By Edward Johnson
In attempting to keep updated on the nuclear disaster in Japan, I am alarmed when statements are made claiming that radioactive releases are no problem for the ocean. Twenty plus years ago while teaching at Seaside’s Broadway Middle School I had the fortunate opportunity to teach a pilot program that had been developed by U of Cal Berkeley and its Lawrence Hall of Science, it was called CEPUP short for Chemical Education for Public Understanding Project. One of the major tenants of that program was Dilution is Not the Solution to Pollution, contrary to what is being projected to the media by the Japanese government. Our lives are being heavily impacted by all forms of electromagnet radiation, from very long to very short waves. It should be a huge concern when the vary short waves are released which can play havoc with existing gene pools whether dispersal happens through air, soil, underground aquifers , streams, rivers, lakes or my primary concern our oceans themselves.
Today, with the at least partially melting of more than one reactor core and associated groundwater contamination reaching 10,000 times the safe limit, we have reached Chernobyl like conditions. In my mind with what is happening in the adjacent ocean we are witnessing a degree of magnitude exceeding that event. Like the recent headlines claimed, “The Titanic Has Sailed.” My mind has been racing as it tries to get a handle on the ocean scenario, as the readings for Iodine 131 steadily increase, 1000 times normal, 3000, and then nearly 4300 times then what is considered normal. Initially the Japanese Government could not identify the source, while I don’t live in Alaska, I can tell from here on the Oregon Coast, it is reactor core or spent fuel rod storage water.
Twenty two years ago a new marine species was discovered that is directly responsible for one in every five breathes of air we breathe, known as Prochlorococcus! Part plant like, part bacteria like and these little critters are so small, they avoided detection for all previous time prior to 1988. From this point on things become a bit fuzzy to me and by all indications I am not alone as to the mechanisms which enable the Prochlorococcus to pick up Iodine (Iodate stable form in seawater) and make it available to be utilized by the next level of producer/consumers, on one hand phytoplankton and the other macro algae, such as brown algae, rock weed(fucus) and kelp. Plankton pick up their bye product ( Iodide), besides producing oxygen, which is then converted to Methyl Iodide and of course sunlight must be present. The algae also produce a lot of oxygen and by a mechanism not totally understood utilize Iodide initially captured by Prochlorococcus and like plankton convert Iodide to Methyl Iodide and a secondary similar organic product, Diiodomethane. At this point we have traced Iodine through a\chain of events which identifies supposedly how iodine becomes organically available. We could throw in that without these compounds, such things as planetary UV ray protection would be reduced, cloud seeding based on the lack of these compounds would be disrupted and not to mentioned a huge reduction of planetary oxygen as previously noted.
Without losing readers will conclude by indicating why the background on the path of Iodine was included. When the ocean becomes supersaturated with any of some 60 different elements there will be consequences, we have not 10, 100, but 4000 times’ normal amounts of iodine. All plant and animal life is being affected. This means in that area the base of life from the simplest bacteria including Prochlorococcus, and diatoms, algae and all the way to our beloved marine mammals will encounter life changing conditions. Notice no mention in this paragraph has been made of the radioactive consequences which will be considerable. Granted the ½ life of Iodine 131 is on the order of seven days with an overall effective life of 15 days, looking at when the first 15 ends, we are stacking day after day of 15 day periods. No assurance has been made as to when this might stop. The risk of mutations become more extreme with each passing day, and will persist for generations.
I am not a scientist but have a Master Science Teaching Degree specializing in Earth Science from Cornell University. This article is based on piecing together a series of findings from several different sources. At several points have used terms indicating some aspects could be considered generalizations rather than fact. What should not have happened was the building of this questionable technological nightmare in the world’s most active earthquake zone, the huge potential of disastrous tsunami events, and the loss of the planetary oxygen, bacteria, diatom, and marine algae populations to mention just a few. Yes, the Titanic has sailed from Fukushima, only time will tell of the icebergs that lie ahead.