Japan’s Radioactive Water Is About to Reach North American Shores
Put away the panic button. It’s still safe to go to the beach.
Well Below Safety Limits
During the nuclear accident, the Fukushima plant released several radioactive isotopes, including iodine-131, cesium-134, and cesium-137. Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years, so it’ll stay in the environment for a few more decades (relatedly, some of the Cesium-137 was produced by A-bomb tests during the 1950s and 1960s — but the radionuclides from Fukushima are expected to be very evident). Cesium-134, which has a half-life of just two years, has yet to be detected on North American beaches.
But the concentrations of these contaminants are expected to be well below limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); this is not an environmental or human-health threat. For drinking water, cesium-137 levels can’t be above 7,400 Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3), or 10,000 Bq/m3 in Canada. For comparison, waters in the Baltic Sea following the Chernobyl disaster reached 1,000 Bq/m3.
The level of contaminants in the waters that just reached North America are less than 1 Bq/m3 of water. Researchers predict that, at worst, levels for Cesium-137 won’t exceed 27 Bq/m3 (which is predicted to happen by mid-2015), and levels for cesium-134 won’t exceed 2 Bq/m3.