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Radioactive fish: From Fukushima’s reactors to Southern California’s waters

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Not quite sharks with laser beams on their heads, but darned close -- scientists have found that migrating Pacific blue fin tuna brought radioactivity from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster to the waters of Southern California.

According to a study published today in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers, led by Stanford University marine ecologist Daniel Madigan, found radioactive cesium isotopes in tuna caught by sport fishermen off San Diego in August 2011 -- just five months after the disaster.

Although the level of radioactivity in the fish was one-tenth of what is considered dangerous and probably poses no danger to consumers, the study proved for the first time that migrating sea life quickly transported radiation from the Fukushima reactors across the Pacific.

"The tuna packaged it up and brought it across the world's largest ocean," Madigan told the Wall Street Journal. "We were definitely surprised to see it at all and even more surprised to see it in every one we measured."

The findings suggest that other sea creatures may be capable of transporting elevated levels of radioactivity, as well, said Madigan. The team will begin tests this summer on albacore tuna, sea turtles, and several shark species.

All of the Above

With promises of increased safety and better technology, nuclear power has been undergoing an image make-over of late and has become an important component of the “All of the Above” energy independence strategy touted by politicians from Rick Santorum to Barack Obama.

However, nuclear energy’s main problem remains: Accidents can happen. No matter how prepared we are, no matter what wonderful, new technology is used to keep the radiation where it belongs, accidents with the potential for almost unfathomable consequences just might happen.

When an oil rig blows up or a tanker runs aground, we’re left with an ecological nightmare in a particular area and a year of television commercials telling us how helpful and friendly the offending corporation is. But nuclear power is like an evil, incredibly lethal genie. Once the radiation is out of the bottle, there is absolutely no way to put the genie back in -- or even contain it.

We’ve always known that radiation can cover large areas quickly. Thanks to Madigan and crew, we’re beginning to get an idea of just how large and how quickly.

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