March 11, 2011, a major earthquake, followed by a 15-meter tsunami, destroyed the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors, causing a nuclear catastrophe. The plants at Fukushima were Boiling Water Reactors (BWR, shown in Figure 1.). A BWR produces electricity by boiling water with nuclear fuel and uses the steam from the water to drive a turbine, which creates electricity. The steam then is cooled and condenses back into water until it is heated by nuclear fuel again. The nuclear fuel is uranium oxide, a radioactive mineral.
The devastation from Fukushima released unmanageable amounts of radiation, and about 80% of the radiation is still being released into the Pacific Ocean through ground water. Yet, why is this relevant to us? 300 tons of radioactive water from Fukushima enters the Pacific Ocean every day, and it has started to affect the United States. According to the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center, radiation levels all over the U.S. are elevating, specifically the west coast. (Shown in Figure 2.). The total amount of radioactive material from Fukushima is increasing everyday in the U.S., and it is steadily building up in our food chain, which could cause radiation poisoning in innocent civilians all over America.
With an increase of radioactive material in our food chain, people will have a high risk of developing cancer or other health problems due to the high exposure of nuclear radiation. These possible risks are already being foreshadowed by the effects the nuclear radiation is having on the ecosystems along the west coast. On the Alaskan coastline, polar bears, seals, and walruses are beginning to suffer from alopecia (loss of fur) and skin lesions, and along the California coastline there has been a tragic amount of sea-lion deaths. For example, 45% of the pups born during the summer have died, when usually pup deaths are below 33%. Also, many types of fish are being affected by the radiation. Along the Canada and Alaska coastlines, the population of sockeye salmon is at a “historic low.” Along the west coast of Canada, fish are suddenly bleeding from their gills, bellies, and eyeballs, and the cause is predicted to be nuclear radiation. A test in California found that 15 out of 15 Bluefin tuna were contaminated with radiation from Fukushima and plankton found in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the West Coast had very high levels of cesium-137 (radioactive metal). With these cases of death, disease, and illness within the ecosystems of the west coast of North America, soon enough, nuclear radiation may begin to affect innocent people.
It is a terrifying thought how the production of energy can cause such devastation. In fact, it is ironic how the nuclear plants, which hurt the environment, have been destroyed by the environment (natural disasters), and in result will affect us, the people whom are using the energy. Fukushima is an example of how energy production cannot only directly affect the environment, but also can directly affect the health of humans. How can we prevent this is the future? We can produce energy with safer and more renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, a simple, yet expensive method. Although using more efficient energy sources can raise the bills, when it comes down to it, what is more important, health or money?