The operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant has been dumping something like a thousand tons per day of radioactive water into the Pacific ocean.
Remember, the reactors are â€œriddled with meltdown holesâ€, building 4 â€“ with more radiation than all nuclear bombs ever dropped or tested â€“ is missing entire walls, and building 3 is a pile of rubble.
Most people assume that the ocean will dilute the radiation from Fukushima enough that any radiation reaching the West Coast of the U.S. will be low.
For example, the Congressional Research Service wrote in April:
Scientists have stated that radiation in the ocean very quickly becomes diluted and would not be a problem beyond the coast of Japan.
U.S. fisheries are unlikely to be affected because radioactive material that enters the marine environment would be greatly diluted before reaching U.S. fishing grounds.
And a Woods Hole oceanographer said:
â€œThe Kuroshio current is considered like the Gulf Stream of the Pacific, a very large current that can rapidly carry the radioactivity into the interiorâ€ of the ocean, Buesseler said.
â€œBut it also dilutes along the way, causing a lot of mixing and decreasing radioactivity as it moves offshore.â€
But â€“ just as we noted 2 days after the earthquake hit that the jet stream might carry radiation to the U.S. by wind â€“ we are now warning that ocean currents might carry more radiation to the at least some portions of the West Coast of North America than is assumed.
Specifically, we noted more than a year ago:
The ocean currents head from Japan to the West Coast of the U.S.
As AP notes:
The floating debris will likely be carried by currents off of Japan toward Washington, Oregon and California before turning toward Hawaii and back again toward Asia, circulating in what is known as the North Pacific gyre, said Curt Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle oceanographer who has spent decades tracking flotsam.
â€œAll this debris will find a way to reach the West coast or stop in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,â€ a swirling mass of concentrated marine litter in the Pacific Ocean, said Luca Centurioni, a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.
Here is what the North Pacific Gyre looks like:
CNN said that â€œthe Hawaiian islands may get a new and unwelcome addition in coming months â€” a giant new island of debris floating in from Japan.â€ It relied in part on work done by the University of Hawaiiâ€™s International Pacific Research Center, which predicts that:
â€œIn three years, the [debris] plume will reach the U.S. West Coast, dumping debris on Californian beaches and the beaches of British Columbia, Alaska, and Baja California. The debris will then drift into the famous North Pacific Garbage Patch, where it will wander around and break into smaller and smaller pieces. In five years, Hawaii shores can expect to see another barrage of debris that is stronger and longer lastingthan the first one. Much of the debris leaving the North Pacific Garbage Patch ends up on Hawaiiâ€™s reefs and beaches.â€
Indeed, CNN notes:
The debris mass, which appears as an island from the air, contains cars, trucks, tractors, boats and entire houses floating in the current heading toward the U.S. and Canada, according to ABC News.
The bulk of the debris will likely not be radioactive, as it was presumably washed out to sea during the initial tsunami â€“ before much radioactivity had leaked. But this shows the power of the currents from Japan to the West Coast.
An animated graphic from the University of Hawaiiâ€™s International Pacific Research Center shows the projected dispersion of debris from Japan:
In addition to radioactive debris, MIT says that seawater which is itself radioactive may begin hitting the West Coast within 5 years. Given that the debris is hitting faster than predicted, it is possible that the radioactive seawater will as well.