Fukushima Fallout: NOAA’s Perspective

Posted: Aug 28,2013 Written by 

The net has been blowing up lately about the oceanic and coastal effects that radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant is causing in the Pacific as a result of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  Blogs, in particular, are using the image below to depict scenes of “an out-of-control flow of death and destruction” and imminent outcomes of widespread radioactive waters off the West Coast of the US.  Dire prophecies are so overwhelming that it seems we are all going to burn in a fiery radioactive haze in mere hours.  But there’s just one problem, the images you see don’t reveal actual conditions, but rather simulations, which makes a very big difference.  

Fukashima Radiation

This image is not a radiation forecast map from NOAA!

As a source inside NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) told TheSurfersView, “the results and the graphical simulation do not represent a forecast of any kind.” Unfortunately, their inquiries “did discover [that] there are some bogus dispersion images on the web which have taken the NOAA imagery and ‘repurposed’ it to scare people. It seems some of this work has hit the blogs…[and] the conclusion from the paper is sensationalized in a number of stories.” In fact, they commented that “NOAA (to my knowledge) does not have any forecast models for radiation dispersion in the Pacific from Japan or any other source, and is not making any forecasts about the future levels of radiation in the coastal Pacific.”

Make no mistake, we’re not saying that the radiation flow from Fukushima will not be a problem. But in an effort to start the fight on the right foot, TheSurfersView wanted to set the record straight with regards to what we’re all seeing on the net. We can’t use the information from sensationalism for any effective purposes. We need to stick with what we know and, unfortunately, there’s a lot we don’t know.

Below are several caveats that our NOAA source pulled from the research that they deemed vital to keep in mind (Please beware—the next 3 bullets are loaded with research speak that may make your head spin faster than a John John air reverse) :

  • The simulations do neither include an attempt to estimate the actual state of the local oceanic conditions off Japan during spring 2011, nor do they capture the small-scale coastal currents and tidal motions which governed the initial spreading phase as elucidated by Kawamura  et al ( 2011): without such initialization (and without knowledge of the actual and future atmospheric forcing conditions), the simulations cannot give a deterministic account (nor a forecast) of the tracer spreading. On the other hand, the results from ensembles with varied initial conditions as reported by Dietze and Kriest ( 2011) and as performed here, lend some confidence to the assumption that the impact of the initialization would largely fade after the first 2–3 years
  • The configuration of the tracer injection was set up primarily to capture the direct oceanic injection from the stricken power plants, whereas no explicit attempt was made to cover the atmospheric fallout that occurred over a wider, but not precisely known area of the western Pacific (Stohl  et al  2012, Kawamura et al 2011); however, the choice of a non-local input area (150 km × 45 km) instead of a local oceanic injection (primarily to mimic the mixing effect of non-resolved near-coastal currents and tides), might be thought to possibly also capture some fraction of the atmospheric deposition in the vicinity of Fukushima.
  • The simulations neglected biological processes, e.g. adhesion to sinking particles, which could contribute to a more effective vertical mixing than by physical processes alone (Dietze and Kriest  2011).

The report emphasized that much is to be learned about the situation and conclusions still need to take into account the challenges that the Pacific’s vastness creates. Dilution levels, pollution based on currents and the overall effect are still being worked out and it would behoove us to gather the facts from credible sources.

We will keep a close eye on the situation and continue to address to keep everyone informed. That being said, we’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter.