Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Kyle Bardwell makes this connection here.

The entire world is affected by the news entitled, “Breaking News: Fukushima Radiation Affecting Americans and There is No Way to Stop It” which was published in the Elite Daily by Paul Hudson on August ninth, 2013. This was in the middle of the hype of the Fukushima nuclear power plant catastrophe. The article by Hudson is on the resulting radiation levels following the catastrophe. A tsunami and earthquake struck Japan in March of 2011. Fukushima was directly affected by these events, in which four nuclear reactors were compromised. Since this event in March 2011, water contaminated with radiation has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean at a rate of 330 tons of radiation a day. Over 250,000 tons of contaminated water has leaked since the tsunami and Earthquake. Scientists are very worried about this and some are afraid it will have a huge effect on seafood. Not only are scientists worried about the seafood in the Pacific Ocean off of Japan, but they are also worried about the radiation effects on the Pacific coast of the United States. They are predicting the flow patterns of the radioactive material through the Pacific which you can see in figure 1. Although they have already noticed a rise in radiation levels on California coast, the radioactive debris is not said to arrive the California coast until March 2016. Therefore it is not sure entirely the affect the radiation is having or will have on the world. There are a few writers with the same worries as Paul Hudson. They are fairly sure the radiation will have detrimental effects on our world. Hudson even tried to connect recent increases in death percentages in specific states in the US to the radiation leak (Figure 2). There are others who are not at worried. Tim Worstall, a writer for Forbes magazine addressed the radiation leak in an article titled “Fukushima radiation in Pacific blue fin tuna is equal to one twentieth of a banana”. Just like the title says Worstall isn’t very worried about the radiation leak, and if he is, he should be more worried about bananas. Bananas contain small amount of radiation, more than other fruits which people are educated about. If fish that live in the ecosystem that was directly affected by the radiation and are surviving with not critical levels of radiation, obviously it is not as big as a deal as people like Paul Hudson believe. With my engineering background I know to trust the hard data. It seems as if there are conflicting data saying different things. I cannot make a definite opinion on the matter until significant sufficient data comes in.

From a water resources engineering stand, this is a very complicated problem to solve. There are so many factors involved it is hard to say things are going to unfold a specific way. One variable could be more radiation leaked than they thought because it took a while to find out there was a leak in the first place. Another variable could be how quickly it got into the ecosystem and at what density.  Hudson made predictions that the debris from Fukushima would reach California in 2016. This seems scary but it is not sure how much radioactive material will be left on the debris. With all of these variables it is hard to make a conclusion on how economics, US society, and the global society will be affected.  What is certain is if the leak is as bad as some people make it seem, our fisheries could be devastated.  Japan relies heavily on its fishing. According to the article in BloomsbergBusinessweek “A grim future for Japans Fisheries” by Frederick Balfour, Japan consumes 7.5 million tons of fish each year. The article says there was a loss 1.3 billion dollars to Japanese fisheries following the tsunami. This is a huge loss, but if fishing was shut down for radiation levels, the loss would be huge.  If the radiation affects California and Japans fisheries, it can have a global effect. Many countries get fish from the fisheries in the US and Japan. Without these industries it can be a huge loss. Because there are no solutions to stop the radiation, I thought of some ideas as water resources engineer. This situation seems perfect for the approach of remote sensing.  Remote sensing can be used to follow the debris as it travels across the pacific. With this, images can be taken to determine radiation concentrations in the water. This could allow us to know specifically what is being affected, where the debris is, and how much of an effect it will have when it reaches California.

Scientists are predicting the flow direction and speed of the debris from Fukushima across the Pacific.

Scientists are predicting the flow direction and speed of the debris from Fukushima across the Pacific.

Multiple states have shown significant increases in mortality since the tsunami destroyed Fukushima. They are not necessarily related, but it does make you think.

Multiple states have shown significant increases in mortality since the tsunami destroyed Fukushima. They are not necessarily related, but it does make you think.

References

Balfour, Frederick, and Stuart Biggs. “A Grim Future for Japan’s Fisheries.” Businessweek. BloombergBusinessweek, 28 Apr. 2011. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.

Hudson, Paul. “Breaking News: Fukushima Radiation Affecting Americans And There’s No Way To Stop It.” Elite Daily. Elite Daily, 13 Aug. 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.

Worstall, Tim. “Fukushima Radiation In Pacific Tuna Is Equal To One Twentieth Of A Banana.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 16 Nov. 2013. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.

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