Radiation from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant will reach United States waters next year. The plant was crippled during the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
The radioactive plume of water is currently floating in the Pacific Ocean, but a new study suggests it will enter US coastal waters in 2014.
Simulations of ocean current showed that the plume of radioactive cesium-137 released in the 2011 disaster will likely begin hitting next year and peak in 2016, reports Live Science.
While the radiation is a concern, it was be diluted by the Kuroshio Current and the Kuriosho Extension within four months of the disaster. Its concentration is believed to be well below the safety levels put forth by the World Health Organization.
There are three sources for the radioactive plume, notes NBC News. Along with radioactive particles from the atmosphere, contaminated water released from the plant and water that was contaminated when touched by tainted soil are all part of the mass.
The study is detailed in the October issue of the journal Deep-Sea Research Part 1. It was headed by Vincent Rossi, an oceanographer and postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in Spain.
Rossi explained of the Fukushima contaminated water, “The environmental impact could have been worse if the contaminated water would have been released in another oceanic environment in which the circulation was less energetic and less turbulent.” But Japan’s turbulent eastern currents have allowed the radioactive water to mix with ocean water.
Researchers averaged 27 experimental runs of their model to predict the spread of cesium-137. Each run started in a different year to make sure that the spread wasn’t affected by any ocean conditions. Cesium-137 is preferred by oceanographers who want to track the ocean currents. This is because it doesn’t interact much with things in the water and decays slowly.
The team predicted the path of the radioactive plume until it released the US continental shelf waters, which stretch offshore about 180 miles. While some of the radiation will reach US and Canadian coastal waters starting next year, the majority of it will get stuck in the North Pacific gyre, a portion of the ocean that circulates clockwise. It is also home to the notorious Great Pacific Garbage Patch — the resting place of tons and tons of Japan tsunami debris.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]