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I love science because it is questioning, and I always question. What question we ask can determine what answers we get. Dealing with the environmental tragedies of our times leads to many questions for people everywhere around the world.

Can it happen here?

I remember taking this photo of the riling sea in Puerto Rico the year of another terrible tsunami, 2004, so far away and still sensing the ocean’s disturbance.

So can it happen here is the wrong question. We have to change the question, because in a sense it already has happened “here”. Folowing the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as of July 2011 up to 15,550 deaths and 5,344 missing were recorded in the area in Japan. We are certainly connected in spirit when our hearts go out to the victims.

We are all connected if not by land, then by the air and the water to the fall out from the tsunami after the radioactivity flowed into the land, air and water.  Our food sources are inter related too as fish and seaweed from the oceans near Japan make their way into our diet around the world. While the levels of radioactivity were millions of times higher than the legal limit in the ocean around the disaster site, it is important to know that fish and plants collect and concentrate the radiation. Take seaweed, it concentrates radioactive iodine at 10,000 times higher than the ocean water it lives in.

Diagrams of the many points on earth affected by earthquakes and tsunami, and the areas where nuclear reactors are positioned are found in the link below. By having a look at the interactive map, you can see how near or far you and loved ones are from the unstable sites, and from the sources of radiation. You can see a measure of risk.

From the National Geophysical Data Center: http://maps.ngdc.noaa.gov/viewers/hazards/?layers=0

We can ask a different question, how can we prevent contamination and resulting human disease after the quake, after the tsunami. As a geneticist by training, I’m very concerned with radiation. It damages DNA, causes mutations which can be inherited in our children, and causes cancer. If radiation didn’t already give me cancer after so many years working as a scientist with radiation at the lab bench, it probably will eventually. Both my parents died of cancer – so it is an ever present phantom travelling through my thoughts.

Science can be one of the effective tools used to protect societies around the world from environmental disasters. Groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists have studied the risks at nuclear sites and made recommendations to ensure safer conditions – if the warnings are heeded. I hope our representatives are listening. I am listening closer than ever.

Please leave a comment to share your impressions and experiences.

You may also be interested in:

DEATH AND THE DREAM, short stories from J.J.Brown available at  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/79628 as an ebook edition distributed by Smashwords. The paperback edition is coming soon.