach a concentration of 10~30 Bq/m³ on the US west coast by next year. The oceans already contain 11,000 Bq/m³ of K-40, etc. 30 Bq/m³ will increase the radiation from the ocean by a whopping 0.25%.

    • Andrew David Thaler · October 30, 2013

      Ah, you may want to provide a bit more description in the figure, then. It isn’t at all clear that that is what you’re trying to convey. The key creates the impression that there are three different variables being compared. And if the ocean is completely uniform, I would argue that providing an entire world map is probably not the most effective way to present that data.

    • Chew · October 30, 2013


  7. Jessica Boulton · October 30, 2013

    This is a great article- thanks for clarifying the true scope of the disaster. It was awful, but scare-mongering doesn’t help the situation.

  8. Sarah Edmonds · October 30, 2013

    You are debunking the “facts” mentioned in article you are critiquing, but not citing the sources for your own “facts” which you are using to do the debunking. For instance, you say, “That doesn’t change the fact that the total radiation released by Fukushima is about 5.5% of that released by the Chernobyl disaster.” What is the source for that “fact?”

    • Andrew David Thaler · October 30, 2013

      All the sources are provided in the text.

  9. Patrick · October 30, 2013

    I note that the author of the original “article”, Michael T. Snyder, just happens to be advertising his own new book right on the same webpage. No, Michael T. Snyder, alarmist author, your “Truth” does not “win”.

  10. Andrew Meilstrup · October 30, 2013

    Point 24: Iodine-131 has a half-life of 8 days, 28 minutes, 8 seconds. Hardly something that can affect a hemisphere.

  11. Hiroshi Suzuki · October 30, 2013

    Japan gov’t fails Fukushima children
    30 October 2013 Voice of Russia
    The damage inflicted by the Fukushima disaster could be far more severe than the Japanese authorities would like people to believe. The Japanese government raised the radiation limits for exposure at schools near the Fukushima plant to 20 millisieverts. A senior nuclear adviser to the government at the time abruptly resigned in protest saying the level was 20 times too high.
    Mayor of the city of Matsumoto located on the Japanese island of Honshu, has been calling for children’s relocation from the areas. Living in an area contaminated by radiation weakens children’s immune system and severely harms their health.
    Japan’s now defunct Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency originally hid important radiation data from the general public, to avoid causing panic. Radioactive materials continue leaking into the groundwater from the plant even though Fukushima’s operator.

  12. mp · October 30, 2013

    Andrew, I could not find a source cited in the text for the claim in the conclusions “To put things in perspective, the Fukushima disaster released approximately one ten-thousandth of the total radiation produce by the world’s coal power plants annually. ” Can you please provide?

  13. Mike Rothschild · October 30, 2013

    I wrote the piece debunking Gary Stamper’s claims about Pacific Fish, and wrote a similiar debunking of this nonsense for Skeptoid. It’s great to have two pieces pinging around the internet to meet this crap head on. Let’s hope we can ease some fears.

  14. Douglas White · October 30, 2013

    Mr. Thaler, Thanks for your willingness to discuss my first post. I am a researcher of issues related to Fukushima and its effects on all forms of life.The best place to start in the NRC FOIA documents here: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/foia/japan-foia-info.html
    Several groups around the country have worked in on sections of the data in Public Record at NRC and if you would like to know were to look for data they might help. I recommend: https://www.youtube.com/user/HatrickPenry
    I wish to link persons like yourself with the data as much as possible. You have my number and don’t hesitate to call even if its 5 years from today.
    Douglas White

  15. James Greenidge · October 31, 2013

    I know it’s useless and that their biases are going to reject it, but I’d like permission to re-mail this article as Letters to the Editor of major U.S. media and press outlets. This kind of rebuttal must not be caged in cyberspace!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    • Andrew David Thaler · October 31, 2013

      Thanks, but it would probably be more effective if you wrote a fresh Letter to the Editor referencing this article. Generally speaking, newspapers and other traditional media aren’t interested in re-printing something that’s already been published.

  16. Geoff Russell · October 31, 2013

    Great article but the body of the article is at odds with the conclusion.

    The Fukushima accident was an industrial failure in the face of extreme conditions. If there is any evidence it was an environmental catastrophe, then please provide it.

    What will be the environmental impacts? On sea life? Obviously, most of the ocean life around Fukushima will be cheering at the reduction in fishing. That’s a huge plus. We can only hope that radiophobia will stop people fishing for a long time yet. Environmentally, the accident can only be considered a plus for sea life.

    Is there any evidence of fish die offs to match the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the factory farm pollution flooding river outlets? No.

    If people had stayed put and not evacuated, would there have been a surge in cancer? Compared to what? Move 100,000 Japanese to the US or my country (Australia) and there would indeed be a huge surge in cancer … particularly in the children. Aussie cancer rates are about 50% higher than those in Japan, due to our fat, lazy, red meat addicted BBQ culture. Ditto the US. In contrast there are no radiation levels in the evacuation zone that could produce anything like this kind of surge. You’d need some very fancy statistics to measure anything at all and even that’s not likely.

    There WERE two catastrophes caused by the response to Fukushima … firstly the hundreds of deaths caused by the evacuation. Unnecessary. Second the starvation of animals left behind … like the evacuation suffering, this was an unnecessary and barbaric consequence of ignorance.

  17. joffan7 · November 1, 2013

    Excellent debunking of the big-list attack format.

    Couple of updates:
    point # 6: “It is being projected that the radioactivity of coastal waters off the U.S. west coast could double over the next five to six years.”
    This is not “technically true”. It’s completely false. What IS technically true is that the amount of radioacesium in West Coast seawater will approximately double when the drift from Fukushima gets there – but that rise will not even be a single percentage shift in the total radioactivity of seawater.

    points # 7 and # 10: “very/extremely high levels of cesium” found in exported fish
    Again, this is not true for any reasonable definition of “very high levels”. No levels of cesium in exported fish were over or even approaching safe consumption limits.I very much doubt the sources had any numbers in them, or it would be too easy to refute, but in this case absence of evidence is definitely evidence of absence, given the media’s love of nuclear scare stories.

  18. C. Kilduff · November 1, 2013

    Scientists should be as skeptical of government standards as they are any other unsupported conclusion. For example, point 6: “‘While this may sound alarming, these levels are still lower than those permitted for drinking water,’ said Böning.” Governments set standards often with a wide enough margin that they won’t be crossed. One example – setting limits on a fishery that was previously unregulated by looking at past catch history and setting the limit above it. Yes, it’s a limit, but no, it doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. In the case of fisheries, it usually means “we don’t have any data to say otherwise and don’t want to upset the fishermen.”

    Or another example, water quality criteria for pH in some states is a range of 2.0 (i.e. 6.5-8.5). Just because ocean acidification is within the permitted range doesn’t make it good. It means no one thought of this problem when they set the limits. Is that the case here?

  19. Janet McCandlas · November 3, 2013

    I really appreciate this article. One shouldn’t have to resort to disinformation and obscuring the facts to promote one’s cause. And I think that people like the guy who wrote the original piece (of crap) should be held responsible for the harm they cause through fear-mongering. Here’s an interesting link on how the Fukushima incident has affected the mental health of those living in the vicinity. http://www.forbes.com/fdc/welcome_mjx.shtml

  20. Rob Meyer · November 3, 2013

    Thank you for writing this. It saved me hours of debunking research. Now, I will just post your article instead.

  21. go2riamb · November 3, 2013

    Whilst there are many pieces around which exaggerate what is/will happen to the West Coast of the North American continent; please bear this is mind as quoted in National Geographic http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/08/130829-fukushima-level-3-serious-incident-rating/…”Only two such events have rated a level 7—the original Fukushima accident in 2011 and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union, which received the rating retroactively. The partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979, the worst accident in U.S. nuclear power history, retroactively has been rated a 5.” I for one do not trust the Japanese government rating Fukushima as they have a vested interest if making things look better, their success in getting the Olympic Games in Tokyo. I live in Los Angeles so have a keen interest in the accuracies and dangers of what we face. I appreciate the facts pointed out in this well written piece yet it has nor reassured me at all.

  22. Mitch · November 3, 2013

    What most strikes and appalls me is the total unabashed dishonesty of nuclear critics slinging “facts” out of thin air and uncertified “research” to poison the waters and state their case to a clueless and gullible public that seldom verifies facts on its own.

  23. Matte Patte · November 3, 2013

    C. Kilduff, when it comes to standards regarding radioactivity it is safe to say that the safety margin is “considerable”! The safety standards is set by the WHO drinking water standards and I believe the US standards are a derivative of the WHO standards. The WHO standards are based on LNT with a hefty margin of extra safety. And as we all know, LNT is already supplying us with a significant overestimation of the health risks for radiation exposure up to at least 250 mSv and possibly even beoynd that.

    So the drinking water standards contain two levels of safety margins already (for radioactivity polutants), possibly due to the fact that radioactivity is far easier to measure than any chemical polutants. It is safe to say that the government drinking water standards regarding radioactivity is providing you with a very safe level with a margin of several orders of magnitude, so stop worrying.

  24. JohnD · November 3, 2013

    Thanks for researching and publishing this. I have already had to debunk the original article for a Face Book friend who should have known better. In the course of researching that I came across a paper you might like http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/05/30/1221834110.full.pdf The best bit is on pages 4 and 5 – “the effect of the dosage on humans”. I’ll never look at a banana in quite the same way again!

  25. go2riamb · November 3, 2013

    I might have more faith in the WHO drinking water standards if so many here (USA) were not drinking bottled water and if the tap water did not taste so dreadful in so many places. Whilst it is not correct to present tenuous opinions as solid facts, nor scaremonger simply for the sake of it; the Fukushima situation is very, very far from comfortably safe, Nor was it correct for the Japanese government to vie for and successfully secure the next Olympic Games for Tokyo when the largest removal so far of spent fuel rods from a stricken reactor in an unstable building is about to commence. Let us debunk untruths but not at the same behave like all is OK when it is patently not OK.

    • Chew · November 3, 2013

      To clarify the situation a little, the rods from reactor 4 were removed 3.5 months before the disaster started. They in the the spent fuel pool and are undamaged. They have had 3 years to lose almost all of their decay heat. The crane they erected to remove the rods is separate from containment building.

  26. ryan g · November 4, 2013

    Yeah, I wish there were more ready comparisons between radioactive substances in the ocean from atomic bomb testing and from Fukushima. This Forbes article – http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/09/04/solving-the-fukushima-radioactivity-problem-dump-it-all-into-the-ocean/ – states, “it’s been estimated that 100,000 TBq of cesium-137 contaminated the ocean from H-bomb testing in the 1960s.” He’s comparing that to the 0.3 terabecquerels that have have leaked each month from Fukushima.

    But he doesn’t provide a citation. It would add some helpful context.

    I have a question about bio-accumulation. Many folks use the “banana equivalent dose” test to compare the 40-K we would ingest from a banana to the 137-C we would ingest from a tainted bluefin (one portion of tainted bluefin contains 5% of the radioactive substances of a banana). My Q is: do our bodies process both isotopes just as efficiently? After ingesting a banana, our kidneys restore radiation levels in our body within about an hour. I’ve read that 137-C “mimics” potassium – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that our kidneys process it just like potassium. So, is it really fair to compare the two? They seem like different beasts to me (that share a system of measurement). I did see your note about the biological half-life of 137-C (70s days). So should I assume that it will bio-accumulate, but we’ll also be excreting it at a decent rate?

    • Chew · November 4, 2013

      100,000 TBq seems a little low. A kiloton of fission produces about 7 TBq of Cs-137 per kiloton. If 20% of the total atmospheric nuclear detonations of 427,900 kilotons was from fission, it would have produced ~600,000 TBq.


      “After ingesting a banana, our kidneys restore radiation levels in our body within about an hour.”

      The human body is not capable of “restoring radiation levels”. The half-life of potassium in the human body is about 16 days, if that answers your question.

      Now I have a question for Andrew about bio-accumulation. Why can’t cesium bioaccumulate? Methlymercury bioaccumulates in fish and it has a 72 day half-life in fish, comparable to cesium in humans. Isn’t the 70 day biological half-life of cesium-137 long enough to accumulate or is some other mechanism at work to reduce it?

    • ryan g · November 4, 2013

      Thanks, Chew. I was misunderstanding how that works inside the body. So put all together: potassium decays and is excreted (along with any other radioactive substances in our bodies) and the amount we acquire from a banana is so small – all that together means that the radiation concentrations in our does stay relatively stable.

      And with your ~600,000 TBq number – not all of that would end up in the immediate ocean, right? A portion would stay in the atmosphere a bit and spread elsewhere.

      Was Andrew saying that cesium does not at all bio-accumulate? The bluefin that traveled east across the pacific had bio-accumulated 137-C. The 137-C off Japan had adhered to zooplankton (and other primary providers). The bluefin acquired the radionuclides after ingesting primary providers (zooplanktons) during their youth off the coast of Japan. Then it accumulated up the food chain. The concentrations diminished as the bluefin traveled across the pacific (roughly 4 month journey) – they grew, it decayed, and some was excreted.

    • Andrew David Thaler · November 4, 2013

      Hi Ryan and Chew,

      I wrote “bioaccumulate” for the cesium/mercury comparison, but in retrospect I realize that I meant bio-magnify (methyl mercury is preferentially retained in fish tissues over other forms of mercury, so it becomes more concentrated and more toxic as you move up trophic levels, whereas there’s no preferential uptake of Cesium-137). Obviously a mistake on my part (and one I’ll correct in the text momentarily).

    • Chew · November 4, 2013

      Potassium has such a long half-life (1.28 billion years) a very tiny amount will decay in comparison to the biological half-life of 16 days. It is just metabolized and excreted.

      As for the cesium-137 generated during the nuclear testing era, some were ground bursts, some were air bursts, a few were subsurface bursts. Depending on the altitude of the detonation and the yield of the nuke, the contamination would vary between localized and world-wide. Of the amount that was blown into the atmosphere most would find its way back into the oceans.

      FYI, when you hear those reports of cesium-137 levels above background, they are referring to the cesium-137 generated by nuclear weapons testing. Cesium-137 is not found in nature (with the exception of the Oklo natural reactor); all cesium-137 is man-made.

  27. Sheanna Steingass · November 4, 2013

    @Ryan G: I’m not particularly a physicist, but have done some isotope work. The issue with radioactive isotopes, is that due to biological processes, heavier isotopes are always preferentially accumulated over lighter isotopes. That is why as you progress up the food web, the isotopic ratio of heavy isotopes always increases. The same could be said for radioactive isotopes especially. Because they are so heavy, they tend not to be diminished as quickly as the less-heavy stable isotopes. Therefore, they do eventually deteriorate, but not nearly as fast as one would hope. Does this help at all?

  28. dmcfarland · November 5, 2013

    As someone who is Nuclear Trained and took surveys in the Tokyo bay area during Fukushima – thank you. Thank you so much.

    I have found some studies (but lost the links) that said equated to the actual biological dose from Tuna spawning near Fukushima as comparable to a banana – twenty whole Tuna Steaks to a single banana. (The actual measurement is 100kg of tuna to 15 Becquerels, which is also what a Banana’s K-40 registers as, but due to biological half-lives of Cesium and Potassium, potassium being ~4x shorter and the gammas slightly weaker… well, do the math.)

    Andrew, a good thing to emphasis in your article is that it’s all about the [i]levels[/i] of radiation people are getting. When anyone puts it on a scale of “becqerels” or TBq or the like, everything sounds massive, when it’s really not. Being Navy, I myself am accustomed to mrem and rem for dose, and curies for contamination levels, while much of the scientific community is associated with Sieverts – and the media loves becquerels, because those just make everything sensationalist.
    As far as contamination levels – staying in the Tokyo Area after the incident, I received less of a dose than those who fled by flying to America. (my 40microSieverts to their 70.) The contamination levels were so low that when I did my Internal Monitoring afterwards, if I had eaten a banana, it would have shown up like a spot-light. Most of the people we surveyed had so little contamination in their systems, their bodies were still shielding the instruments from Background Radiation rather than providing a notable dose. Granted, this was the Tokyo Bay area, not Fukushima, but was soon after the incident.

  29. William · November 8, 2013

    Thank you very much for the article. I am currently assigned to duty on the Pacific North West coast. I have been worried about the affects, if any, of the fukushima incident for sometime now. I, like i can assume numerous other people, rely on “experts in the subject field” for information. It is really hard when you hear claims on both ends of the spectrum. Which do you believe? I have not only been concerned about the marine impact but also the higher altitude concerns as weather systems will travel faster than the ocean currents. With the amount of rainfall in the northwestern U.S., what effect if any could we expect to see reguarding plant and animal life? I assume by now, being more than two years after the incident, any negative impacts would be evident. I, however, will fully admit that my knowledge on radiation, half life concepts, measurements and other related issues is close to non existant. There are numerous resources available but some concepts are opinion based for example, some have said that radiation can be diluted in water to have almost no impact while others claim that it doesnt work that way in reguards to radioactivity. Any legitimate material that anyone could provide would be greatly appreciated.

  30. jack Gabel · November 8, 2013

    didn’t have time to read all comments, so apologies if this one is covered

    RE: No. 22 and Cesium levels from Fukushima vs Pacific nuclear testing. It’s clear that the ‘yield’ whatever exactly that means (explosive TNT rating alone or that plus fallout?) is far greater from the testing era, but I suspect the isotope mix is quite different.

    i.e., would be good to know which is more fatal, fallout from weapons testing or from power-plant reactor releases – is anyone posting here well enough informed to sort that out?

  31. go2riamb · November 10, 2013

    I wondered what the consensus here is on this Wired Magazine piece on what it terms “man-made lava” It does touch on Chernobyl and Fukushima…http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/04/the-most-dangerous-manmade-lava-flow/

  32. John Engdahl · November 13, 2013

    Thank you for taking the time to address the ridiculous statements made by Mr. Snyder. I am an expert in nuclear radiation detection. I have a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and I have taught nuclear radiation detection and measurements for many years. Radioactive isotopes and radiation in our environment is ubiquitous. Sea water naturally contains about 3 parts per billion of uranium. Total uranium content in the oceans of 4.5 billion tonnes of uranium. The total radioactivity of the uranium (natural mixture of uranium isotopes) is about 3.15 billion Curies (or 11700 quadrillion becquerels). As the Pacific ocean contains about 50% of the world’s sea water, that means the natural radioactivity content of the sea water in the Pacific, due to only uranium and not including the radioactivity of all the daughter products in the decay chains of the uranium isotopes, is already 550 times greater than the total release of 137-Cs activity quoted by Mr. Snyder. While the 137-Cs is not evenly diluted into the total volume of the ocean, it’s activity is already very diluted. Consider another way of looking at the risk. The max. allowable ingestion of 137-Cs is 3.7 million Becquerels. If the total 137-Cs released is diluted into 57 billion liters of water, you can drink it. That is about half a cubic kilometer of sea water. I think it’s safe to say that the 137-Cs activity falling into the sea was diluted into a much larger volume of water within a very short time. In terms of radiotoxicity, uranium decays by alpha emission and released far more energy than the beta from the decay of 137-Cs.

    All considered, Mr. Snyder’s misuse of big numbers and complete neglect of any scientific reasoning is obvious to anyone knowledgeable in nuclear radiation and it’s risks. We all receive much greater doses of radiation, everyday, just living on earth. If you fly in a plane, it goes up even more. I have would have no problem drinking the water right next to nuclear plants, except it’s too salty.

    • David McFarland · November 14, 2013

      Mr. Engdahl, by any chance would you be interested in getting in touch? I have a few questions and would, in general like to converse about the matter.

  33. John Engdahl · November 14, 2013

    Hello David, you can email me at jengdahl@bradley.edu

  34. Megan Eliza · November 17, 2013

    Thank-you very much for this — the misinformation with regards to the pacific coast of north america (in particular) has been driving me crazy, but I haven’t had the brain space to write it all out. Fortunately, you have. Bravo!

    • T-$ · November 21, 2013

      Thank you, Thank you. Thank you.

      It saddens me that conservationists and environmentalists who actually possess critical thinking skills are now being forced to respond to the drivel being circulated by fearmongers. But it is something that someone needs to do because I am at my wit’s end with this stuff. So thank you!

      Such a relief to be able to to guide my misguided Facebook friends to a site that dismantles this bs, point by point.

      Now, hopefully they can get back to the things they should be afraid of. There are plenty of those things to keep us occupied without dealing with distractions like this.

  35. Dr Duh · November 22, 2013

    I’m curious what the evidence for non-biomagnification of Cs137? I am not an ecologist, but Pinder seems to suggest that it does undergo biomagnification, “Biomagnification was also indicated for fish where the C(r) for the mostly nonpiscivorous L. macrochirus of 22,600 L kg⁻¹ was three times less than that for mostly piscivorous M. salmoides of 71,500 L kg⁻¹.”

    While comparing radiation exposure from Fukushima to common radiation exposures is valid, I think you should be judicious in how you quote the lay press, particularly partisan sources such as Tim Worstall of Forbes, whose body of work suggests a pro-business agenda as well as an affinity for climate change denial.

    Finally, I curious why you didn’t talk much about the release of Strontium 90? Povinec seems to suggest that the increase is “4-5 orders of magnitude” the biological half life is almost 50 years and there’s evidence from Mangano that the role it plays in cancer is greater than previously thought.

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