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1 million tons of Fukushima debris floating near US West Coast?

Published time: November 05, 2013 17:53
Edited time: November 07, 2013 10:53
Debris floats in the Pacific Ocean off the east coast of Japan, in this U.S. Navy handout photo dated March 14, 2011. (Reuters/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Steve White)

Debris floats in the Pacific Ocean off the east coast of Japan, in this U.S. Navy handout photo dated March 14, 2011. (Reuters/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Steve White)

Over a million tons of Fukushima debris could be just 1,700 miles off the American coast, floating between Hawaii and California, according to research by a US government agency.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently updated its report on the movement of the Japanese debris, generated by the March 2011 tsunami, which killed 16,000 people and led to the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown.

Seventy percent of an estimated 5 million tons of debris sank near the coast of Japan, according to the Ministry of Environment. The rest presumably floated out into the Pacific.

While there are no accurate estimates as to where the post-tsunami junk has traveled so far, the NOAA has come up with a computer model of the debris movement, which gives an idea of where its highest concentration could be found.

That area is crosshatched at the NOAA model below and resembles an island quite near the US shore.

The NOAA graphics have led to numerous media reporting about an island of rubbish moving towards the US.

The agency was forced to alleviate the concerns in an article saying there was “no solid mass of debris from Japan heading to the United States.”

At this point, nearly three years after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, whatever debris remains floating is very spread out. It is spread out so much that you could fly a plane over the Pacific Ocean and not see any debris since it is spread over a huge area, and most of the debris is small, hard-to-see objects,” NOAA explains on its official webpage.

The agency has stressed its research is just computer simulation, adding that “observations of the area with satellites have not shown any debris.”

Despite the fact the tsunami debris is scattered and does not form a solid mass, the researchers still believe it’s a serious matter to keep an eye on.

In this image released by the US Navy Visual News Service March 14, 2011 shows an aerial view of debris on March 13, 2011 from an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck northern Japan. (AFP Photo/Navy Visual News Service/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alexander Tidd)

Scientists are particularly interested in the organisms that could be living on objects from Japan reaching the west coast.

"At first we were only thinking about objects like the floating docks, but now we’re finding that all kinds of Japanese organisms are growing on the debris," John Chapman of the Marine Science Center at Oregon State University told Fox News.

"We've found over 165 non-native species so far," he continued. "One type of insect, and almost all the others are marine organisms … we found the European blue mussel, which was introduced to Asia long ago, and then it grew on a lot of these things that are coming across the Pacific ... we’d never seen it here, and we don’t particularly want it here."

The worst-case scenario would be that the trash is housing invasive organisms that could disrupt the local environment’s current balance of life. Such was the case in Guam, where earlier this year it was announced that the US government intended to parachute dead mice laced with sedatives on to the island in order to deal with an invasive species of brown tree snake that was believed to have been brought to the American territory on a military ship over 60 years ago. In a little over half a century, a few snakes spawned what became an estimated 2 million animals, the likes of which ravaged the island’s native bird population and warranted government intervention.

Other concerns such as radiation, meanwhile, have been downplayed. On its website, the NOAA says, “Radiation experts agree that it is highly unlikely that any tsunami-generated marine debris will hold harmful levels of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear emergency.”

Independent groups like the 5 Gyres Institute, which tracks pollution at sea, have echoed the NOAA’s findings, saying that radiation readings have been “inconsequential.” Even the release of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear reactor shouldn't be a grave concern, since scientists say it will be diluted to the point of being harmless by the time it reaches American shores in 2014.

Comments (49)


Mel 20.08.2014 06:49

This is NOT "Fukushima" ; debris! This is debris from all along the affected coast of Japan. Putting a "Fukushima" ; spin on it makes a great rabble-rousing headline because it suggests that the debris is contaminated by radioactivity and it hooks into the fear mentality cultivated especially in the US. In reality a tiny proportion of this debris is from around the reactor, if any.


Daniel 26.03.2014 22:19

The EPA and FDA services were mentioned as being turned off. Also the west coast may need to be evacuated.
I am not sure about the rumors that Canada west coast has large daisies and other vegetation. As well as high radiation in the flight zone over the Pacific ocean.

This probably does not take into consideration of the rain falling and most likely effecting the food chain which animals might graze off the land and water contamination. Perhaps people in west coast will be entitled to tax breaks seeing how much government cares.


mergon 22.02.2014 11:21

No accurate knowledge as to where its gone ? lies lies and more lies, 1960s America placed placed deep sea buoy,s into the worlds oceans to measure current ,flow and temperature and there are a lot of electronics on these buoy,s they have an exact map of all of of the worlds oceans , and any radiation in the flows .
Once you have the map of damaged waters you know what fish products you dont want to buy .
Also its expensive to decontaminate warships ,so please dont us they dont know what waters are contaminated
because its a lie !
These buoys were designed to detect radiation in the oceans !

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