Evaluating the Risks of Fukushima-Derived Radionuclide Concentrations in Pacific Ocean Seawater and Biota

Here’s a paper I wrote this quarter for an Ocean Environment class that I’m taking. I thought it might be cool to share! It was a fun research project. References are at the end (sorry, I didn’t link them in the body of the paper/post).

Evaluating the Risks of Fukushima-Derived Radionuclide Concentrations in Pacific Ocean Seawater and Biota

Ryan Gratzer
UCLA Extension: Z3892: Ocean Environment
Fall 2013

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a tsunami that flooded the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, resulting in a meltdown. During the meltdown, large amounts of freshwater and seawater were pumped through to cool the overheating reactors, and in the process 3 million gallons of contaminated water from the damaged reactor buildings were released into the ocean. There has been much concern over whether these radionuclides in the ocean will adversely affect both ocean and terrestrial life. Will they bio-accumulate up trophic levels in marine biota, and how may that affect humans who consume fish from the Pacific Ocean? The data so far seems to show that while radiocesium and other radioactive elements are certainly making their way around the Pacific Ocean, they are not concentrated at levels that present health concerns, and are, in most places, continually diffusing rather than accumulating.

Some context: Earth currently contains naturally-occurring stable isotopes (ex. carbon-14), naturally-occurring unstable (radioactive) isotopes (ex. potassium-40, uranium), and anthropogenic unstable isotopes (ex. cesium-137). We constantly expose ourselves to naturally-occurring radioactive materials (NORM) through mining, drilling, burning coal, building materials, flying on airplanes, food, sleeping next to people, the sun, and much more (many of these exposures are referred to as “background radiation”).[1] Radiation can damage DNA, and damaged DNA can lead to mutations (such as cancer, or aging). The isotopes we are exposed to are constantly decaying into other forms and thus becoming more stable, and so, barring an event that introduces a relatively large amount of radioactive materials into the environment, the radioactive level of our bodies stay pretty stable and our bodies are effectively handling damaged DNA.

Controversy

The public has been very skeptical of the scientific and government reports about Fukushima. TEPCO and the Japanese government took two months to communicate to the public that a meltdown had occurred; and TEPCO did not admit until recently that 300 tons of contaminated water was leeching out into the ocean every day (though scientists had suspected it for a while, due to the concentrations of fast-decaying cesium-134 that was still present); and it is still unclear exactly how much radiation has entered the atmosphere, ocean, and land. There are also a lot of questions about “safe levels of radiation,” and the safety of nuclear power in general.

The Navies, scientists, and government bodies are doing their best to analyze and respond to the event given the uncertain data coming from TEPCO. But they’ve been slow to release their reports, and speculation abounds about “what is being hidden from the public,” and what the possible global ramifications could be. The bulletpointed conspiracy-laden articles are vastly more popular with the general public than, say, the scientific reports that focus on just one facet of the effects of the meltdown. The sensational “28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima” has gone “viral,” while the responses – “28 fallacies about the Fukushima nuclear disaster’s effect on the US West Coast“ and “More Fukushima Scaremongering Debunked“ – receive far less attention.[2, 3, 4]
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I Snagged a Sustainable Surfboard

This post gives some background information about environmentally-friendly surfboards and surf gear, as goes into my super simple journey to pick up an EcoBoard.

Eco Bro

Surfers are a heterogeneous group, and we approach the activity from different perspectives. To some it is a sport/career, to others a spiritual endeavor (though the “spirit” may just be the natural elements of the earth), and to others simply a way of life. The thing that unites all surfers is our love for bobbing around in the shallow zones in the ocean until a wave comes along, and then paddling our butts off to catch and ride it for a few seconds. It’s a particular type of activity in that it totally relies on natural processes of wind, ocean, tides, and reefs in order to work. A disruption to these natural elements yields a disruption in our ability to access the waves we need. Yet, oddly enough, to ride the waves, we for the most part rely on petrochemical sleds that damage these elements.

There seems to be a bit of a disconnect there, but the simple explanation is that it’s the result of the market at work. Polyurethane (PU) surfboard blanks were the best viable alternative following wood blanks. Wood blanks are heavy and expensive and difficult to shape. PU boards are light, cheap, and easy to shape, and they brought forth a revolution in shapes and in surfing itself. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) blanks gained some popularity in the late ’70s, but never obtained a foothold in the market (I got one custom EPS/Epoxy board in the late ’90s, shaped by Max McDonald and glassed by epoxy guru Clyde Beatty Jr – it was one of my favorite boards, and it lasted 5 years of heavy use). EPS is the standard packing material foam. The sustainable surf gear movement looks to be embracing EPS foam as the most viable way to move beyond traditional PU into something eco-friendlier. I’ll go into some of the benefits and drawbacks of EPS.

Sustainable Surf

SustainableSurf.org seems to be the largest organization making a coordinated effort to bring sustainably-made surfboards to the mainstream. They have a couple of successful projects, they provide waste/recycling support at events, and they have the endorsement of SIMA and many surf brands. One of their projects, the EcoBoard Project, provides a framework for surfboard manufacturers to follow if they’re aiming to build a less-wasteful board. Similar to LEED certification, they classify the materials used to construct a surfboard, and if the overall constructions qualifies, they label it an “EcoBoard” and enter it into their registry. The board I recently custom-ordered was around #1400 in the registry.

Here’s my board! More details about it further below…

my board
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Birds and Cows

I made a pleasant “waking up” ringtone. It’s (a kid on youtube playing) Rossini’s Call to the Cows, mixed with some bird songs. Inspiration was obviously Looney Tunes.

Birds and Cows

I have a couple records to post soon.

Who lambada’d it better?

I was at the gym last night, and a song came on that was vaguely familiar. It was a dance song, and the familiar part occurred only during the chorus. I wobbled with distraction trying to figure out who they were sampling. I made an effort to memorize the lyrics (something about “dance the night away”) so that I could look it up later. But then right as the song faded, I figured it out! They were remixing Sun City Girls! Specifically, “The Shining Path” from their 1990 album, Torch of the Mystics.

This struck me as the most bizarre thing ever. Sun City Girls were an experimental psych band with a tendency toward pastiche. Many of their albums are annoyingly hard to find (especially the singles). But Torch of the Mystics is their most well-regarded (and most accessible) album… so who knows, maybe this dance/house artist happened across it and decided to sample it?

The Shining Path is my favorite song on the album – and it’s certainly the catchiest – but I’d never taken the time to dig into its background. Like many of their songs, it uses the sounds/melodies/instruments from some far off, seemingly-exotic locale (but still, I assumed it was an original song). It begins with a old western-sounding whistle, accompanied by minimal guitar and drums, with expressive Spanish vocals. Some sort of pan flute carries between the verses.

The youtube comments for the song quickly revealed to me both the origin of the tune, and the dance revision. The original is a Bolivian folk song called Llorando se Fue, by Los Kjarkas (1981). It reached greater popularity in 1989 when it was remixed/gaffled by a French group called Kaoma. As you can see from that wiki entry, the song already had a rich history of dance hall remixes. The Sun City Girls version was recorded in 1988 and released in 1990. And then last year (2011) Jennifer Lopez remixed it in “her” song, On The Floor. I was hearing the J. Lo version at the gym, of course.

Here are all four versions. And scroll down for some bonus pictures of Sun City Girls.

The original lambada, Llorando se Fue (1982):

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Future Spa

In case you’re on Twitter, consider following an account of mine, @futurespa. Future Spa began as a pinball machine in the late ’70s. But it’s a rich concept – and it includes some of my main interests: science fiction, exercise, relaxation – and so I thought I would give an attempt at expanding upon the world.

Future Spa(my pal Drew made that a few years ago for me)

The account is from the future, and provides updates on happenings at Future Spa. Such as:

News and warnings:

Polls:

Job announcements:

I’m not exactly sure where this all will go, in the end. I had a comic concept going for a while, but it faded. For now, it’s just fun to get creative, and to be somewhat-funny, and to think about the future.

Hagen illustrations

Former professor at Otis College of Art and Design and current chair of the Fashion Design Department at Woodbury University, Kathryn Hagen, has been putting some great tutorials on youtube. While I’m not a fashion illustrator by any means, anyone interested in illustration can learn a lot from watching a masterful use of layers, highlights, and textures. She uses so many different types of pens and pencils, and just layers layers layers on the color. It is mesmerizing to watch the textures emerge.

Find more on her youtube channel or on the Otis one.