FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Fish of Fukushima

On June 4th, 2013, London-based news source the Guardian reported, “Fukushima tuna safe to eat – study.”  The day before, the Los Angeles Times reported, “Scientists to eaters: Don’t freak out over Fukushima fish.” The San Diego Union-Tribune was emphatic: “Tuna Pose No Risk after Nuke Disaster,” and online, “Fukushima seafood radiation risk nil, study says.” The BBC ran with, “Fukushima tuna pose little health risk.” And CNN declared, “Fukushima tuna study finds minuscule health risks.”

So which is it? Does that sushi or canned tuna pose a minuscule risk, just a little one, or is it safe? The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a report online May 30, 2013 that garnered these vastly disparate headlines. The NAS team studied measurements of cesium-137 and cesium-134 in Bluefin tuna caught off the California coast. The cesium was dumped or leaked as liquids into and deposited as gaseous fallout on the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima’s three catastrophic reactor meltdowns. The poisoned tuna swam 5,000 miles to our West Coast.

It is clear from the report that the Union-Tribune and the Guardian grossly “mis-headlined” the NAS’s findings. The tuna had an estimated 7.7 nano-sieverts [the sievert is a standard measure of the biological impacts of radiation] per 7-ounce serving. Since no radiation exposure of any kind is “safe,” headlines writers declaring the risk is “nil” and the tuna “safe” had not done the slightest bit of digging.

A simple internet search of agency web sites illustrates the fact that every US government agency that regulates radiation exposures, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Energy, Transportation and Health and Human Services Departments and the National Academy of Sciences itself, agrees that there is “no safe dose.” The National Council on Radiation Protection says, “[E]very increment of radiation exposure produces an incremental increase in the risk of cancer.”  In addition to noting that “radiation is a carcinogen,” the American Nuclear Society warns, “It may also cause other adverse health effects, including genetic defects in the children of exposed parents or mental retardation in the children of mothers exposed during pregnancy.”

The headline writers seem not even to have read the contents of their own stories, since the Union-Tribune report says, “the amount doesn’t represent a significant health risk.” Translating this low risk message into none at all or one that’s “nil” is extremely misleading and negligent at best. In the middle of the Guardian article, Nicholas Fisher, the lead US author of the study from Stony Brook University in New York says not that the tuna is safe, but that, “I wouldn’t necessarily encourage them to eat these fish — they can eat something else!”

The BBC article said a person eating a 200-gram meal of tuna would receive a radiation “dose equivalent” from cesium of less than eight nano-sieverts. “This is about a thousand times less than the dose someone would receive from a typical dental X-ray.” This comparison and others made to jet airplane rides and the effects of cosmic rays are shockingly deceptive and bogus, like comparing apples to tire irons. This is because external, single-shot exposures like medical and dental X-rays do not lodge in internal tissues, as does ingested or inhaled cesium. Internal radiation emitters deliver a chronic, ongoing exposure and bombard surrounding tissues where they can smash apart DNA again and again. Think of the difference between warming yourself before a glowing wood fire, and popping a hot coal into your mouth.

The BBC went as far as to say that the 200g portion would produce a dose of “roughly five micro-sieverts, which carries an increased probability of developing a fatal cancer of about two in 10 million.” If everyone on earth eats that single lunch, the “nil” effect translates to 1,600 cancer deaths. It’s a limited to be sure, but it’s a powerful little nothing if you’re the one with the cancer.

Another significant fault of the lazy reporting is that radiation exposure effects women, children, infants and people with immune dysfunction far more seriously than “reference man,” the hypothetical 20 to 30 year old “Caucasian male” used in most radiation protection regulations, including those designed to protect the general public. Its use is scientifically outrageous since the vast majority of people fall outside the definition. Most news accounts also neglected to mention that radiation’s effects are cumulative and irreversible and that the poisoned tuna risk has to be considered in conjunction with medical X-rays, tracer isotopes in medicine, dental X-rays, whole-body airport X-ray scanners, high-dose medical CT scans, food irradiation and a hundred other incidental sources.

In northeast Japan, the sale of rockfish and greenling has been banned because of cesium contamination. Reuters said May 31, 2013 that while some fish there contain cesium levels allowed by the government (100 Bequerels-per-kilo or less), fish that live near the sea-floor, like cod, halibut and sole, often test for fantastic levels of cesium.

One Japanese fisherman, 80-year-old Shohei Yaoita, who opposes Japan’s plan to dump more cesium into the sea told Reuters something we all might recall: “They say it’s safe, but they had always told us that the nuclear power is safe too.”

John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin.

More articles by:

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

April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail