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NOAA Study: Radiation From Fukushima Very Dilluted, Seafood Safe 267

Posted by timothy
from the actually-the-seafood-is-now-even-more-delicious dept.
JSBiff writes "Ars Technica is reporting on a study by NOAA scientists who surveyed the ocean near Fukushima, which concludes that while a lot of radioactivity was released into the water, as would be expected, it diluted out to levels that pose little risk to wildlife or humans, and that the seafood is safe to eat. Perhaps we needn't worry so much about "millions of gallons of radioactive water" being released into the ocean, like it's a major environmental disaster, as it's really not — the ocean is many orders of magnitude larger than any accidental release of radiation which might happen from a nuclear plant."
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NOAA Study: Radiation From Fukushima Very Dilluted, Seafood Safe

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  • by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @10:45AM (#39560109) Homepage

    I wonder which will prevail ?

    I lied. Heh. I wish I wondered.

    • by bigredradio (631970) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @10:51AM (#39560199) Homepage Journal
      Actually, which will prevail? Politically motivated scaremongering or corporations manipulating safety data to prevent a drop in stock price.
      • by 0racle (667029) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @11:25AM (#39560661)
        Scaremongering it is.
      • by Baloroth (2370816) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @11:27AM (#39560699)

        Actually, which will prevail? Politically motivated scaremongering or corporations manipulating safety data to prevent a drop in stock price.

        [citation needed]

        Seriously, unless you have some evidence to back that up, simply claiming scientific fraud because you happen to disagree with the results is not a valid argument, sorry. The scientists give hard numbers to justify their conclusions, even mentioning that the released contamination was on the high sides of the estimates. Fortunately, the ocean is really, really big, so even an apparently massive amount of contamination (relatively speaking) amounts to an extremely diluted concentration.

        • by Raul654 (453029) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @12:08PM (#39561213) Homepage

          "simply claiming scientific fraud because you happen to disagree with the results is not a valid argument, sorry." - while this is true a philosophy class, in the real world it falls down. In the real world, there are plenty of scientists whose results can be discounted a priori. I automatically discount anything a "scientist" employed by a tobacco company has to say about cigarette safety, or that an oil company scientist has to say about global warming or the safety of fracking. It's too easy for them to cause bias in their results in ways that are nearly impossible for a non-expert to figure out.

          In this case, the results were from NOAA, which doesn't have a horse in the race, as far as I'm aware.

          • by GungaDan (195739) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @12:18PM (#39561327) Homepage

            "the results were from NOAA, which doesn't have a horse in the race"

            It has two in the ark.

          • by Baloroth (2370816)

            An excellent point. In fact, one of the first things I checked before posting was who funded the results (I've learned that doing your homework before posting can save a lot of face later). If TEPCO had funded it, that would have been enough evidence to doubt the results (I would note, though, that you cannot throw them out completely, but certainly make sure to get a second opinion from an unbiased expert). But, as you say, NOAA doesn't (seem) to have any interest in skewing the results.

        • by Shavano (2541114)

          Also, there's an ocean current that carries the contaminated water eastward away from Japan. That has to help.

        • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @12:22PM (#39561369)

          extremely diluted concentration.

          Cripes, the homeopathic crowd will never go near a beach again.

    • by Moheeheeko (1682914) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @10:55AM (#39560261)
      Obligatory xkcd http://xkcd.com/radiation/ [xkcd.com]
      • by borrrden (2014802)
        The Tokyo one seems mislabeled as milli instead of micro (especially going by the block sizes). I think there would be a huge problem with 40 millisieverts.....
        • by digitig (1056110)
          I think you're right, especially considering the other Fukushima figures. 40mSv also appears as "approximate total dose at one station at the north-west edge of the Fukushima exclusion zone" in the orange area.
    • by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @11:07AM (#39560415) Homepage Journal

      If you're worried about contaminated fish, worry about mercury, from fossil fuel usage. Eating fish every day is basically a no-no these days thanks to the LACK of nuclear power.

      • If you're worried about contaminated fish, worry about mercury.

        Like the meltdown spewage, mercury is also very dilute. In fact, only a few hundred tons of mercury can contaminate an entire ocean. How? Through bio-accumulation. The concentration of organomercury compounds in sea creatures can be millions of times higher than that of the water they live in.

        This article only seems to address the low level of nuclear waste in the water. It doesn't analyze how much those materials might get concentrated as they move up the food chain.

        So I wouldn't stop worrying about the me

        • by squizzar (1031726) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @11:51AM (#39561009)

          Nuclear material will decay, mercury will not.

          • by X0563511 (793323)

            Nuclear material will decay

            ... into what? Are the child products safer than mercury etc?

            • by tnk1 (899206)

              A fair question. In some cases, it will decay into something almost as dangerous, but the tendency in nuclear decay is to decay into something stable and non-radioactive. Also, the most energetic, and hence, most dangerous isotopes tend to be pretty short lived.

              Now, nothing says that a resulting stable element will be one that you want in your system, of course. And certainly, if that decay is happening while it is already in your body, the fact that it becomes more stable won't help, as you will be taki

            • by Americano (920576) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @01:26PM (#39562135)

              Are the child products safer than mercury etc?

              As best I can see, yes - the products are much safer than mercury. As best I can tell, from the article and a bit of digging on the big radioisotopes released into the water and air around the Fukushima plant, there's just not a lot to worry about, even as these materials decay.

              Cesium 134 decays down to Barium which is highly reactive with water to form Barium Hydroxide, which in turn reacts with Carbon Dioxide to form Barium Carbonate which in turn reacts with acids to form highly water-soluble salts (e.g., Barium Chloride) - which is toxic, but requires a 1-5g dose for toxicity in an 'average' person, and this amount of concentration in other life forms would pretty much render them dead long before they reached your table.

              Iodine 131 will decay down to inert Xenon (and rapidly - about 8 day half life). Tellurium 129 has a half life of 6 days, and decays to low-energy Iodine 129, which has a half life in the millions of years, and will eventually decay to inert xenon-129.

              Cesium 137 and Strontium 90 are the two "long-lived" isotopes released, and present the largest danger, but the materials are diluted to levels below even background radiation from isotopes normally found in seawater (e.g. Potassium-40), meaning you should be much more worried about naturally occurring radioactive potassium in your fish than you should be about the Cesium and Strontium released by Fukushima.

              Not a chemist by training or trade, so feel free to offer corrections, but it certainly doesn't seem like there's much cause for concern.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by SoupGuru (723634)
      But I need to be OUTRAGED by something!!!
      • by tnk1 (899206)

        I am OUTRAGED by your OUTRAGE!

        There you go, I've discovered perpetual motion.

  • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @10:48AM (#39560151)

    Unless they were doing a lot of extra work to match isotopes, most of the "bulk" radiation in the ocean from power generation is from burning coal.
    There's really quite a bit of U in coal, and if you burn a gigatons of the stuff a ppm here and there starts to add up.

    • by miknix (1047580) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @10:55AM (#39560269) Homepage

      It is interesting to see that even with all of current scaremongering about nuclear power, the oil spills still were orders of magnitude MORE dangerous to oceanic wildlife than the Fukushima radioactive leak. This should be something to think about..

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        What do we do with the waste? It's mostly ( >90% ) more dangerous than ore. The biggest problem with Fuckishima (sic) is the ponds of waste. Scaremongering aside, when solar is cheaper for a country than nuclear, why go with nuclear? (as is the case in my country)
        • by miknix (1047580)

          I'm not a nuclear supporter. In fact, I live in a country where more than 50% of energy already comes from renewable sources:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_Portugal [wikipedia.org]

          Still, I find the nuclear power less problematic (or cleaner) than fossil fuel, hence my comparison above.

        • by Shavano (2541114)

          What do we do with the waste? It's mostly ( >90% ) more dangerous than ore. The biggest problem with Fuckishima (sic) is the ponds of waste. Scaremongering aside, when solar is cheaper for a country than nuclear, why go with nuclear? (as is the case in my country)

          Nuclear power plants work at night and on rainy days.

        • by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @12:53PM (#39561743)

          What do we do with the waste? It's mostly ( >90% ) more dangerous than ore. The biggest problem with Fuckishima (sic) is the ponds of waste. Scaremongering aside, when solar is cheaper for a country than nuclear, why go with nuclear? (as is the case in my country)

          Off the top of your head, how much coal do you think needs to be burned to power your house for 30 years? How much high-level nuclear waste do you think is generated from powering it with nuclear?

          Photovoltaic solar is nearly an order of magnitude more expensive than nuclear. If you live somewhere where it's cheaper, then you're probably failing to subtract out government subsidies from the equation. Hydro is cheaper, but already tapped out in most developed countries. Wind is getting close, at about 1.5-2x more expensive. If you live in an area with strong, consistent, and abundant winds (like one of the respondents in Portugal), it's probably already cheaper than nuclear/coal. Solar thermal can be the cheapest yet, but due to directly converting the solar energy into heat its applications are limited.

          Back to my first questions. It takes about a train car full of coal to power your house for 30 years. That's how much mass is turned into pollution - either ash or particulates which get into the atmosphere (including trace amounts of atomic mercury, uranium, and thorium - the trace uranium in coal actually contains more energy than the coal itself). In contrast, nuclear can provide the same amount of electricity while generating about a tablespoon of high level waste. Yes when you scale up to the electrical needs of an entire country, the amount of nuclear waste starts to look scary. But only if you fail to scale the alternatives - the waste is a minuscule amount compared to pollution from fossil fuels. The U.S. generates about 20% of its electricity from nuclear. In the process, it generates about 2000 tons of raw high-level waste each year. 2000 tons would (if consolidated) fit into two tractor trailers. When I did the same calc for coal, it came out to something ridiculous like 15,000 oil tankers. And that's ignoring that a significant fraction of the mass is converted into high-volume gases (primarily CO2, with the O2 taken from the air) and released into the atmosphere. That's why the U.S. been able to run nuclear plants for ~60 years without a waste storage site. There's so little waste generated that the nuclear plants have just been storing decades worth of it on-site in pools of water.

          As for what to do with the nuclear waste, it's only called waste because of politics. Our current fission reactors only extract a few percent of the fissile energy contained in the uranium. That's why the waste is radioactive for so long - it still contains almost all of the energy of the radionuclide decay chain. You can extract most of the remaining energy by using the "waste" as fuel in a breeder reactor, which in turn converts it into a form which can be used as fuel in regular reactors. This in turn results in waste which only needs to be stored for a bit over a hundred years. This is why a repository like Yucca Mountain was a good idea. Until fusion reactors become viable and widescale, future generations would probably view Yucca Mountain as a fuel source, not a long-term waste storage site. Unfortunately, one of the fissile products of breeder reactors is weapons-grade plutonium. So politically, reprocessing (as it's called) is unappealing.

      • by jeffmeden (135043)

        It is interesting to see that even with all of current scaremongering about nuclear power, the oil spills still were orders of magnitude MORE dangerous to oceanic wildlife than the Fukushima radioactive leak. This should be something to think about..

        They aren't done cleaning up (and disposing of) all the square miles of land that was contaminated though, let alone the facility itself as it is pretty unusable as a power plant so the whole thing needs to be chopped up and processed as hazardous waste. Unless, of course, you think we are safe to just pitch it in the ocean since "its not as bad as an oil spill..."

        • by Dynedain (141758)

          the whole thing needs to be chopped up and processed as hazardous waste. Unless, of course, you think we are safe to just pitch it in the ocean since "its not as bad as an oil spill..."

          Your argument actually gives more weight to nuclear. Because it was on land we CAN clean up and dispose of a large amount of the contamination. We can't clean up anywhere near as much of the BP Gulf mess.

      • by Creepy (93888)

        Add to the fact that this accident didn't even come close to Chernobyl, and that didn't come close to the 20 above ground nuclear blasts performed on Bikini Atoll in the 1940s and 1950s, including the first hydrogen bomb and residual contamination to a Japanese fishing boat and crew that inspired the movie Godzilla.

    • by Shavano (2541114)

      I think most of the bulk radiation in the ocean is due to the sun. (because it converts nitrogen to Carbon-14). Darn sun!

  • Momentarily there will be people posting to assure you that it's a major disaster and that the huge death toll has been covered up by the International Nuclear Advocacy Mafia (tm).

  • It's all relative (Score:5, Interesting)

    by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @10:52AM (#39560217)

    1 million gallons of dirty water sounds bad--until you dilute it into 350 quintillion gallons of clean water.

    And hey, compared to all the fecal matter you're eating with your seafood, a little cesium is nothing.

  • by oGMo (379)

    Is pickled radiation any less harmful?

  • Here is one set of numbers on natural sources of exposure. http://www.umich.edu/~radinfo/introduction/natural.htm [umich.edu]
  • by kimvette (919543) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @11:02AM (#39560359) Homepage Journal

    Oh, sure, they'll keep saying it's safe until Godzilla rises from the sea and wreaks havoc on Tokyo!

  • So is the fish and sea water in Japan now homeopathic and going to make people immune to radiation?

    • No no. I thought Homeopathy dilution (delusion) makes it more potent. So that means we are all going to die of radiation poisoning if we even breathe the ocean air.
      • by jeffmeden (135043)

        No no. I thought Homeopathy dilution (delusion) makes it more potent. So that means we are all going to die of radiation poisoning if we even breathe the ocean air.

        But just think, after that you will be completely immune to radiation poisoning... Ah, the miracles of ancient medicine!

    • Patent that and sell it NOW and make a lot of money off the gullible idiots. Homeopathy makes my eyes roll, but it's not my place to tell a moron they can't Darwin themselves while spending ridiculous amounts of cash on purified water.
      • by jeffmeden (135043)

        Patent that and sell it NOW and make a lot of money off the gullible idiots. Homeopathy makes my eyes roll, but it's not my place to tell a moron they can't Darwin themselves while spending ridiculous amounts of cash on purified water.

        Let's be honest, placebos are effective (to a certain extent) so long as they are believed in. In that regard, what is the exact harm in a "medicine" that works as long as you believe in it, and a belief system around it sufficient to maintain that reality? Are Big Pharma and blockbuster prescriptions really that appealing that they should be our only choice? Consider that wine tastes better the more you spend on it, and depression is almost entirely curable with a placebo (to the extent that medication w

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          Let's be honest, placebos are effective (to a certain extent) so long as they are believed in.

          Actually, that's not so clear [slashdot.org].

          In that regard, what is the exact harm in a "medicine" that works as long as you believe in it, and a belief system around it sufficient to maintain that reality?

          Because people who believe in it are resorting to it instead of seeing a real doctor who can determine if real medicine can help them, or if a placebo is the best that can be done. And if that's the case, a placebo can be "prescribed" at a price appropriate for sugar pills instead of the ridiculous prices for homeopathic preparations.

          However since lying to patients presents an ethical issue (something the socio- I mean homeopaths screwing over the gullible don't care about), y

        • The placebo effect only goes so far. People treating themselves with placebos are not going to seek real treatments which could potentially save their lives. I'd consider that real harm.

  • Let's test that the way they did long ago. The ones who are reporting the seafood to be safe should be required to eat it.

    We'll watch them for a few months to see whether they become ill.

  • Sorry to be pedantic: "Diluted" - one "el".

    Really - it's hard to tell with all of those vertical lines. I once worked for a company that had "illlinois" in the letterhead. Everyone ignored the spell-check alert because it was trendy to do it all in lower-case and they figured that the error was just the first letter missing the cap.

  • as opposed to dilluted

  • Comparisons (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dragonhunter21 (1815102) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @11:49AM (#39560987) Journal

    Wikipedia says that an estimated 520 tons of radioactive water were dumped into the sea. That rounds out to a shade under 60,000 gallons of water. Compare that to the volume of the whole Pacific Ocean (174400000000000000000 gallons) and you start to see just how minor the release was in the grand scheme of things. Just to really show the difference, if we use the same ratio in terms of distance and make the Fukushima release as the height of a common housefly, then the Pacific Ocean is a trip to Pluto, halfway back, and a bit more besides.

    • by TopSpin (753)

      520 tons / 8.33 lbs = 124,850 gallons

      A cube of water about 25 feet a side.

  • I thought all they had were giant jellyfish around Japan the last couple years. People don't eat those, which may be part of why that's all that's left.

  • by j_schmoe (186551) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @12:45PM (#39561631)

    The linked article/summary is inaccurate as the scientists who did the study are not NOAA folks. They're from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Stony Brook University, and the University of Tokyo. [author affiliations from the actual paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [pnas.org] ]. The study was funded by the Moore Foundation, National Science Foundation, and WHOI.

    So please redirect all government conspiracy comments to the university/academic conspiracy forum.

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