Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Fukushima’s Radiation Gusher


“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.”

— Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, quoted by Sara Shannon in Diet for the Atomic Age

Distracting the public from the 300 tons of highly radioactive water (80,000 gallons) spreading into the Pacific Ocean every day from the triple reactor melt-through at Fukushima-Daiichi, is news of the plan to build an underground “ice wall” to damn up the poisoned water before it leaks to the sea. The project is reportedly a better plan than the failed concrete wall that Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) first decided to build.

This frozen finger-in-the-dike won’t be completed until 2015, and it will then fail. Even if it were to work as planned, there is a risk of reversing the water flow, forcing highly radioactive water to seep out from the reactor buildings to the aquifer. Meanwhile, nothing is slowing the relentless radioactive contamination of the Pacific — the world’s largest ocean which covers about a third of Earth.

What we’re being distracted from is the threat to the fishery caused by Fukushima’s ongoing radioactive gusher. At least 300 tons of cesium- and strontium-contaminated water is still spewing into the Pacific every day. Tepco admitted in August that this massive carcinogenic hemorrhage has been going on since March 11, 2011. It amounts to about 85 million gallons — 80,000 gal. per day, for 942 days, dumped into the Pacific — and counting.

The radiation dumped by Fukushima into the environment has exceeded that of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, so we may stop calling it the second worst nuclear power disaster in history. Total atmospheric releases from Fukushima so far are between 5.6 and 8.1 times that of Chernobyl, according to the 2013 World Nuclear Industry Status Report. Prof. Komei Hosokawa, who wrote the Fukushima section, told London’s Channel 4 News, “The situation is not under control. Almost every day new things happen, and there is no sign that they will control the situation in the next few months or years.”

Tepco estimates about 900 peta-becquerels have spewed from Fukushima, and the 2006 TORCH Report estimates that Chernobyl dispersed 110 peta-becquerels. (The mind-numbing “peta-becquerel” is a quadrillion, or a thousand trillion Becquerels. A Becquerel is one atomic disintegration per second.)

Where have all the Becquerels gone?

Japan has decided that fish contaminated with fewer than 100 Becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) of cesium-137 is good enough to eat. Some local officials have set a stricter bar of 50 Bq/kg.

In the U.S. the permissible level of cesium in food is 1,200 Bq/kg. Canada allows 1,000 Bq/kg. The difference is startling. The huge discrepancy allows importation by the U.S. and Canada of what Japan considers highly contaminated fish, vegetables and meat. Rice, fish, beef and other Japanese exports poisoned by nuclear power’s single worst nightmare is doubtless being consumed in the United States.

Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, told Canada’s CTVnews that the 1,000 Bq/kg allowance is dangerous. “It has to be recognized that even Health Canada acknowledges that even those level correspond to an increased cancer risk of eight cancers per 1,000 people exposed over a 70-year period. So these are not safe levels, even by Health Canada’s own standards,” he said.

Cesium-137 and -134— muscle-seeking isotopes that can cause cancers and other illnesses when ingested or inhaled — were and are being dumped into the atmosphere in huge quantities by Fukushima. An April 12, 2011 warning about food contamination from the Low Level Radiation Campaign in England said: “Vegetables and other foodstuffs showing more than 50 Bq/kg of cesium indicate airborne contamination with other radionuclides. LLRC advises food with more than 50 Bq/kg should not be eaten unless there’s absolutely no choice. We recommend that the Japanese government ask for international food aid supplies to prevent its people eating contaminated food.”

The Seattle Times reported last October that researchers found small amounts of Fukushima’s cesium in albacore tuna caught off the coasts of Washington and Oregon. The albacore warning followed the May 2012 and Feb. 2013 findings of cesium-contamination in Blue fin tuna caught off California.

The Huffington Post said Aug. 28 that out of 170 types of fish tested in the Fukushima area, 42 species were put off limits. CBS News put it a little differently Aug. 20, noting that in the same region only 16 types of fish are considered safe to catch, compared with 150 types before the catastrophe. Japanese public television reported July 11 that sea bass were found with 1,037 Bq/kg, or ten times the allowed contamination. The Tokyo daily Asahi Shimbun noted Aug. 29, 2013 that a greeling had 25,800 Bq/kg cesium, an all-time record in the 2 ½ years since the radiation gusher began. Pacific cod and black sea bream had 3,300 Bq/kg.

Environmental radioactivity bio-accumulates as it climbs the food chain. Smaller species now under Japanese fishing bans — which are eaten by the big tuna — eat species that are smaller yet. So prize fish like tuna, which can live 30 years and are at the top of the food chain, will eventually be poisoned with far more than “trace” amounts of cesium.

Prof. Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution says the seafloor is a major reservoir for Fukushima’s cesium. “It looks to me like the bottom fish, the fish that are eating, you know, crabs and shellfish, the kinds of things that are article feeders — they seem to be increasing their accumulation of the cesium isotopes because of their habitat on the seafloor,” he told Science in Oct. 2012. The BBC reported Oct. 25, 2012 that flounder, conger, Pollock, rockfish, skate and the popular U.S. imports cod, sole and halibut — all bottom feeders or demersal — “consistently showed the highest cesium counts.”

Bon appétit!

John LaForge is a co-director of Nukewatch a nuclear watchdog and environmental justice group in Wisconsin.


John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”