Toxic substances from the March 2011 tsunami that roared across Japan are reaching U.S. states along the West Coast, and contamination is a risk, scientists said Monday.
"Finding one drum of paint thinner, or something you might find in your garage, is not hugely toxic, but if you find 50 of them all washed up on a rocky shore and then breaking and leaking, then you have some problems. If one tiny community got hit, it could wipe out their tourism industry for a year or it could wipe out their fishing for a year," said Dr. M. Sanjayan, lead scientist of the conservation group The Nature Conservancy, according to the UPI news agency .
According to the Huffington Post, the tsunami damaged emergency generators at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, causing a loss of coolant and partial meltdown of some reactors. Internal explosions then fractured containment vessels, leading to a radioactive leak that continues to this day.
The majority of the debris is heavy and slower-moving than the more buoyant items that have already been observed on the coastline, said Dianna Parker of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of the few organizations keeping tabs on debris movement.
Bluefin tuna carried radiation from Japan to California
One of the items that has been discovered along the coastline has been tuna. The LA Times reported Monday that Pacific bluefin tuna carried radioactivity from Japan’s 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster all the way across the ocean to the shores of California.
They didn’t bring much — the levels were far lower than, for instance, levels of naturally occurring potassium 40 that have existed in the ocean for centuries — but the radioactivity was enough to survive the fishes’ migration east to North America from the Western Pacific, which they undertake when they’re around a year old, said doctoral student Daniel Madigan, who studies the migration patterns of tuna at Stanford University.
Japan tsunami debris makes debut in Alaska
Last month, Reuters reported that the U.S. Coast Guard sank a 164-foot fishing boat from the Japan tsunami that drifted near Alaska. The Coast Guard said the so-called "ghost ship" was a navigational hazard.
With more debris headed for the West Coast, questions about cleanup costs remain unanswered. Those expenses could be high in Alaska because of geographic and weather challenges.
U.S. Senator Mark Begich of Alaska suggested last week that NOAA provide $45 million as an initial outlay to fund what is expected to be a sustained and difficult beach cleanup.
It has been more than one year since a magnitude 9.0 earthquake triggered a tsunami that roared across Japan's northeastern coast, transforming once-pristine and thriving towns into waterlogged wastelands, killing nearly 16,000 people and leaving over 3,000 missing on Japan's main island of Honshu, and sparking the world's worst nuclear crisis in a quarter-century from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Reuters reported.