WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- On March 11, 2011, an earthquake with a magnitude-9 hit northeastern Japan causing a massive tsunami that has a direct financial damage of about $199 billion.
- The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant had a cooling system failure caused by the tsunami and resulted in a level-7 nuclear meltdown.
- The release of radioactive materials affected nearby places but recently, scientists found high levels of cesium-137 in beaches tens of kilometers away.
The Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster happened in 2011 after a strong earthquake shook Japan creating a savage tsunami that wreaks havoc to the northeastern part of the country.
The tsunami destroyed the electrical power and backup generators causing the nuclear plant to lose its cooling capabilities. After six years, radioactive materials are seeping into the Pacific Ocean from an unexpected place. Cesium-137, a major by-product of nuclear power generation, are discovered in salty groundwater beneath sand beaches tens of kilometers away.
Eight different beaches within 100 kilometers of the plant were tested for radioactivity. Scientists constantly monitor oceans, rivers and groundwater sources for radioactivity following the nuclear accident. These places didn’t prove to be the most contaminated water sources. The place with the second highest levels of the radioactive element was in brackish groundwater underneath the beaches. The highest levels were, of course, found directly beneath the nuclear plant reactor. Researchers reported the discovery on October 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Virginie Sanial, a co-author of the study said that seawater contaminated with high levels of cesium-137 possibly spread along the Pacific coast and wrapped the beaches. Sanial conducted the study at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and is now a geochemist at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
Some cesium stuck in the sand and eventually seeped down into the brackish groundwater beneath. The radioactive material is gradually making its way into the vast ocean.
Sanial’s team evaluates that the groundwater is discharging the radioactive material into the coastal ocean at an alarming rate that equals the leakage of cesium into the ocean from the nuclear reactor site itself.
Sanial said that since this water isn’t a source for drinking, the contamination isn’t an emergent public health threat. “But with about half of the world’s nuclear power plants located on coastlines, such areas are potentially important contamination reservoirs and release sites to monitor after future accidents.”