It was recently brought to my attention that science and truth have come under attack again by the forces of misinformation. The time has come to metaphorically strap on my battle armor and prepare to jump into the ring to defend Truth and Science one more time. Articles are floating around the Internet claiming that 98% of the Pacific Ocean’s floor are covered in dead animals, up from 1% the year before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
Oh Gods no! Save the whales! Save the fishes! Save the shrimp! Or save your panic for things that matter because this is a fake emergency. It is as real as virtual reality; that is, as much as you believe it to be.
This is pretty similar to the last sensational headline I debunked about big butts making you smart and healthy. Just like before a few not-scientists and not-journalists took one very real and reasonable study then blew it out of proportion, twisted the context, and proceeded to run with it so far away no one could find the real story anymore. Too bad for them I am a good runner and better detective, like if Dick Tracy and Usain Bolt had a gayby.
My first thought after reading the original release is where the heck did anyone get those 1% and 98% numbers, that doesn’t seem to be found anywhere. The Monterey Bay Research Institute (MBARI) does a pretty good job debunking the rumors themselves last week, but that hasn’t stopped sensationalized misleading stories. To quote the MBARI researchers, “These stories are false and misleading. In addition, there is absolutely no connection between MBARI’s research findings and radiation from the Fukushima disaster.” Huh, that seems pretty clear, no room for error.
You may be thinking, “but what about that scary looking chart of the radiation spreading across the ocean?” That was the chart of the tsunami’s height, it had nothing to do with radiation. Another example of people taking something factual and twisting it for their own agenda.
Some articles also cite National Geographic as a source to substantiate their outlandish claims. After some digging I came across this blog post, and I found the source of that 1%/98% figure that keeps circling around, it would seem it originated here (not with MBARI’s actual data). This isn’t to say that figure is wrong, just unsubstantiated. The actual data seems to show these algae blooms happen pretty regularly and are needed for deep sea ecosystems to exist. The studies show that if anything man-made is the cause it is climate change, not Fukushima. What the research shows is that, if any recent event is to blame for these blooms, it is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that happened in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Amusingly, many of the same articles that cite National Geographic and Carrie’s blog as a source (without links) seem to ignore the numerous articles National Geographic has published disproving the hoopla over Fukushima.
So what does National Geographic actually have to say on the topic? First off, yes there is a leak of contaminated water, and it is very very small. This leak has been known about since 2012 and has never been viewed as a threat to human health anywhere. According to National Geographic, most experts blame “ordinary movement of groundwater” for the continued leak. The radiation is spreading, but it will still take years to reach the West Coast and there is presently no public health risk from Fukushima for Californians (it is a different story for people in Fukushima prefecture). Finally, for those people worried about eating fish, many experts say that is an unnecessary precaution and you’re probably fine to eat fish. I’m the kind of person who advocates for people following their instincts, and if your body is saying no to seafood then you should listen to it. But, if you are not eating fish because you are worried about radiation then you are overreacting and I imagine the type of person who (like me) opts out of airport radiation machines. Even though I opt out I’m still eating fish. The reality of global fishing is that it already is a pretty dirty ocean out there and fish, like tuna, who can live as long as a person (fifty years), tend to accumulate massive amounts of radionuclides and toxins like mercury along the way. That means when you eat tuna you are now eating all that too (I still eat tuna), though last I heard most “tuna” Americans eat really isn’t tuna.
I am a bit concerned by reports that TEPCO and their subcontractors who managed the plant and the clean up may have covered up the extent of radiation exposure to workers. Any corporate or coverup concerns me, especially regarding the environment and human health. For what little RT news is worth, as Russia’s official news is horribly biased, RT news is reporting that radiation levels at the plant are at 8 times the Japanese governments accepted limits. Reading the various RT news stories very few seem to be substantiated by science, and even fewer provide outside links to studies they claim exist. I’m getting some serious red flags here about the truthiness of these articles.
If I see hope in something it is the ingenuity of the Japanese in embracing green technologies to clean up the nuclear spill. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers reports that Fukushima prefecture is creating a “Renewable Energy Village,” a garden of rapeseed underneath solar panels. Rapeseed has been shown to absorb radionuclides into their stalks leaving the seeds untouched and usable for other purposes.
What Californians should really be concerned about is the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant which is being held up to lax safety standards and is BUILT ON A FAULT LINE. Or perhaps we should worry about the San Onofre Nuclear Plant that had 2/3 of its reactors permanently decommisioned after a dangerous radiation leak was discovered. Or maybe we should be worried by the historically low rain levels we have had this year leading to California’s major reservoirs being obscenely low on water for mid-winter, expect water rationing come summer. Personally, I am more concerned with the real problems we know are in front of us that are sure to be issues, rather than rip my hair out stressing over fake news reports.