Is Pacific-Caught Fish Safe Since Fukushima?
Since the Fukushima tragedy two years ago, there has been alarm from strange corners of the Internet, insisting that radiation from the nuclear disaster is killing or has been poised to kill U.S. citizens, specifically on the west coast. Finding information on the real risks from real news sources can be difficult, and it’s important to make sure the articles are as unbiased as possible. Even the verified news sources might only speak to one or two experts, who may have a completely different opinion than others.
This week there’s been news of contaminated fish from Fukushima, and a lot of alarm about the safety of eating seafood. For the sake of keeping our health readers informed, I’ve tried to pull together a few different expert opinions on the state of our fish, and if it’s healthy to keep enjoying seafood.
What caused the sudden interest?
Pressured by various sources, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) announced in July that suspicions of a leak from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi site were confirmed. The plant was indeed leaking radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean near the site. The amount released by the leak is described as being enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every eight days. While the announcement was a shock to some of the public, experts who have been testing the water since the accident have regularly found Cesium-134, a radioactive isotope often used to test for the presence of radiation.
What caused the leak?
Lest anyone think that the plant is seeping an infinite amount of green glowing goo, allow me to explain the nature of the leak. To try and control the plant’s damaged reactors and keep them cool, thousands of gallons of water have been pumped into the plant. The water needs to be released and flushed out to enable more water to come in, and it gets dumped into the Pacific. TEPCO has been highly criticized for this move, as well as its obfuscation of the truth from the public.
Is it dangerous to get into the water?
Despite a lot of paranoia, the water poses no danger unless you live in the area around the plant. The World Health Organization suspects that the leaks will tragically cause a “somewhat elevated” lifetime cancer risk for those living in the area around the water and the plant. Marine scientist Ken Buesseler, who has been tracking radioactive water levels since long before the TEPCO announcement, assures that distance between the American West Coast and the plant will reduce any contamination by “many orders of magnitude,” and will not pose a significant risk.
So what about the fish?
So what about the fish? Healthy, delicious and far more interesting than chicken, fish has become a staple for many Americans. First, Japan itself has banned the fishing and sale of all fish caught off of the Fukushima coast, and many of the most contaminated fish are not of the sort that will migrate to other waters. This month, Stanford University released a study noting that Bluefin tuna caught off of the Pacific coast of the U.S. showed elevated radiation levels, which were indeed sourced back to Fukushima. However, scientists are quick to point out that the levels of cesium obtained by eating these fish are minimal enough to be entirely safe. Interestingly, Bluefin tuna are already tracked, due to extreme overfishing, so the news may put some restaurants off of adding Bluefin to their menus, allowing the species a much-needed breeding period.
In the end, the news that Fukushima fish are tainted is not a cause for alarm, and no need to toss out all of your salmon. These aren’t fish you or anyone else is going to be eating, and the real tragedy is the loss of life, property and environment — not sushi.