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Surprising Science

Radioactive Water Leak

Workers near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex are sealing a leak releasing radioactive seawater into the ocean, though scientists say the radiation will dissipate in the Pacific.

At the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, pipes used to cool reactor cores were ruptured by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck Japan last month. As a result, authorities there became caught in what Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist at C.U.N.Y., calls a Catch-22: either face a meltdown from overheated reactors or cool them with seawater, which could easily leak back out into the ocean. As water contaminated with iodine-131 and cesium-137 now seeps into the Pacific, authorities hope the vastness of the ocean and Westerly ocean currents will help disperse the radioactive agents to levels that pose no health risks for humans or animals. Government authorities have, for the first time ever, set radiation safety limits for fish.


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