That picture of radiation leaking into the Pacific from Fukushima that’s been going around Facebook is BS—but don’t relax yet
If you’ve been on Facebook in the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably seen what appears to be a nightmarish image of radiation flowing out of Fukushima and stretching towards the west coast of America, coming to irradiate and mutate the entire coast. You may have experienced deep feelings of nausea, discomfort, existential dread or sudden urges to move to Europe.
However, while the Fukushima disaster still poses several very real dangers, that image doesn’t accurately depict any of them. That’s because it’s not of radiation of all: the map was created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to chart wave patterns from the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake, according to Snopes.
Similarly, recent reports on Twitter that the ocean around Fukushima is boiling turn out not to be real, according to Energy News—what appeared to be steam emerging from the “boiling” sea in photographs is just fog.
However, it is true that the radiation from Fukushima will start hitting the west coast of the United States and Canada full-bore next year and continue for up to thirty years—but radiation levels will still be well under the World Health Organization safety limits, according to Motherboard.
Over in Japan, though, it’s a different story. According to the Washington Post, the Japanese government is announcing a plan to spend nearly $500 million to combat toxic water leaks around the facility. The funds will be used to pump coolant into key buildings and even create a $320 million wall of ice constructed of permafrost going 30 meters into the ground, right to the bedrock; the wall of ice will force the leaking radioactive water into the ocean instead of contaminating the groundwater around Fukushima, as it is currently doing at the rate of 400 tons a day. The radiation levels from these leaks have been revealed to be 18 times worse than previously thought, according to the BBC—which is why the Japanese government is frantically scrambling to contain the leaks before they contaminate Japan’s ground water even further.
(The obvious question will be—if they’re 18 times worse, then what does that mean about previous reports that the radiation hitting America would be negligible? Scientific American assesses that question somewhat here, explaining that the major threat is in potential contamination of sea life—an oceanographer told the publication that “The amount of increase is still much smaller today than it was in 2011… I’m not as concerned about the immediate health threat of human exposure, but I am worried about contamination of marine life in the long run.”)
So the verdict? The ongoing fallout from Fukushima is a colossal problem, but the alarmist end-of-the-world statements going around on Facebook aren’t based in reality, and aren’t helping.
(Below, engineers discuss the current state of the leaks.)