Radioactive Fish and Tons of Trash

Effects of Japan's tsunami are hitting the U.S.
Staff Writer

Flickr/leighblackall

What do radioactive tuna and (literally) tons of trash have in common? They’ve both made their way to the U.S.’s West Coast as after effects of the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

First, the fish: Just four months after the tsunami-damaged Fukushima power plant leaked radiation into the ocean, scientists caught 15 radioactive bluefin tuna off of California’s coast that had migrated from the Japanese islands, according to a study released earlier this week. The fish, which likely absorbed the contamination through their gills by swimming through polluted water, tested positive for small amounts of cesium-137 and cesium-134, nuclear by-products. While study authors report that these radioactivity levels are minimal and that the fish are, in fact, still safe to eat, the contamination lends credibility to the worry that wildlife could spread pollution at a faster rate than wind or water.

That’s not to say, though, that wind and water haven’t taken their course. This Friday, a cleanup crew will start scouring the coast of Montague Island—an uninhabited island southeast of Anchorage—for what’s expected to be as much as 30 to 40 tons of wreckage (and is, according to Patrick Chandler, special programs coordinator for the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, “just a start” for cleanup efforts). Alaska is particularly concerned about floating debris, not only due to concerns about invasive species (such as barnacles) and toxic substances (such as jet fuel) having severe environmental impact, but also because its shoreline is more extensive and often more difficult to reach than other West Coast states. One U.S. senator is even hoping to secure $45 million to help take on the estimated 1.5 million tons of rubble afloat in the Pacific.   

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