Radioactive cesium found in Japan’s fish, seawater


Published: 05 August, 2012, 13:37

 Japanese women sort through freshly caught fish at the Hirakata fish market in Kitaibaraki, Ibaraki prefecture, south of the stricken Fukushima daiichi nuclear power plant number 1 on April 6, 2011 (AFP Photo / Toru Yamanaka)

Japanese women sort through freshly caught fish at the Hirakata fish market in Kitaibaraki, Ibaraki prefecture, south of the stricken Fukushima daiichi nuclear power plant number 1 on April 6, 2011 (AFP Photo / Toru Yamanaka)

TAGS: HealthNatural disastersNuclearProtest,Japan

 

Harmless traces of radioactive cesium have been discovered in fish and seawater in several areas of Japan, as the country debates whether fish is safe to consume continues and anti-nuke protests grow in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) stated that radioactive cesium, presumably from the crippled Fukushima I nuclear plant, was found in seawater and fish in several regions of the country, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported from Tokyo.

The aquatic radiation was detected in central Japan (Shizuoka Prefecture), the western part of central Honshu (Niigata) and the country’s northeast (Iwate).

The concentrations of radioactive particles are very small, and pose no health risks to humans, MEXT said. The ministry believes that cesium may have traveled to the area in rainfall.

Radioactive cesium is a human-made radioactive isotope produced through the nuclear fission of the element cesium. It has a half-life of 30 years, making it extremely toxic.

Earlier this year, low levels of radioactive cesium were found in fish just off Japan’s east coast, which was believed to have originated from the Fukushima plant.

The Ministry continues to closely monitor and verify traces of radiation in seawater and fish following the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima-Daiichi complex.

How safe is Japan’s fish and seafood?

Many countries restricted their food imports from Japan in the wake of the catastrophe. India suspended food imports from Japan for three months in April 2011, fearing radioactive contamination. The EU imposed tighter radiation controls on its imports of food and animal feed from Japan.

The full extent of the spread of radioactive contamination in Japan remains unclear. The discovery of radioactive Japanese fish and seawater could further damage Japan’s flagging seafood industry.

Reports of contaminated seafood are worrisome for the country, since contaminated seawater and fish move in uncontrollable and untraceable paths.

Low levels of nuclear radiation from the Fukushima disaster were detected in bluefin tuna off the California coast in May of this year, suggesting that fish are carrying the contaminants across the Pacific Ocean faster than wind or water. US researchers carried out a study showing the tuna were responsible for transporting radionuclides from the 2011 Fukushima disaster across the entire North Pacific Ocean.

Many question whether fish from the Pacific Ocean and Japan’s coastal waters are safe to eat in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Japanese officials and many scientists say they are, but the data on radiation levels in Japan’s fish stock tells a different story.

Radiation levels are high in many species that Japan has exported to Canada in recent years, such as cod, sole, halibut, landlocked kokanee, carp, trout and eel. And radiation levels in certain species are higher this year than in 2011, Vancouver’s Straight.com reports.

The highest levels of cesium in fish were detected in March, a year after the accident, when a landlocked masu salmon caught in a Japanese river was found to have 18,700 Becquerel of cesium per kilogram, or 187 times Japan’s legal limit for radiation in seafood. (A Becquerel is a unit of radioactivity equal in which one nucleus decays per second).

Tim Takaro, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University, now avoids eating fish from Japan: “I would find another source for fish if I thought it was from that area,” he told Straight.com. “There are way too many questions and not enough answers to say everything is fine.” Takaro is a member of the Canadian anti-nuclear group Physicians for Global Survival.

The Fukushima tragedy has shattered Japanese faith in the country’s decades-long reliance on nuclear energy, withseveral large anti-nuclear demonstrations taking place in the country in recent months.

Nuclear waste ‘may be blighting 1,000 UK sites’


MoD under fire after report finds number of contaminated sites is far higher than previously estimated

Sandside beach sign warning of radioactive particles.

A sign warns of radioactive particles at Sandside beach, Caithness in Scotland. Photograph: Alamy

Hundreds of sites across England and Wales could be contaminated with radioactive waste from old military bases and factories, according to a new government report.

Up to 1,000 sites could be polluted, though the best guess is that between 150 and 250 are, says a report on contaminated land by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), released last month, but previously unreported.

This is far higher than previous official estimates, with evidence from theMinistry of Defence (MoD) last December suggesting that there were just 15 sites in the UK contaminated with radium from old planes and other equipment.

The MoD has come under fire from former prime minister Gordon Brown for trying to evade responsibility for cleaning up the contamination it has caused. His constituency in Fife, north of Edinburgh, includes one of the most notorious examples of radioactive pollution at Dalgety Bay.

In the past year, the MoD has realised that there are others areas of radioactive contamination across the country that may need to be cleaned up, Brown said. “They’ve started to use their lawyers to get out of what is, in the first place, I think, a moral responsibility and in the second place, will become a legal responsibility.”

The MoD has begun a year-long investigation of the contamination at Dalgety Bay to try and avoid it becoming the first place in the UK to be legally designated as radioactive contaminated land. More than 2,500 radioactive hotspots have been found on the foreshore in the past 22 years, one-third of them since last September.

Brown has also criticised the failure to act on a 1958 Cabinet report uncovered by BBC Radio 4’s Face the Facts, to be broadcast at 12.30pm on Wednesday. The previously secret report by a group of radiation experts urged ministers to control the disposal of the radium painted on dials of military planes to make them visible in the dark.

“There may be undesirably high levels of radiation near these dumps,” warned the Cabinet report. “Records of burials and of burial sites should be kept and handed on to future users of the land.”

But this was not done at Dalgety Bay, Brown said. “The truth is that, at that point, someone did know that there was a potential problem. Someone should have then passed it to the Ministry of Defence, and urged them to take the appropriate action.”

Former environment minister Michael Meacher MP said he ordered officials to identify and produce clean-up plans for all the contaminated sites in 1997. “I am astonished and deeply concerned that that does not appear to have happened,” he told the BBC.

One example of a radioactively contaminated site has been outed by Fred Dawson, a radiation scientist who worked for the MoD for 31 years, before he left as head of the radiation protection policy team in 2009. It is an area of walled and wooded land in an urban area by the former naval dockyard at Chatham in Kent.

Some 300 cubic metres of radioactive waste was buried there between 1968 and 1986, Dawson said. But the MoD has underestimated the potential hazard because it missed one of the wastes likely to be present, carbon-14, he argued.

Dawson said: “The non-availability of a risk assessment or safety case for the burials at Chatham is a serious failing of corporate memory and does little to engender public confidence in the MoD’s ability to manage the safety of legacy issues over the medium and long term.”

The MoD, however, has defended its actions, insisting that other parties could have been involved in spreading the contamination at Dalgety Bay. It has been “entirely open” about contamination at other sites, MoD sources said.

The defence minister, Andrew Robathan, said: “Where MoD is found to be a party responsible, namely, the appropriate person, in whole or part for contaminated land under the statutory regime, then we will work with the regulator and other responsible and interested parties such as landowners, to meet our portion of the liability and carry out voluntary remediation where appropriate.”

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