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Despite Fukushima radiation, scientists say West Coast fish is safe

Posted October 8, 2013 by Dr. David Suzuki in Energy and Resources

Despite Fukushima radiation, scientists say eating West Coast fish is safe

Following Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami, fear spread about risks of leaked radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – for the health of those living in or near Fukushima or involved in cleanup efforts, and for the planet and the potential impacts on our complex marine food web.

Shunichi Tanaka, head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, told reporters radioactive water has likely been leaking into the Pacific Ocean since the disaster hit. It’s the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed, according to one report. With 300 tonnes of contaminated water pouring into the sea every day, Japan’s government finally acknowledged the urgency of the situation in September.

I’m taking a precautionary approach: fish will stay part of my diet, as long as they’re caught locally and sustainably, and will remain so until new research gives me pause to reconsider.

Social media is now abuzz with people swearing off fish from the Pacific Ocean. Given the lack of information around containment efforts, some may find this reasonable. But preliminary research shows fish caught off Canada’s Pacific Coast are safe to eat.

Fish testing shows low radiation levels so far

It will take about three years from the time of the incident for Fukushima’s radiation plume to reach the West Coast, which would be early next year. Recent testing of migratory fish, including tissue samples collected from Pacific bluefin tuna caught off the California coast, assessed radiation levels and potential effects on marine food webs far away from Japan. Trace amounts of radioisotopes from the Fukushima plant were found, although the best available science puts them at levels below those naturally occurring in the environment around us. Natural, or background radiation, is found in many sources, including food items, medical treatments and air travel.

The most comprehensive health assessment, by the World Health Organization, concludes radioactive particles that make their way to North America’s waters will have a limited effect on human health, with concentrations predicted to be below WHO safety levels.

More reports are in the works. The UN agency charged with assessing global levels and consequences of ionizing radiation will present its findings to the UN General Assembly this month. This is where we may find answers about the amount of radioactive material released, how it was dispersed and any repercussions for the environment and food sources.

Fukushima radiation diluted by currents

The ocean is vast and dynamic with many complexities we don’t fully understand. It appears two currents off Japan’s coast — the Kuroshio Current and Kurushio Extension — diluted radioactive material to below WHO safety levels within the first four months of the disaster. Eddies and giant whirlpools, some tens of kilometres wide, continue the dilution and will direct radioactive particles to coastal areas for at least two decades.

Fish from the water near the crippled plant are not faring so well. High levels of cesium-134, a radioactive isotope that decays rapidly, were found in fish samples there. Radiation levels in the sea around Japan have been holding steady and not falling as expected, further demonstrating that radiation leakage is not under control. At least 42 fish species from the immediate area are considered unsafe for consumption, and fisheries there remain closed.

New concerns from continued leaks

New concerns continue to arise. While the initial leak contained cesium isotopes, water flowing into the ocean from the plant now appears to be higher in strontium-90, a radioactive substance that is absorbed differently. While cesium tends to go in and out of the body quickly, strontium heads for the bones.

A huge accumulation of radioactive water at the plant must be dealt with immediately. Determining the full effects of years of exposure to lower levels of radioactive contamination leaking into the ocean will take time and require continued monitoring and assessment. While Health Canada monitors radionuclide levels in food sold in Canada, and one of its studies incorporates samples from Vancouver, we need to remain vigilant and demand timely monitoring results.

Any amount of leaked radiation is harmful to the planet and the health of all species, including humans. A major release of radioactivity, such as that from Fukushima, is a huge concern, with unknowns remaining around long-term health risks such as cancers.

That doesn’t mean it’s unsafe to eat all fish caught on the Pacific West Coast. I’m taking a precautionary approach: fish will stay part of my diet, as long as they’re caught locally and sustainably, and will remain so until new research gives me pause to reconsider.

With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Theresa Beer.

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About the Author

Dr. David Suzuki

David Suzuki, Co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. He is renowned for his radio and television programs that explain the complexities of the natural sciences in a compelling, easily understood way.

11 Comments


  1.  
    Damien Gillis

    Suzuki calls on public to help with ocean water radiation testing. Learn how you can help:

    http://commonsensecanadian.ca/david-suzuki-citizens-asked-help-fukushima-radiation-research/




  2.  
    len

    The whole lack of information on this disaster i think is irresponsible on all levels from tepco through to our GOVERMENT!!!. We will start showing effects from the sea food,also meats,dairy as rain will also contaminate the ground overtime.Now there is some huge plum possibly coming are way! why have we not heard anything on the news about it? blows my mind to think that no one seems to give a shit!! its not talked about i think because they don’t want people to really understand how serious this is,that is very irresponsible.A few years down the road i’m thinking we may start seeing higher rates of cancer,thats just my feeling.Some how a group has to get started so we can put and keep pressure on the people that should be responsible for informing us.That is the only way to get to the truth PRESSURE!!




  3.  
    Kelly Lambert

    Government and WHO data is not reliable. Unless data is taken over multiple areas, at different dates by independent organizations, it is guaranteed to be false. TELCO falsified data and was caught, our governments and world organizations will do the same.
    If you want the truth you will have to dig for it, it will not be handed to you by headlines in the mainstream news.




  4.  
    Kelly Lambert

    Do not take government or WHO data at their word. I live right near the water in Vancouver and in the past few weeks have seen two seals floating, dead in the water.
    We also know that fishermen in BC are seeing fish with huge growths like bulging tumors, inside and outside. This is yet another massive cover up, just like TELCO lied about radiation levels and was caught by independent agencies doing their own tests.
    Radiation does not disperse well, it tends to stay fairly cohesive, so although one particular sample area may show little to no radiation, an area not far area away may be off the chart.
    These are the days of lying governments, corporations, and anyone with a vested interest in covering up data which would cost them money. We must not believe headlines, because they know most people do not read beyond the headline.
    If you want the truth, you’ll have to work for it, you will not have it handed to you in big bold headlines in the mainstream news.




  5.  
    Kasandra

    Thank you for publishing. Please continue and let citizens know how to approach govt on sending aid immediately.




  6.  
    Liz

    Thank you for speaking to this issue as there sure are a lot of opinions out there on this disaster and we (Canadians) look to you for advice. My concerns lie in regards to the “radioactive plume” that may be heading our way for next spring and the unknown effects this might have on our sea life and food chain. Just the thought of not harvesting our seafood because of contamination is unimaginable.

    Also the 95% chance that there will be another large earthquake within the next 3 years at Fukushima, as they scramble to contain the used nuclear waste and delicately remove the used rods at this very unstable site. This could result in a nuclear radioactive nightmare and have extremely dire consequences. Perhaps we can pressure our government to be more diligent about testing in the Pacific Northwest and place global pressure on Japan to accept more assistance because it appears they badly need it.




  7.  
    James

    I will not be eating any fish that comes out of the ocean west of east coast. If I decide to eat fish at all those fish will come out of the lakes and rivers here in North America. I’m just not sure that the govrnment is tell us the hold truth about what is going on with the issue on Fukushima radiation leak. I don’t want to be inffected with tumors or any other radiation sickness because of eating ocean seafood. As time marches on and the data is showning that the govrnement and other world leading scientific reseach has come out with better studies on this problem and that the radiation leak has been contained and restrained from leaking into the pacific ocean than I will believe that they have foundly started to get a handle on this problem.




  8.  
    nonconfidencevote

    300 tonnes of radioactive water a DAY is leaking into the ocean?
    While japanes beaurocrats wring their hands and push paper reports back and forth? Jayzus1
    Time to start boycotting ALL Japanese products until they get their act together and stop the grotesque pollution of OUR oceans!




    •  
      Glen

      Thanks for a much-needed rational report on the topic. Btw the oft-quoted statement that 300 tons a day of radioactive water is leaking into the Pacific Ocean tells you how much water is entering the ocean, but absolutely nothing about how much radiation.





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