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Fukushima Radiation Coming Soon to a Coastline Near You

It turns out the Japanese are not the only ones worried about radiation exposure one year after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plants flooded and melted down. Californians are now number two on the list.

Such worries have pushed many in Japan into the arms of hucksters pushing instant “cures,” so far debunked.

“Still, with elevated levels of radiation showing up in everything from beef and rice to fertilizer and concrete, anxious Japanese want to know what exactly is building up in their bodies”

A pair of new studies, from the National Academy of Sciences and the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, question just how dangerous the radioactivity is while simultaneously making clear that the impacts of the accident on human and marine life are spreading across the Pacific Rim.

Highlights from the two studies:

1. Scientists now say that concentrations of radioactive cesium in marine life are higher farther away from Japan’s coast than near it, by as much 100 to 1,000 times.

2. At the same time seaweed along California’s coastline is already measuring 500 times higher in radioactive iodine.

3. Government monitoring stations in Anaheim have recorded new highs of airborne concentrations of the same element.

4. Since the Japanese have burned much of the materials made radioactive by the meltdown, rather than disposing of or burying it, “radioactive rain” is already falling across the Pacific.

5. That giant mass of seaborne flotsam/jetsam resulting from the 2011 tsunami is said to be composed largely of non-biodegradable plastics that will most likely have longer-term effects on humans and the marine ecosystem than nuclear radiation.

While the NAS study, conducted by scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, found radioactivity in zooplankton, tiny crustaceans, shrimp, and fish, it says the levels were below what is allowed in food in Japan.

Its authors also suggest that the risk of swimming in the waters off the coast of Japan are extremely minimal given the evidence that artificially-produced radionuclides near the shoreline are no higher than the levels of naturally produced ones.

Still, with elevated levels of radiation showing up in everything from beef and rice to fertilizer and concrete, anxious Japanese want to know what exactly is building up in their bodies. A rash of curatives have found their way to the marketplace in Japan (coming soon to California!).

According to a story in The Wall Street Journal, many of these faux treatments are rightfully being questioned by authorities:

* One company claims that for $100 it can measure an individual’s internal radiation accumulation using a machine that reads “electromagnetic aura” from snips of hair.

* Another advertises a suit that can allegedly help wearers “sweat out” radiation; the government has dubbed the process “suspect.”

* Japan’s consumer-watchdog agency has also questioned bathtubs selling for $6,500 that propose to “suck radiation out.”

* A plethora of homeopathic remedies have been advertised, and questioned, as has the process of X-raying your drinking water. “X-rays are just light,” said one critic, “even after the process, what you’re left with is just…water.”

Tsunami Scare: ‘Twilight’ Quileute Tribe Heads For Higher Ground

Every time New Orleans floods or a hurricane wipes out a mobile home park along the coast of Florida, inquiring minds wonder: Why do people continue to put themselves in harms way by living—and rebuilding—in places clearly in the path of repeated natural disaster?

A Native American community in the northwest corner of the U.S., popularized in the hit book and movie series Twilight, is attempting to get off the road of ruin by moving inland before tsunami waves barrel in to trash their town. Video of Japan’s coast as it was shaken by earthquake and flooded by tsunami has invigorated a three-decades-long struggle by the tribe to climb to higher ground.

Four hundred families of the Quileute tribe along the often-wild Pacific Ocean coast of Washington state—concerned that storm waves regularly thrash the schoolyard where their kids play—are pressing the federal government to reclaim ancestral territory that is safely inland. At risk are the Quileute Tribal School, homes, the tribe’s headquarters and its elder center.

“Our people live in danger daily knowing that we could be hit by a tsunami,” says Bonita Cleveland, the tribe’s chairwoman. “It could be wiped out in a heartbeat.”

No major earthquake has hit the area since 1700, but computer models of the Cascadia subduction zone that parallels the Pacific coastline suggest the tribe would have 20 to 30 minutes to clear out if a Japan-sized earthquake struck. A tsunami wave would probably rip the town to pieces. In recent emergency drills, the tribe has evacuated to higher ground, but warning sirens are difficult to hear, and the drill involved advance notice and coordination.

Before European settlers arrived, the nomadic tribe of fisherman and whalers moved around the Olympic Peninsula with the seasons, spending winters safe inside the old-growth forest, away from the coastal storms and river flooding that have long plagued the region. Fast forward a few hundred years, and locals feel trapped and at risk.

As John Dodge reports in the Daily World , tribal officials have put in decades asking for freedom for its 750 members to roam. Last week, representatives traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress on a bill that would designate 800 acres of Olympic National Park for the tribe’s use. The National Park Service backs a plan that would give the tribe roughly two square miles inside the park where it could be situated immediately. A tribe website makes its case with press clips and videos.

The tribe is proposing to relocate homes, the school and several other facilities. It has an enrolled membership of more than 1,000, with roughly 400 living at the town site.

“The introduction of the legislation is just the first step. We need the support of the American public to get this legislation passed,” says chairwoman Cleveland, introducing a new video. “Please watch these videos and share them with your friends and family and then contact your legislators and ask them to support the Quileute Tsunami Protection legislation. The Quileute Tribe is grateful for your support.”

Quileute folklore—which has long believed in the tribe’s ability to obtain supernatural powers—maintains its people are descended from wolves and can transform into werewolves. In novelist Stephanie Meyers’s popular Twilight series, fictionalized members of the tribe shape shift into wolves and are the enemies of vampires.

The popularity of Twilight has made the tribe’s hometown of La Push and its scenic beaches tourist destinations, allowing a small tribe dependent on fishing to improve its economic circumstances.

The tribe has reached out to Twilight fans for support. “The Quileute Nation has always been friendly and welcoming to Twilight fans, asking little aside from respect of the Nation’s photo policies in return. Now, here’s a chance to show support. Please consider aiding this effort if possible.”

(For the rest of my dispatch, go to takepart.com)

Tsunami Debris: Dangerous Junk or Booty in Disguise?

Since leaking nuclear radiation is hard to visualize, the lasting images of Japan’s earthquake/tsunami are still those from its very first day: Walls of rushing seawater pushing cars and fishing boats like matchboxes, men and women swinging in high tree branches, and fast-moving ocean water swallowing farm fields, parking lots and airport runways.

The single most-powerful image to me is the intact roof of a solitary house afloat in the Pacific Ocean, 10 miles off the coastline. After seeing his wife swept to sea, the house’s owner had clung to the shingles for two days.

Where will that house end up? Washed back into shore somewhere in northern Japan? Sunk to the ocean bottom? Or ripped asunder by waves, its pieces destined to float on the ocean forever, caught up in an endlessly spinning gyre? Will the rafters maybe one day wash up on a far shoreline, in a distant country? Say the U.S.

The last scenario may be the most accurate preview of events.

U.S. Navy spotter planes over the Pacific have documented vast fields of floating debris—one measured 70 miles long, covering 2.2 million square feet—heading slowly eastward. Shipping traffic is being encouraged to go around the floating masses, rather than attempt to cut through. The mass includes cars, parts of the 200,000 buildings that were washed out to sea, capsized boats of varying sizes, even tractor trailers. The junk could take a couple of years to reach Honolulu, and another 12 months before washing up in Los Angeles.

Scientists at the University of Hawaii, using real time satellite info, have constructed computer programs to estimate the debris’s path. The model suggests the wreckage will eventually land on beaches from Alaska to Baja. The biggest and most buoyant remains will arrive first: tires, ropes, roofs of houses. A fair amount of Japan’s junk is predicted to eventually bounce off the west coast of the U.S., head back to Hawaii and mesh with the flotsam in the North Pacific Garbage Patch. Sadly, as it breaks down into smaller and smaller bits, much of the debris will be ingested by curious marine creatures.

Some Hawaiians feel that their beaches have become a focal point to study all floating ocean pollution.

“We live in Hawaii on the edge of the biggest dump site in the world,” says Nikolai Maximenko of the International Pacific Research Center. “We live in paradise on the edge of hell.”

In 2005, I visited Malaysia and the Maldives just weeks after tsunami waves washed from Indonesian shores all the way to the east coast of Africa. Detritus arrived quickly in the Maldives, in the form of super-valuable, eight-foot-round mahogany trees. Locals considered the trees treasure. Fights broke out between island governments and landowners over who “owned” the rights to mill and sell the wood. (Ultimately, I think, they agreed to split the found lumber 50/50.)

So maybe there will be a silver lining in Japan’s clouds of debris. They might provide a treasure trove to scientists a few decades in the future.

Journalist Donavan Hohn recently published, to good critical review, Moby Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them. The reporting follows the January 10, 1992, spill of rubber ducks off a Chinese cargo ship that was tossed about in 36-foot seas in the North Pacific. By tracing the path of the ducks, which wind, waves and current carried literally around the world, from the Arctic to the Atlantic, the North Pacific to Antarctica, the book proves that what looks like ocean trash to some may be scientific—or economic—gold to others.

Eventually.

(For the rest of my dispatch go to takepart.com)

Will Japan’s Sushi Soon Be Radioactive?

Given the hammering Japan’s northern coastal towns took from the earthquake/tsunami, and the ongoing radiation leaks from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, the future of fishing from the region has come into question. Just like the fishermen in the Gulf after the BP spill, seafood providers across Japan are concerned about public-relations fallout—even if its fish stays available and safe, i.e. nonradioactive.

Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, the world’s biggest—selling more than 400 species of fish six days a week, a $5.5-billion-a-year business supplying 40 million Japanese fish-lovers—has not yet backed off any species, but buyers have fallen off due to a lack of fish.

The immediate concern is that so many of the small towns in the north—and their boats, docks, jetties, nets, tackle and fishermen—are gone. Fish farms and onshore processing plants have been wiped out. Hundreds of thousands of wild fish washed onto shore, dead. Scallops, sardines, oysters, seaweed, bonito and even shark’s fin have largely disappeared from Tsukiji in the past week.

The normally packed aisles of the sprawling market—the equivalent of 200 football fields under one roof—are relatively empty of buyers. “We’re not selling anything because there are no customers,” one wholesaler reported. Renowned sushi restaurants adjacent to the market are suffering too, in part due to the lack of tourists.

The Tsukiji market’s general manager, Tsutomu Kosaka, told the New York Times, “It’s not like the brand is just damaged now—it’s over. At least for now, the brand is finished. Gone. It’s hopeless.”

(For the rest of my dispatch go to takepart.com)

Waves of Ruin: Japanese Fishing Business Hammered

Among the first to be alerted to the shaking and rending of the earth off the coast of Japan last Friday? The fish.

While no video captured a mass exodus of sea creatures presciently fleeing the epicenter, it’s assumed that animals sense seismic trouble before man does. A squirrel can hear a dry leaf rustle more than 300 feet away. Elephants pick up infrasound.

Workers cleaning up after the 2004 Indonesian tsunami were surprised by how few dead dogs, horses, elephants and reptiles were found. They surmised that the animals had sensed the incoming disruption, and had headed for the hills. Even a five-second head start can be crucial when tsunami waves are coming.

On Friday, currents and powerful waves swept schools of fish toward Alaska in the north and Chile in the south. Yahoo News reported a boom day for fishermen off the coast of Mexico.

(For the rest of my dispatch go to takepart.com)

Planet Shrugs, Earthquakes and Tsunamis Follow

Despite the incredible destruction caused by Friday’s earth-rupture and the subsequent massive waves that devastated Japan’s coastline – officially the ‘Honshu Tsunami’ – it was in many ways just another planetary flex.

The 8.9 magnitude earthquake tore a split in the ocean floor more than 200 miles long and sent thirty-foot waves towards Sendai. Experts are saying the quake was 8,000 times more powerful than the one that struck New Zealand just a few weeks ago and 7,000 times bigger than the one that crushed Haiti a year ago. One geophysical result of all that sub-ocean rumbling is that Japan is now 3.5 feet closer to the U.S. than it was a few day ago, its coastline dropped by two feet.

While the impacts on mankind are horrible and shocking earthquakes are still just the planet’s way of hitching up its pants, tectonically speaking.

Given the recent spate of powerful quakes around the world (Chile, an 8.8 magnitude temblor, the fifth strongest since 1900; the 6.0 quake that struck rural eastern Turkey) it would seem they are happening more frequently. But the truth is that the earth has always quaked; what’s different now is what’s happening above ground, not underground.

(For the rest of my dispatch go to takepart.com)

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