Sunday, March 10, 2013
SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF THE FUKUSHIMA DISASTER IN JAPAN
March 11, 2013 is the second anniversary of the Fukushima Daichii disaster in Japan. This was the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. On that date, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami killed nearly 19,000 people and crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. It triggered meltdowns and spewed radiation over a wide area. The damage, leakage of radiation and challenges involved in control, repair and disposal of contaminated materials (such as soil, water) were much worse than initially expected.
Some 160,000 people were forced to flee their homes and farms. Farmers and fishermen lost their livelihoods. Thousands of lives were changed forever.
This blog gave intensive coverage to the effects of the disaster on radiation in food, starting with regular blog posts just days after the event. It made predictions about which foods and radionuclides would be involved. These were largely based on research at Chernobyl, but taking into account agriculture land use, waterways, and dietary patterns in Japan. These predictions have generally proven correct.
Yes, the main disaster at the nuclear plant has now passed. Radiation levels in the communities near Fukushima Daichii have fallen. The volatile iodine-131 that was released into the air and water only has a half-life of 8 days.Caesium-134 was also produced and dispersed, but has a 2-year half-life. However, Caesium-137, the other main radionuclide, has a 30-year half-life, is easily carried in a plume, and can contaminate land for some time. Caesium is soluble and can be taken into the body, but does not concentrate in any particular organs. It has a biological half-life of about 70 days.
Work inside the wrecked facility has made major progress, although some remains to be done and reports suggest that some, though much less, leakage is still occurring.
As for long-term effects on people's health, much still remains uncertain. Experts seem to agree that long-term, those who are likely to suffer most are the emergency workers, and people living closest to the crippled power plant , particularly northwest of it, who, for whatever reason, refused to leave for months after the incident. Among the latter, children are at greatest risk. The World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that children near the plant who were exposed to high levels of radiation have a significantly higher risk of developing certain kinds of cancers over their lifetime.
So what about the radiation-contaminated food - greens, rice, fish, dairy, meat and even tea? Yes, it happened and reports are still turning up, for instance in fish. Overall, radiation in food has been part of the general risk situation and has extended far beyond the evacuation area. There are many posts on this blog that cover these issues. In spite of controls, contaminated food has, on occasions, even reached countries outside Japan.
But overall, there is no reason to believe that this incident has created major food-related health risks outside Japan, or will do so in the future. Food-related risks in Japan are also decreasing, although some people remain concerned. If they can afford it, they have turned to imported food, or, to diversifying what they eat, so as to limit their risk. The government continues to monitor radiation levels in food, which may not always catch all incidents, but does help.
To your good health,