Up to 20 Million Tons of Japan’s Tsunami Debris Expected on U.S. Shores

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The scenic shores of Hawaii are bracing for a surge of waves, but not of water. Up to 20 million tons of debrisĀ  from last spring’s catastrophic tsunami in Japan is heading toward Hawaii, and is expected to reach the U.S. coast by 2014, scientists say.

A University of Hawaii research team said the floating remains are traveling faster than anticipated, and should reach the Midway Islands, which are located half way between Hawaii and Japan, by this winter.

(MORE: Can Japan’s Anti-Nuclear Protestors Keep Its Reactors Shut Down?)

The scattered mass of garbage is expected to wash up on Hawaiian beaches by the winter or spring of 2013 and reach the West Coast by early 2014. It’s likely heading for Oregon and Washington.

Last month, a Russian crew on the STS Pallada discovered the debris about 2,000 miles from Japan; with it, they found a 20-foot-long fishing boat with Fukushima painted across its side. Crew members also told the AFP they spotted a TV set, fridge, drums, boots and other home appliances.

University of Hawaii’s Jan Hafner told The Times some items will gradually sink as they drift across the Pacific Ocean but not as much as one might think, leaving some environmentalists concerned about the coastlines.

“We don’t want to create a panic, but it’s good to know it’s coming,” Hafner said.

On March 11, Japan was rattled by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequently hit by a tsunami that left 20,000 people dead or missing. The quake caused a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant, dubbed as the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

PHOTOS: Images Released of the Tsunami Striking Fukushima