A week ago, the concern over radiation around Japan’s damaged nuclear plant centered on trace amounts of plutonium found in the soil and small amounts of radiation in the ocean several miles offshore. This week, workers are releasing tons of water into the ocean and struggling to locate and repair a crack that is allowing more to escape.
What will the effect be on the near-shore aquatic environment? Some experts maintain that the radiation will quickly be diluted in the ocean, and while this at first sounds suspiciously close to the outmoded “The solution to pollution is dilution,” it’s true that the amount of water being released is small in comparison to the water body it’s flowing into. About 11,500 tons of radioactive water—3 million gallons—were being dumped into the ocean as of Monday. A professor of nuclear engineering tried to put that amount into perspective by noting that it’s roughly the equivalent of five swimming pools worth of water, and the Pacific Ocean holds the equivalent of about 300 trillion swimming pools.
But of course the release is taking place close to the shore, and depending on the geography of the shoreline and the current patterns, it will take time for the discharged water to disperse. Officials in Japan have found radioactive iodine in a sample of fresh fish, and the Chief Cabinet Secretary has announced that radiation in seafood will now be regulated, as is already happening with fresh milk and vegetables from some areas around the plant.