Is it possible that all life in the Pacific Ocean is on the verge of being wiped out but that knowledge is being kept from you by an unholy alliance of international governments, corporations and a compliant news media?
No. But that doesn't stop people from believing it. Just when it seemed those scary Facebook posts had gone away, they came back again last week.
The gist of the arguments is that the spill of radioactive cooling water at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami is spreading across the Pacific, annihilating everything in its path.
There were the oldie but goodies: "Holy Fukushima – Radiation From Japan Is Already Killing North Americans" (that's the one with the "Radioactive Impact Map" that actually only shows the variation in wave height during the tsunami) and "28 Signs That the West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima" (proving that nothing – not even the end of the world – is safe from being made into a listicle).
And then there was a new one, "Radioactive Gigantism Strikes California," claiming that a giant squid (about the size of a small whale) had washed ashore in Santa Monica. It seemed to have been taken seriously, despite the fact that this pretty obviously came from a satirical news site a la the Onion (does Lightly Braised Turnip sound like a trustworthy source of information?).
But it probably does say something when the satirical news story sounds more legitimate than the purported factual ones.
As my colleague Tony Barboza wrote, "Those assertions are false and the concerns largely unfounded, scientists and government officials said last week, because Fukushima radionuclides in ocean water and marine life are at trace levels and declining — so low that they are trivial compared with what already exists in nature."
The California Department of Public Health declared flatly: "There is no public health risk at California beaches due to radioactivity related to events at Fukushima."
Not that that would convince the believers because, of course, that's just what the conspirators would say. "Preventing panic is item number one on authorities' lists, above even public safety," commented one Chaya Posts.
If you're looking for honest, factual information on the effect of the Fukushima reactor spill, there are a couple of very good, reliable sources to check. I've found Deep Sea News to be very good. And of course the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is authoritative, though the website doesn't seem to have been updated recently. Perhaps because there is nothing new to report, Facebook posts notwithstanding.