WC used to get quite a lot of email from a reader who was deeply concerned about possible radiation from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster reaching Alaska and the west coast of North America.
Right concern; wrong ocean and wrong point source.
The islands of North and South Novaya Zemlya in the Kara Sea, north of Russia, were the site of some 86 atmospheric nuclear bomb tests between 1957 and 1961. All the tests were carried out in the atmosphere above Novaya Zemlya. Those tests included the largest nuclear devices ever exploded, among them the so-called 58 megaton Tsar-bomb on October 30, 1961. Most of the tests were conducted above the channel that separates the two islands, about a third of the way up from the south.
The prevailing winds during most of those atmospheric explosions was to the north. The fallout from those 86 tests was distributed across the ice fields of the north island of Nova Zemlya. It’s embedded in the glacial ice. As a result, radioactivity levels in the ice are two or three times as high as in the already very high background levels for the north island.
Which is now melting.
That fallout is now running into the Arctic Ocean. The ocean currents around Nova Zemlya are not well understood; the area was frozen solid most of the year until anthropogenic climate change began rapidly warming the polar regions. And the ocean currents may very well be changing as the water temperatures warm and the warmer freshwater runoff pours onto the ocean surface.
That radioactivity is going to find its way into the biomass. It’s going to be picked up by marine life and bio-concentrated into upper tier animals.
How bad will it get? No one knows for sure.
It will take any radioactive plume a long time to reach Alaska. But if you are in Norway, or Russia, it’s a very real risk.
Another uncontrolled science experiment on the only planet we have. Another unforeseen consequence of man-caused climate change. Another reason to act immediately to limit emission of greenhouse gases.