Statement about Fukushima Radiation Hazards

January 31, 2014

My concern about the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant continues as news from many sources continues to pour in. Sadly not much of it is good news but some of what I hear is exaggerated. Unfortunately radioactivity continues to be released into the ocean and efforts to control this release are not likely to resolve the problem in the near future. Radioactivity has been carried by bluefin tuna to the waters in the eastern Pacific, that is the west coasts of Canada and the United States. The good news, at least so far, is that radioactivity in these fish is of low concentration and not a threat to the health of people who eat the fish. But a note of caution is necessary. Bluefin tuna and other top marine predators are not sustainably harvested and they carry high levels of mercury. So they should be avoided altogether for consumption.

My concern about this catastrophe is based on solid science. We know some radionucleides cause cancer and birth defects. We know some are very long-lived. We know they can cause immediate harm in sufficient concentrations. The lessons from Chernobyl are clear. We do not need additional evidence that nuclear power is very dangerous. This technology is complex and can fail. It is vulnerable to human error and to unpredictable events such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

Having said this I believe that there is no place for exaggeration or hysteria in the case of Fukushima. Rational science-based thinking is absolutely vital in our dealing with such crises. It is science and technology that enabled my father to co-invent the aqualung and our Cousteau team to create submersibles, underwater cameras and other innovations in ocean exploration. Thanks to science we have cell phones, satellites, computers and amazing advancements in medicine. I mention the importance of science and scientific thinking because I have been receiving reports of radioactive pollution making fish caught on the west coast dangerous to eat and causing a bizarre array of ecological disruptions. Sadly such exaggerations can go viral because we lack a data gathering network that systematically measures waters, local species and migrating species. BUT the limited data we do have show contamination of our waters along the west coast is not sufficient to cause health problems. I continue to eat sustainably caught local seafood and am not worried about any related health issues. I also call for rigorous monitoring by the US and Canada. What the future will bring is unknown and only monitoring can give us the data we need to protect ourselves. We need facts on which to base our personal decisions and government policies not emotional speculation.

I reiterate Fukushima remains a disaster and I am very very concerned about long-term effects of the radiation leakage. Coastal waters around Japan are still closed to commercial fisheries and scientists continue to monitor water, air, soil, fish and other animals for traces of radiation. But monitoring is not the ultimate solution. The real solution is to avoid nuclear reactors altogether but unfortunately its too late for this as an option.

Now lets stand back a bit and think about how we approach environmental issues in general. From my initial introduction to the ocean, my father, Jacques Cousteau, impressed upon me some important facts about our planet. We live on a planet bathed in two fluids – the ocean and the atmosphere. These fluids are in constant motion, each interacting with one another and together sheathe every corner of the planet.

Because of this – we must remember that nothing can ever actually be thrown away because there is no away, everything is connected and a pollutant released on one side of the planet has the potential for far reaching consequences everywhere. In terms of Fukushima, scientists are doing what they can to understand the short and long-term consequences of the radiation leaking on our environment and ultimately our own survival.

I believe these facts are particularly relevant in the discussion about nuclear power. Human arrogance and error are part of our reality, as are natural disasters entirely out of our control. This means that it is absolutely certain there will be unpredictable events capable of upsetting the best of our human engineered enterprises.

In the case of energy, human error combined with a natural disaster may topple a wind generator, damage photovoltaic panels and even destroy a petroleum based power plant, but the consequences of these are microscopic compared to the detrimental impacts of a nuclear power plant failure, as we’ve seen proven true with the Fukushima and Chernobyl catastrophes.

Those who chose to ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. I urge us all to learn from Fukushima and Chernobyl as we continue to monitor the situation in Japan. Be vigilant about the state of our planet – the environmental issues we are face as a society. Be concerned about the health of our bodies, our planet, and our future. But also be critical; consider the sources of what you read online, in the news, or on television. Take the time to learn about the issues – and most importantly the solutions so that you can become another voice in the world for a better future.

It will take every one of us to make a difference – but change is where humankind excels. We develop, we grow, we invent, and we progress. Let’s move in a direction where we don’t have to see catastrophes such as the Fukushima disaster repeated.

Lastly, I urge you to keep this issue in mind when casting your vote for the future leaders of tomorrow. We must consider our children, their children and all future generations to come as we address these important energy issues and the potential risks they pose on human health and the health our water planet.

Warm Regards,

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Jean-Michel Cousteau