To Surf Or Not To Surf?: A Study on the Fukushima Nuclear Spill and Its Potential Relevance In the Life of a West Coast Surfer

Photo: Christor Lukasiewicz

Photo: Christor Lukasiewicz

Mother always says, “There’s no use crying over spilled milk.” But when it comes to nuclear spills, I think mom- and Mother Nature – might have a second opinion.

When I think about nuclear waste, I picture a green gooey chemical that gives you super powers when you accidentally fall into a barrel of it. In other words, I’m about as clueless of the properties of nuclear waste as I am about quantum physics: I know it exists, but that’s about it.

Like most human beings, I’m not particularly inclined to immerse myself in knowing this, that, and the other about a topic that doesn’t involve something I’m passionate about. Call me careless, but that’s my best explanation for why I haven’t taken an interest in the likes of this nuclear spill until now. Unfortunately, my lack of knowledge hasn’t stopped the world currents from flowing as they always have, and I have become increasingly more aware of the reality of this situation. Why? Because I’m a surfer. And my semester-long dreams of sifting through the glorious waves of the sea come summertime was recently put on hold because of the potential dangers of radioactive material in my home away from home: the Pacific ocean.

For logical reasons countries have, to one degree or another,  dabbled with nuclear power for at least a couple of generations. Although I am a newbie and couldn’t explain to you the pros or cons of this fact, I remember hearing the terms “nuclear spill” and “radioactive material” throughout my whole life. I’m from the small town of Simi Valley, home of one of the world’s largest nuclear spills in history. We actually just (celebrated?) the fiftieth year anniversary of the spill, although instead of champagne, we toasted with green tea, because it’s full of antioxidants and disease-fighting qualities. Because when you live within a ten mile radius of one of the biggest nuclear spills in the history of the world, you probably want to be a bit more health conscious than the average person.

The main concern was that the effects of high exposure to radiation manifest over long periods of time, so the many diseases that can occur as a result to this kind of exposure would not do so until later on in life. That’s why Japanese government officials and scientists are concerned about the future health of their people. In the event of the Fukushima spill, brought on by a horrendous tsunami, many people suffered direct contact with highly potent radioactive ocean water. As a result, the Japanese government put strong restrictions on the sale and consumption of fish within a certain distance of the disastrous event. But time has passed, and certain restrictions have started to fade away.

Intriguing news that leaked about a group of US sailors who were emergency responders at the scene of the tsunami raised questions and concern about the spill. When the USS Ronald Reagan responded promptly to the Fukushima disaster, their willingness to aid in the relief was greatly influenced by what is now being recognized as a huge lie fed to them by the Tokyo Electric Power Company that reassured them that they would be safe from radiation exposure as long as they stayed away from certain areas while they were there.

The same sailors who boarded the USS Ronald Reagan are now filing lawsuits against TEPCO because they have begun to experience various symptoms of major diseases such as chronic bronchitis, hemorrhaging, blindness, and a range of cancers from thyroid and testicular to leukemia and brain tumors.

There are numerous problems with the way this situation has been “dealt” with, both moral and physical; but the newest question in all of the chaos is: exactly how much of our world is this nuclear spill actually affecting? News on the matter has suggested that the radiation has been traveling with the currents throughout various regions of the world, and has recently been found along the Pacific coast.

As a surfer, this is not something that really resonates well with me. So, how exactly is this problem going to affect us West Coast dwellers?

Well, I’m happy to say that I have more good news than bad. While there are a number of radioactive elements in our oceans, the concentrations of said elements are not high enough to be dangerous to our health. Dr. Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in particular has recently noted: “There is no way that the water that you’re surfing in could give you a radioactive dose that would be of any concern. There are already radioactive atoms in the ocean, but they aren’t dangerous. We have naturally-occurring radionuclides and there are still radionuclides from nuclear weapon testings in the ‘60s in there. It can be hard for people to understand that it’s already been there, but it has been for decades. And the radioactivity from Fukushima will cause no significant difference.”

I recently contacted Rick Wilson, the Senior Staff Scientist of Surfrider Foundation, and he pointed me in the direction of valuable and reassuring information about the Fukushima disaster. Surfrider Foundation is a trusted source, and they have been working closely with the scientists who are studying the waters of the Pacific Coast.

So the question we ask is this: do we surf, or not?

As for me, based on all the information I have read over the past few weeks, my mind is at ease with the situation. I now know that there is natural radiation everywhere and that the amount generated by the Fukushima disaster has not substantially increased the radiation that we are exposed to already.  Thus, as long as I keep myself well informed and follow any changes to these findings, I feel safe surfing.

Either way, nothing will keep me from the ocean for too long. Life is too short anyway.  Will keep you all informed if I change this opinion.



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Alexandra is an avid thinker, unrelentlessly intrigued by reading, writing, talking and learning philosophy. She values knowledge through experience and believes that true virtue is earned by seeking knowledge through self-discipline, awareness, and patience. Throughout life, determining truth within her spectrum of beliefs has been a prominent goal, and this is reflected in her writing personality. Alexandra first fell in love with the ocean during a group paddle-boarding session on her eighteenth birthday, and her desire to abide in the Ocean increased every time she picked up a surfboard that summer. Since then, she is only anxious when she is forced by life to take a break from surfing, but through writing, she is able to keep a strong connection with the waves and those who surf them.



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