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13 Effects of Nuclear Waste on the Ocean

by Ranisa Alda

Nuclear has been around since many years ago, it was even used as a weapon during the World War II. However, as many of people would already know, nuclear is considered to be a highly dangerous energy. Nuclear has a radioactive compound in it that can have many dangerous effects to those who are exposed to it, and also the environment.

There is a study that was published in 2003 who found that a substantial part of the world’s radioactive contamination is in our ocean. It is important for us as humanbeing to remember that we can just close our eyes when the environment is being impacted by the radioactive since it will eventually impact us too.

When a human is exposed to the radioactive, some cells in the human’s body may die or become abnormal, either temporarily or permanently. This means the genetic material (DNA) is damaged and can cause cancer. An acute exposure of radioactive can cause sickness or even death within hours or days after the exposure.

However, the damage caused by the exposure to the radioactive is depends to the amount and duration of the exposure, and also which organs of your body that is exposed to it. The impacts of radioactive or nuclear waste on the environment and, eventually, the people are very massive. Therefore, in this article we are going to look up further on the effects of nuclear waste on the ocean to further understand how important it is for us to pay attention to this issue.

  1. Contaminating Food Chain

Both long-lived radioactive elements such as cesium-137 with a half-life of 30years and short-lived elements such as iodine-131 can be absorbed by phytoplankton, zooplankton, kelp and other marine life forms in the ocean. From these creatures, the radioactive then can be transmitted and contaminate the food chain to fish, marine mammals, and eventually, humanbeing.

A study of releases of nuclear material found that radioactive material does travel around the ocean through the ocean currents and can be deposited in marine sediment, then climb the marine food web, contaminating those who eat them. Radioactive caesium and plutonium can even be found now in seals and porpoises in the Irish Sea.

See also: Causes of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

  1. Contaminating Animals

Not only the food producers in the ocean will be contaminated, but the radioactive runoffs can reach on land animals. When they drink the water that has been contaminated, they then are subjected to many of the same illnesses and bacteria as the humanbeing who drinks it too. They can eventually, also, impact the humanbeing who will eat them too. Animals contaminated by radioactive can suffer genetic mutations and die quicker than they should.

See also: Ways to Solve Water Pollution

  1. Contaminating Plants and Soil

Plants that are exposed to radioactive may suffer and die from an inability to properly process their nutrients. The fruits or vegetables they produce will be harmful to be consumed. Their seed will also weaken and they can die easily. The soil that is contaminated will also be infertile, can’t sustain plant life, and the plants that grow from it maybe damaged and die easily too.

See also: Prevention of Ocean Acidification

  1. Mutation

There is a compound in nuclear that is called as tritium and can’t be separated in any way from the contaminated water. Tritium usually concentrates in some aquatic organisms including algae, seaweed, crustaceans, and fish. This compound can be easily consumed by marine life forms and human since it is tasteless, odorless, and invisible. The consumption of this compound can combine in the DNA molecule – the gene – and worse, can induce mutations that later can leads to cancer. The diseases caused by tritium consumption can range from brain tumors to birth deformities to cancers of many organs.

See also: Threats to Ocean Ecosystems

  1. Spread through the Air

The radioactive elements that leaks into the ocean from the nuclear waste will gradually seep into the ocean and can be emitted into the air then spread the radioactive through the clouds and rain anywhere it goes. This means the effect of the radioactive can affect not only people who are near the leakage location or eat from the food chain where the radioactive located but also people located far away from the radioactive and can even spread throughout generations.

See also: Social Effects of Ocean Pollution

  1. Elevated Level of Radionuclide

The nuclear waste on the Arctic ocean in particular, showed signs of elevated level of radionuclide. This research was done by a joint expedition of Russia and Norwegia from 1992 to 1994. Similar increasing level of radionuclide also founded on North-East Pacific ocean and North-West Pacific Atlantic ocean dump sites.

However, these sites that are monitored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed no dangerous signs despite the escalated level of radionuclide since the level is still on normal level.

See also: Ocean Pollution Effects on Whales

  1. Damage the Coral Reefs

This one is particularly happened when the United States Army conducted the largest thermonuclear weapon test in the history on 1954. This test took place at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, which had world’s pristine coral reefs. When the thermonuclear test detonated, immediate damage happened to the reefs and has not been recovered fully until today.

The regrowth process of the reef is very slow and it is lacking the diversity than it had before the testing. A large portion of the reef’s substrate that was damaged by the test then became lost and irreparable, causing the decreasing coastal protection factors for the surrounding atoll.

See also: Threats to Aquatic Biodiversity

  1. Thermal and Kinetic Stress

The thermonuclear weapon test that has been explained above caused not only physical damage on the reefs. The test turned out to impact the surrounding water too. The explosion caused rapid thermal and kinetic stress on the water. The explosion thus spewed radioactive material into high altitudes, and possibly to land on nearby environments and contaminated them.

See also: Threats to Marine Biome

  1. Takes a Long Time to Clean Up

Once the water has been contaminated by the radioactive from nuclear waste, it will take such a long time to clean it up. The contaminated sites will require monitoring and stewardship for a long time. Plutonium, a radioactive element, alone takes around 250,000 years to become lead.

See also: Threats to Marine Life

  1. Terrorists or Separatists

Sometimes, the dumping location of the nuclear waste is not deep enough that even normal people in small civilian groups can still reach it. Once the waste is recovered, such as an old reactor full of spent fuel in it, this can be misused by people such those in terrorism or separatist group as a source material to build dirty bomb.

See also: Ocean Coral Reef

  1. Contaminating Sediments

The leak from nuclear waste can contaminate the sediments at the bottom of the ocean floor. Some experts made hypothesis that the sediments delayed the dispersal of the radioactive substances. This made the benthic fish, those fish who swims only at the bottom of the ocean, to be exposed more since they are close to the contaminated sediments, thus make them to receive higher dose rates than the pelagic fish that lives on the higher levels of the water column.

See also: Uses of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

  1. Excretion

However, fortunately, some experts found that not all marine life forms that are contaminated by radioactive are not safe to eat. Marine invertebrates such as starfish and sea urchins for example, they are particularly proficient at absorbing a wide range of ingested radioisotopes, however, they can lose the incorporated radioactive that they’ve absorbed before via excretion process.

Fortunately again, there are some radioactive elements such as cesium that is fairly efficient to be excrete by the fish if it is no longer exposed to contamination sources. Therefore, the levels in their tissue should then decrease quickly.

See also: Destruction of Ocean Floor

  1. Ocean as A Safer Place

According to the American Cancer Society’s website, there would be no giant or super sea creatures produced because of both the natural and man-made radioactive material found in seawater. It also said that there will not be any essential increase in mutations for over the generations for the animals due to the exposure to their parent animals.

The radioactive materials in the ocean can be diluted and the water itself absorbs the radiation, also can be a very good shielding material.

With the effects of nuclear waste on the ocean has been explained above, we can’t really tell whether dumping nuclear waste on the ocean is a good choice or not. In one side, it may seem less harmful then if it is to be kept on the land. But on the other side, it may contaminate a lot of creature and resulting in endless cycle of contaminating from one creature after another.

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