Higher levels of radiation from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster have been detected off the West Coast of the United States, while energy experts say America is “woefully” unprepared to deal with a similar crisis within its borders.
Five years ago today, in March 2011, a large earthquake and massive tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. More than 30 million Japanese were exposed to the radioactive fallout, while more than 150,000 people evacuated their homes as a result.
In late 2014, scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) first detected radiation had reached the California coast. In April of last year, the team recorded the first traces of radiation along the actual shoreline of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.
Now, marine radiochemist Ken Buesseler and his team have detected the highest level to date, roughly 1,600 miles west of San Francisco. The samples are 50 percent more radioactive than other samples collected so far.
The WHOI stressed that this “is still more than 500 times lower than US government safety limits for drinking water, and well below limits of concern for direct exposure while swimming, boating, or other recreational activities.”
However, Buesseler added that even though this is the case, “the changing values underscore the need to more closely monitor contamination levels across the Pacific.”
Additionally, Buesseler said radiation levels near Fukushima itself continue to be elevated. They are roughly 10 to 100 times higher than the levels his team is recording off the North American West Coast, and scientists are still trying to determine how much Fukushima continues to leak.
“Levels today off Japan are thousands of times lower than during the peak releases in 2011. That said, finding values that are still elevated off Fukushima confirms that there is continued release from the plant,” said Buesseler.
Experts at the anti-nuclear watchdog Beyond Nuclear said Thursday that the US still lacks a “reasonable” plan to prevent a similar event in the US and protect Americans in the event one occurs. The group said 30 GE boiling reactors identical to the ones used in Fukushima – the kind “most vulnerable to catastrophic failure” – are still operating in the US.