Saturday, August 10, 2013

CAN THERE BE RADIATION IN YOUR FISH?


A lot of readers of this blog are concerned about radiation in fish. Yes, they are mainly, but not exclusively, readers from Japan. But even Americans are scared. No wonder, given the frightening nature of some of the articles in the media.

Let's face it: this problem with Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant is not getting any better. In fact, you could say it is getting worse. And just how much can you trust the information that Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company - the plant operator) puts out? After all, they have a vested interest in, and a history, of downplaying problems.

It is now 2 1/2 years since the plant was hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami, releasing nuclear contamination into the air, soil and water. This plant is only 220km (130 miles) from Tokyo. The farms in this general area - and the ocean near the plant - used to be an important source of produce, rice and fish for the nation. In spite of all the attempts to deal with the results of this awful catastrophe, the situation just seems to be lurching from one crisis to the next.

The latest news deals with the radioactive water from the crippled reactors that is leaking into the Pacific Ocean. It is estimated at about 300 tons a day. The Government has finally decided to take a hand in trying to solve the problem. But how long has this leak been ongoing? Maybe at least two years. Who knows. Whoever does, is not confessing. Why is this happening? Well, it's a complicated story, which has to do with a series of missteps, rats, bungled attempts to block the flow of water by chemically hardening the soil, lack of understanding of the groundwater flows in the area, and more.

What is relevant to this blog is the effect that the release of radiation-contaminated water might be having on ocean fish, crustaceans and seeweed. Of course the government has placed limits on commercial fishing and seaweed collection close to the plant. And, it is testing for radiation levels, not just in the water, but also in fish and shellfish and edible seaweed. But the reports are so varied, and contradictory, that it is really hard to tell where the truth lies.

According to Reuters, based on information from the Japanese Government, "many" fish caught in the area test below Japan's limits on radiation ( 100 Bequerels per kilogram of Caesium-137 and Caesium-134). But, crews of fishing vessels that do the actual catching and sampling of fish for contamination, have apparently said that tests on fish that live near the sea-floor, such as cod, halibut or sole, often show excessive levels of such radiation. There have also been news reports of excessive radiation levels being found, for instance, as recently as July, 2013. As much as 1,037 becquerels of cesium per kilogram (more than 10 times the government safety limit) were found in Japanese sea bass (bottom dwellers).

So could such contamination be reaching beyond the waters near Japan, to other countries, such as the U.S. Maybe. The ocean is a big place, but ocean currents do run from Japan to the West Coast and certain kinds of fish (such as tuna), do swim very long distances and can apparently live as long as 60 years during which they could potentially absorb and store a lot of contaminants. Also, low levels of cesium-134 and 137 did turn up in Californian fish in 2011, with the blame placed on Fukushima. But, before you get too concerned - these experts have also concluded that you shouldn't worry about it. You could well be getting more from other food, your annual dental X-rays, air travel, and who knows what.

So where does that leave us fish eaters? If living in Japan, I would be careful of which fish I buy. After all, in these types of situations, there is usually a black market in "questionable" fish and some always slip through in spite of efforts made. Elsewhere in the world, including in the U.S., you should decide whether you want to eat imported fish products from Japan. Personally, I usually don't, even though I know the U.S. government is also doing its own testing of imports. I am even taking it easy in terms of ordering sushi made with tuna, crab or such ocean products, since I have no way of knowing where they originated. On the other hand, I don't lie awake at night worrying about it. Occasional radiation in our fish dinner is not going to give us cancer.

And yes, I am also still having dental X-rays - though reluctantly!

To your good health,

TSF

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