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Website map tracks path of ocean pollution, Fukushima radiation plume

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The radiation plume from the 2011 disaster is expected to reach the U.S. coast by 2014, according to a model. (Source: adrift.au.org) The radiation plume from the 2011 disaster is expected to reach the U.S. coast by 2014, according to a model. (Source: adrift.au.org)

(RNN) - A website map from the University of New South Wales models how pollution moves across oceans, and predicts that the radioactive plume from Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown will make its way across the Pacific to the U.S. West Coast in 2014. 

According to Ecowatch, experts said the radiation will be below levels that the World Health Organization considers dangerous by the time it reaches the U.S. coastline next year. Although the level of radiation is expected to have very little effect on human health, the radiation increase will be measurable.

All three Fukushima Daiichi reactor cores at a nuclear power plant largely melted in the aftermath of a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in the largest nuclear incident since Chernobyl. Radioactive materials and contaminated water were released, and leading to the evacuation of more than 100,000 from a 20-kilometer area around the afflicted plant.

An international expert panel, in a February 2013 initial health assessment, doesn't expect the Fukushima disaster to have significant health effects outside the most affected areas in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, where the highest radiation doses occurred. In these areas, the population may experience long-term increases in cancer cases, including thyroid cancers, according to the report.

In addition to tracking radioactive plumes, the website Adrift is used to trace the path of plastics and other items, including messages in bottles, released from most places across the globe into the oceans.

Adrift is based on the research into ocean circulation by Dr. Erik Van Sebille, as well as the book Moby-Duck by Donovan Hohn, which tells the story of a 1992 cargo ship incident in the North Pacific that released thousands of plastic toys.

Plastic waste presents a tremendous problem to the health of the world's oceans and the life within it. Marine animals become ensnared in plastic waste or mistake it for food and eat it, introducing harmful chemicals into the food chain.

The nonprofit organization 5 Gyres reported that after one use, roughly 50 percent of the billions of plastic bags and bottles used in the U.S. is buried in landfills. However, much gets lost in the environment, eventually washing out to sea.

Debris is carried by ocean currents to remote areas, circulating in five large gyres, or slow-moving currents.

The largest gyre, the North Pacific Gyre, is about twice the size of the United States, 5 Gyres said. Other major garbage gyres can be found in the Bay of Bengal, the North Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

"Designed to last, plastic trash in the gyre will remain for decades or longer, being pushed gently in a slow, clockwise spiral towards the center," 5 Gyres reported.

Adrift stated that there are many ways to cut the amount of plastic that makes it from the coast into the gyres, including keeping beaches clean and reducing the amount of plastic used.

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