Seventeen dolphins found mysteriously beached near the site of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant may have died from radiation-induced heart damage, a scientific analysis has suggested.
In March 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at three of the Fukushima reactors. The ensuing explosions ejected massive amounts of radiation into the air, most of which later settled into the Pacific Ocean. Since then, groundwater has continued to leak into the failed reactors, becoming radioactive from contact with the nuclear material there. Much of this water has made it back to the sea, either accidentally or through deliberate releases by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).
White lungs a sign of radiation poisoning?
In April 2015, scientists from Japan's National Science Museum conducted autopsies on the beached dolphins. They found that nearly all of them had lungs that were entirely white, indicating a condition known as ischemia - that is, loss of blood to the organs. The animals' internal organs showed no signs of infection or any other disease.
"I have never seen such a state," the chief researcher said.
While the researchers did not draw the connection themselves, ischemia is a well known symptom of radiation poisoning. In particular, studies have shown that small doses of radiation over time can produce ischemic heart disease (IHD). Higher rates of IHD have been observed among workers at the Mayak nuclear facility in Russia, with a higher risk among those exposed to greater levels of gamma radiation. Increases in IHD rates were also observed among emergency workers who responded to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, as well as among residents exposed to radioactive fallout from the disaster. In the latter case, rates of IHD had increased by two to four times by 1988.
How far has the radiation spread?
On the other side of the Pacific, California has also been experiencing a rash of unusual marine mammal beaching. In the past few months, an unusually high number of whales have washed up dead on the California coast. In early July, San Francisco residents discovered a beached dolphin, sea lion and elephant seal. Meanwhile, record numbers of starving sea lion pups have been turning up from San Francisco to San Diego.
The official explanation for the sea lion beaching and for some of the other marine mammal deaths is a food shortage caused by unusually warm ocean waters, although scientists remain unsure of the proximate cause of the abnormally high temperatures. Some California fishermen have questioned this explanation, however, pointing the finger instead at habitat destruction and pollution.
But could radiation also be playing a role, poisoning marine mammals and their prey? It is well established that large amounts of radioactive material continue to pour from Fukushima into the Pacific, and from there may be entering the food chain.
"Every day, four hundred tons of highly radioactive water pours into the Pacific and heads towards the U.S.," warned physician and renowned anti-nuclear advocate Helen Caldicott in September 2014. "Because the radiation accumulates in fish, we get that too. The U.S. government is not testing the water, not testing the fish, and not testing the ambient air. Also, people in Japan are eating radiation every day."
Caldicott is the author and editor of Crisis Without End: The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe, and is a co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Some Pacific nations are certainly taking the possibility seriously. In 2011, nineteen Pacific states launched a study into the possible impacts of radioactive releases from Fukushima on the Asia-Pacific region specifically and the Pacific Ocean more generally.
The United States did not participate in the study.
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Written by David Gutierrez (Natural News)
Featured image credit: Allie Caulfild (2001) - (CC - Flickr)