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Numerical study and prediction of nuclear contaminant transport from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the North Pacific Ocean


On March 11, 2011, a large earthquake and subsequent tsunami near the east coast of Japan destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (FD-NPP), causing a massive release of nuclear contaminants. In this paper, a Pacific basin-wide physical dispersion model is developed and used to investigate the transport of nuclear contaminants. The Pacific circulation model, based on the Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS), is forced with air-sea flux climatology derived from COADS (the Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set). It is shown that ocean current dominates nuclear contaminant transport. Following the Kuroshio Extension and North Pacific Current, nuclear contaminants at the surface will move eastward in the Pacific as far as 140°W, thereafter dividing into two branches. For the south branch, nuclear contaminants will be transported westward by the equatorial current, and can reach the Philippines after 10 years’ time. In contrast, the north branch will arrive at the American west coast and then migrate to the Bering Sea. At 200 m water depth, part of the nuclear materials will move southwestward along with deep ocean circulation, which could potentially reach the east coast of Taiwan. The other part will move to the west coast of America and separate into two branches. One will move northward along the west coast of Alaska, while the other will travel southward to the Hawaiian Islands. The transport of radiation contaminants below 500 m is slow, and will primarily remain in the central Pacific. The physical dispersion model results show that high concentrations of the radioactive isotope cesium-137 (137Cs) will move eastward and reach the central Pacific and west coast of North America in two and eight years, respectively. The sea areas influenced by the nuclear contaminants continue to expand, while peak concentrations decrease in the North Pacific.


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Correspondence to ZhaoYi Wang.

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Wang, H., Wang, Z., Zhu, X. et al. Numerical study and prediction of nuclear contaminant transport from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the North Pacific Ocean. Chin. Sci. Bull. 57, 3518–3524 (2012).

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  • regional ocean model
  • nuclear contaminants
  • transport
  • prediction
  • 137Cs