21 April 2011
Posted in Science Park
National Geographic reported that radioactive material from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, disabled by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in Japan, continues to enter the ocean and endanger marine animal life. In the beginning of the month, seawater samples taken near the nuclear power plant, on Japan's eastern coast, showed elevated levels of radioactive isotopes. The presence of radioactive isotopes alone is not bad since all life on Earth, and in the oceans, lives with exposure to natural levels of ionizing radiation. Although we are all in contact with high frequency radiation strong enough to change DNA most genetic damage heals because the damage is coming from a natural source of radiation. However, the addition of human-made radiation can make it harder for the body of humans or animals to repair broken genes.
Radiation concentrations in the Japanese seawater samples have peaked at around 3,355 times the legal limit for seawater, which shows that this radiation exposure is far beyond any natural radiation marine life comes in contact with. Once the radiation enters the seawater it can hurt marine life, either killing, creating genetic mutations in offspring, or passing along the radiation up the food chain. Joseph Rachlin, director of Lehman College's Laboratory for Marine and Estuarine Research in New York City, feels that, "there will be a potential for a certain amount of lethality of living organisms, but that's less of a concern than the possible effects on the genetics of the animals that become exposed,” and that the main problem is the radiation, “altering the genetics of the animal and interfering with reproduction.” However, according to chemical oceanographer Bill Burnett, “The good news is the half life [of iodine, one of the radioactive isotopes] is only eight days,” and, “if they stop the source of the radioactive leakage, this is going to be a short-term problem."