FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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.

Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
Thom Hartmann
How Billionaires Get Away With Their Big Con
REZA FIYOUZAT
Your 19th COVID Breakdown
Danny Sjursen
Undercover Patriots: Trump, Tulsa, and the Rise of Military Dissent
Charles McKelvey
The Limitations of the New Antiracist Movement
Binoy Kampmark
Netanyahu’s Annexation Drive
Joseph G. Ramsey
An Empire in Points
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
COVID-19 Denialism is Rooted in the Settler Colonial Mindset
Ramzy Baroud
On Israel’s Bizarre Definitions: The West Bank is Already Annexed
Judith Deutsch
Handling Emergency: A Tale of Two Males
Michael Welton
Getting Back to Socialist Principles: Honneth’s Recipe
Dean Baker
Combating the Political Power of the Rich: Wealth Taxes and Seattle Election Vouchers
Jonah Raskin
Edward Sanders: Poetic Pacifist Up Next
Manuel García, Jr.
Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Vegetation After Emissions Shutoff “Now”
Heidi Peltier
The Camo Economy: How Military Contracting Hides Human Costs and Increases Inequality
Ron Jacobs
Strike!, Fifty Years and Counting
Ellen Taylor
The Dark Side of Science: Shooting Barred Owls as Scapegoats for the Ravages of Big Timber
Sarah Anderson
Shrink Wall Street to Guarantee Good Jobs
Graham Peebles
Prison: Therapeutic Centers Or Academies of Crime?
Zhivko Illeieff
Can We Escape Our Addiction to Social Media?
Clark T. Scott
The Democrat’s Normal Keeps Their (Supposed) Enemies Closer and Closer
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
In 2020 Elections: Will Real-Life “Fighting Dems” Prove Irresistible?
David Swanson
Mommy, Where Do Peace Activists Come From?
Christopher Brauchli
Trump the Orator
Gary Leupp
Columbus and the Beginning of the American Way of Life: A Message to Indoctrinate Our Children
John Stanton
Donald J. Trump, Stone Cold Racist
Nicky Reid
The Stonewall Blues (Still Dreaming of a Queer Nation)
Stephen Cooper
A Kingston Reasoning with Legendary Guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith (The Interview: Part 2)
Hugh Iglarsh
COVID-19’s Coming to Town
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail