70 Miles of Flotsam & Radioactive Waste Dumped into the Pacific

You’d pretty much have to have been living on some other planet to be unaware of the 9-point earthquake and subsequent tsunami that rocked northern Japan a few weeks ago.  We won’t be boring you with rehashes of that tragic event.  But we do want to fill you in on the latest aftermath.  For example, there’s now a flotsam island some 70 miles long floating out into the Pacific, made up of houses, and plastics, bodies and cars, polluting as it goes, and creating dangerous hazards in the shipping lanes.  The U.S. Navy’s 7th fleet is keeping an eye on this latest mess, and describes that it covers more than 2.2 million square feet of ocean surface.  Experts estimate that the rubbish may take as much as two years to hit Hawaii.  It may be another year after that before it hits the U.S. West Coast.  Meanwhile, there’s a very real threat to ships large and small of hulls being breached, props being fouled, and marine mammals and other ocean creatures being adversely affected by this huge island of rubble.

This current will bring cars, homes, bodies, furniture and other debris to our shores.

While we’re on it, did you know that the Japanese government elected to dump over 11 milion liters (2.5 million gallons) of radioactive water into the Pacific ocean?  Yep, water that’s 500 times more radioactive than the legal limit was unceremoniously poured into the world’s oceans.  Just a couple days later, radioactive fish were found some 50 miles offshore.  “We had no choice,” they claim.  Sure ya did.  Barrel it up and bury it in YOUR back yard, until a combined effort of Japan and the rest of the world figures out what to do with it.  But because they didn’t want it in their back yard, they poured it into ours?  All due sympathy to the people of Japan during this tragedy, but it’s still not OUR nuclear plants that are melting down.  Junichi Matsumoto, of Japan’s TEPCO makes an attempt to justify the choice, saying “We think releasing water with low levels of radiation is preferable to allowing water with high levels of radiation to be released into the environment.”  That may be true, Mr. Matsumoto, but it wasn’t a binary situation.  You didn’t have to make that choice.  Nice try, but we’re not quite that lacking in logic.  Matsumoto claims that the urgency was from a leak they thought was happening.  But none of that stopped them from bottling the radioactive water and keeping it out of the Pacific.  Using the ocean as one’s dumping ground is never appropriate, but radioactive wastes are even more dangerous.  Potential results range from giving cancer to sea mammals and fish, to causing genetic mutations that could literally alter the entire food chain’s balances.

Taking this action at all was unacceptable.  Doing so without conferring with the rest of the world was simply too typical of the Japanese perspective that suggests the world exists for them to exploit anywhere and any way that they like.  We are not against the Japanese people.  We have a number of friends in and from Japan, and feel deeply for their circumstances.   That said, the nation of Japan continues to act with blatant disregard for marine life.  The nation issues permits to kill over a thousand whales each year for “research”, (not including the untold thousands of dolphins which need no permit.)  This whale hunting and killing takes place in Antarctic waters long ago set aside as marine sanctuary by the entire world.  They go there, we have been told, because the waters are cleaner, so the whale flesh will have less mercury.

The earthquake in Japan, and the aftermath which continues, is just one example of the ways in which a relatively small local event can have global repercussions.  We must, as a species, shift our perspective, our way of looking at the oceans.   This planet cannot survive (nor can we) if we continue to use it as our dumping grounds.

8 replies
    • John Taylor says:

      Geok Pik Ching,

      You’re quite welcome, educating on this sort of thing is part of what we do. Thank you for the question and for taking the time to write.

      The simple version is that the flotsam itself washed away from the shores of Japan with the tsunami’s waters. Though the US (and others, I’d expect) were there gathering up debris, it was so vast a devastation that some was bound to get lost. That’s the debris.

      As to the radioactive water, that remains to be seen, but we know that radioactive steam continues, and soon enough they will have to dump more radioactive water as well. Not a good thing for the oceans and earthlings of all kinds.


      • Geok Pik Ching says:

        Hi JT

        I am the one who should Thank You for writing the article and enlightening people about what is happenning. A couple of days ago it strike me that the Japanese Government could have other alternative other than throwing the radioactive stuff into the ocean and when I talked to a few friends, they didn’t really care…as they seem to think the contamination is small and the ocean is big…and even if we swallow a little bit of the radioactive it is negligeble. Someone said that I should not worry about this as the radioactive half life is eight days.

        I am no scientist and maybe I am a little paranoid but my understanding is that the radioactivity only reduces by half every eight days….and is still active. And if the quantum is a lot, even after a lot of half, the radioactive stuff is still around. I just wander how long will the radioactivity become so minute that it is no longer harmful?

        Anyway, as far as my simple mind goes, the moment the radioactive stuff reach the ocean, some marine lives will becontaminated, and the chain already started and the ecosystme will never be the same again. That really breaks my heart.

        JT, is there a way, we the children of the world can send a message to the Japanese Government to stop this dumping.

        I am not IT savy, I think I have seen some people sending articles in facebook to garner support for some cause; is there a way we can also do this and then send it to the Japanese Government?

      • lola says:

        it wasnt japans who dumped radioactive waste. it was a tsunami and you cant stop a tsunami from coming. like seriously you have the wrong facts JT. where did you get info from or did you make it up yourself
        i have no more to say

        ED: We’re very glad you have no more to say, since you’ve no clue what you’re talking about. The tsunami didn’t cause the reactor’s failure, and they DID release radioactive water WILLINGLY and with FORETHOUGHT. Thanks for playing. Have a nice day.

  1. Alex says:

    I think its funny how you say that the island is more than 2.2 million square feet of ocean surface. They may seem like a large number until you put that in square miles. (2,200,000)/(5280^) = 0.0789mi^2. Thats less than a tenth of a square mile. Now compare that to the size of the Pacific Ocean which according to Wikipedia is 63.8 million square miles. (0.0789)/(63,800,000) = .00000000124 % of the ocean. Chances are this island will break up by or sink by the time it reaches Hawaii or the U.S. The dumping is a different story but the stuff that was washed out from the Tsunami is not Japan’s fault.

  2. David A. Bremner says:

    Alex is right, your numbers don’t really add up. The US Navy’s observations relate to a 70 mile patch of debris that is part of a much larger 2000 mile debris field, in total about 20 million tons of floating wreckage. A lot of that will spiral in to the centre of the “Gyre” and simply float around until it eventually sinks, but still a huge amount will wash up.

    In terms of suggesting that rotting bodies are heading this way it’s both kinda silly and kinda disrespectful. To put it bluntly, bodies are edible and decompose, so after 6 months in the open ocean there won’t be anything left. Many of the items that wash up, especially those of a personal nature, or related to fishing vesels will have special spiritual significance for people back in Japan and there are various groups working to catalogue and return significant items including the efforts of Curtis Ebbesmeyer.

    The radioactive water is an interesting issue. For sure, not a great situation but the fear factor on all things nuclear tends to overshadow the basic physics of how it all works and dumping the water, while a concern is kinda low on the risk list. You could argue that it was the lesser of two evils, the other being allowing the cores of the four reactors to melt-down so much they fell through the containment, hit all that water and subsequently vaporized all of the core into the atmosphere. And big ocean, not much radioactivity.

    Much worse examples include the Pickering nuclear plant in Canada which has semi-routinely dumped tens of thousands of litres of radioative water into the Lake Ontario, oh and Pickering doesn’t even have backup generators. So all it would take is a power outage more than about 12 hours and they’re in trouble. Or the Kursk (Russian submarine) that has an entire nuclear reactor in it, slowing leaking into the ocean. Or the hundreds of strontium and cobalt based nuclear bateries lost or abandoned when the USSR collapsed. Or the atomic weapon (with Uranium enriched to be vastly more radioactive than any part of any nuclear plower plant) that the US dumped by accident into ocean in 1958 and have yet to find.

    ED: Interesting supposition on your part. Unfortunately, the first of the flotsam has already hit the shores of Canada.

  3. emily goles says:

    j.t., im very glad you wrote the article,and we talked about radiation in class today . although some countries are screwing up right now,the tsunami did mess it up,not japan. most of your facts are right,just not that one.all the world are freaking idiots right now. i mean ,come on people! world hunger? global warming? open your eyes!its not all freaking mother nature, actually,its mainly us!i have nothing against people , just some of the things we do.


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