Radioactivity from Japan flowing toward U.S. West Coast

Ocean water contaminated with radioactivity from the Japanese (Fukushima) nuclear power plant disaster (March 2011) is headed for the U.S. west coast. It is expected to hit us in 2014. But some radioactivity is already near our coast, affecting sea life.

A Stanford study has shown that all PBFT [Pacific BlueFin Tuna] caught off the West Coast of California had 10 times the usual amount of radioactive cesium present prior to the Fukushima event in March 2011. (News Source)

And there have also been reports in Canada of high levels of radioactivity in other types of Pacific ocean fish.

Radioactive cesium is a problem because of its long half-life: about 30 years. So it takes 30 years for the amount of radioactivity in any cesium-contaminated source to decrease by half, and ten sets of 30 years (300 years) to decrease to about one thousandth of the initial amount of radioactivity (1/1024). You do not want cesium-137 in your body, because its radioactivity will outlive you.

Radioactive iodine from Fukushima is not an issue — in terms of ocean water contamination reaching the U.S. The half-life is 8.1 days, and so in 81 days the level is reduced to one thousandth of the initial value. It takes much longer than that (3+ years) for radioactivity in ocean water to flow across the Pacific from Japan to the U.S. So potassium iodide pills are not much use in this particular case. (You should have some, though, in case a different radiological disaster occurs.)

On the other hand, the Fukushima power plant disaster is not over. It continues today. The situation is mostly contained, but some leakage of radioactivity is on-going.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster has to be considered an ongoing catastrophe, which requires constant reevaluation of the cumulative extent of contamination, especially considering the long half-lives of radioisotopes like cesium-137 or strontium-90. Future releases of radionuclides into ground water and the ocean cannot be excluded. As the UNSCEAR report to the UN General Assembly states: “low-level releases into the ocean were still ongoing in May 2013.” (Physicians for Social Responsibility)

And there seems to be no plan underway to solve the problem. The current strategy is containment. If that containment fails, another burst of radioactivity could be dumped into the Pacific, and then flow toward the U.S. again.

Radioactive strontium is even more of a problem than iodine or cesium. It has a half-life of 28.8 years, about the same length as cesium. But it’s more of a problem because the human body mistakes strontium (radioactive or not) for calcium. The strontium-90 can become incorporated into your bones and teeth, where it continues to be radioactive for as long as it remains there.

Now you might think that the radioactivity in the ocean water near Japan would be diluted by the huge volume of water in the Pacific, to the point where it couldn’t be much of a problem for us. But you’d be wrong. Fukushima Radiation Levels Will Concentrate in Pockets at Specific US and Canada West Coast Locations. Because of an ocean current that flows along Japan’s coast, right past Fukushima, across the Pacific to the California coast, the radioactivity does not dilute much. See the following graphic depicting year by year flow (Source:

Fortunately, there are some preventative measures you can take to prevent radioactive elements from remaining in your body (in the event of internal contamination. See my previous post: Antacids as a Treatment for Exposure to Nuclear Fallout.

– Thoreau

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