The Eric Factor: Radiation is not spreading across the Pacific

A good friend of mine, who has a very big heart and concern over environmental issues shared a story on Facebook recently entitled “Officials: Fukushima Has Now Contaminated 1/3 Of The Worlds Oceans.” My friend added “Bad news.” My first thought: there are five oceans. Just how does one come up with 1/3 of the number 5?

Fake news headline used to gain “likes” on Facebook.

The problem is, the headline is very misleading and the content not true. So I thought today was the perfect time to set the record straight on the “good news” that is going on.

The Earth is recovering from this disaster faster with each passing day.

In order to understand, let’s take a look at some chemistry. According to an article by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, “Radioactive materials are, by their very nature, unstable and decline in concentration over time. This change is measured in half-lives—the length of time it takes for the radiation to decrease by one-half. Every radioactive substance has a different half-life, ranging from fractions of a second to billions of years. Cesium-137, for example, has a half-life of 30 years and so, depending on its concentration, is a potentially serious health threat for decades or centuries. Iodine-131, on the other hand, has a half-life of just 8 days and so loses much of its potency after just days and effectively disappears after one to two months.”

Immediately following the March 2011 quake, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released this map showing potential wave heights. Unfortunately, fake news stories use this to show where radioactive seepage is occurring, which it does not depict.

I’m not saying that millions of gallons of contaminated water didn’t make it into the Pacific Ocean, because that likely did happen. And we really don’t know how much water has leaked into the ocean. But according to CBS News, much of what leaked is stored in 1,000 industrial tanks on site at Fukushima.

Still, the leakage after the massive earthquake and tsunami has been a logistical and environmental nightmare. But another thing we really need to look at the scope and comparison in size of the leakage and the size of the ocean. Let’s just say, ten million gallons of radioactive water made it into the ocean. Now, how much water is in the Pacific Ocean? 187 quintillion gallons. That’s 187 with 18 zeros.

187,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons in the ocean.
10,000,000 gallons of contaminated water released. (Estimate)

According to a report from the State of Hawaii in 2013 (a state that has a lot to bank on the clean water surrounding it), the radioactive material rapidly dilutes and disperses into other materials at “negligible levels.”

So, while this may have been a major news story in the days, weeks, and even few years after the disaster, it’s less of one as the radiation breaks down and time passes.

And the best news of all? Radiation is now undetectable in Alaska’s fish, according to a recent report by Alaska Dispatch News.

Sitka Salmon Shares was recently part of a taping of WQAD’s upcoming show called “Forks & The Road.”

Now, get back to sharing wqad.com stories! And who’s up for some salmon tonight?

-Meteorologist Eric Sorensen