Complications resulting from earthquakes in Japan caused several leaks from their nuclear plants. In the year 2011, this caused some widespread panic all the way to Hawaii and the west coast of the United States. Potassium Iodide pills were in high demand soon after the natural disaster. Panic was the first response. Years after the leaks occurred there is more information on the complications it may cause.
Some scientists have made attempts to calm the public by referring to past nuclear events such as Hiroshima and Chernobyl. Illnesses form these incidents are said to have been limited to the areas in which they occurred. The amount of radiation that causes issues is much more than the amount that has reached other areas of the globe. Looking back, scientists are telling United States citizens not to be concerned. The immediate hoarding of potassium iodide pills was considered unnecessary, as they only protect the thyroid and work on a time limit. You must know if you are going to be exposed within the next 24 hours to see results. History gives some indication of minimal complications outside of the immediate disaster area.
In the year 2016 there was some evidence of the radiation near Oregon. This is much further than some may have anticipated. The form of radioactive matter that was found was an isotope by the name of cesium-134. It seems to have travelled through the Pacific Ocean and into bodies of water in Tillamook Bay and Gold Beach. There is no danger, however, to the residents of the area. The amounts are much too low to cause issues. The half-life of cesium-134 is two years. This is considered a very short half-life, allowing the level to lessen every two years. That said, earlier years showed evidence of cesium-134 in tuna.
Samples taken of the water showed 0.3 becquerels (unit of measurement for radioactivity) for each cubic meter (about 264 gallons of seawater) of cesium-134. For comparison, immediately following the Fukushima disaster the water near the plant measured 50 million becquerels for every cubic meter. As of 2026, it was estimated that more radiation would travel to the United States in about three or four years.
Cesium-137 is another isotope of cesium that was released from Fukushima. This isotope is much more potent and has a 30 year half-life. This means that it remains in the environment much longer. Cesium-137 was detected off the coast of San Francisco in the fall of 2014. Even though Cesium-137 was found, it may not be the best way to measure radiation from Fukushima. This is because cesium-137 has been contaminating the ocean long before this more recent disaster. The highest measurement of cesium-137 as of the year 2015 was about 11 becquerels per cubic meter. This was off of the west coast of the United States. Nuclear weapons testing in the 1950’s through the 1970’s also left a mark on our oceans. Cesium-134 is being tracked more than cesium-137 to gather evidence about Fukushima radiation. It has been called the “fingerprint” of Fukushima.
The Ocean’s Flow and Further Samples
The ocean’s flow makes it difficult to determine where more radiation may show up. There are thoughts that the radiation present is set to move along the coast of South America and then route back to Hawaii. Scientists cannot be sure, however, due to the mixing of offshore surface waters with coastal waters. Scientists have devised a way to gather more samples with the help of the public. As of 2014, this method was put into use and significantly increased the amount of water samples. A device called the RadBand was created for individuals to wear while participating in water sports. This band easily collected data from the water. Scientists had the opportunity to use data from many more samples because of this item.
Scientists continue to monitor the Pacific and other water sources for evidence of radioactive material. The levels remain far below the safety considerations of the United States government. The bigger concern is that the plant may be constantly leaking. This constant exposure leaves less time for recovery of the ocean waters. Radiation has been a part of our environment for many years, Fukushima, however, reminded us all how dangerous it can be.