The Fukushima Daiichi Incident: Four Years Later
Since the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the biggest question on our minds was when will the radiated water hit our shores and how much of an impact will there be. The repercussions of ignoring this disaster had the potential to cause great harm to many if we did not take it seriously. In this article I will discuss the Fukushima Daiichi incident and what constant monitoring of the Pacific Ocean for the past 4 years has uncovered.
To begin this article on how this disaster might affect you, we must first understand what radiation actually is. Firstly radiation is everywhere. Everything in this universe gives off radiation. As a matter of fact if you eat 600 bananas you will consume the equivalence of one chest x-ray. Does this mean you shouldn’t eat any bananas? Absolutely not, as a matter of fact bananas are very good for you. Potassium-40, which keeps you from getting cramps after a hard work out, has a higher level of radiation. But trying to weed out potassium from your diet in order to keep from those harmful radiation waves is foolish since potassium is actually as vital to your survival as water and clean air. Every year the average American gets exposed to 360 millirem of radiation, which is equivalent to 36 chest x-rays. As a matter of fact as you sit there and read this article your rear end is giving off radiation to your seat. So do not fall prey people testing the ocean or fish with Geiger counters. Just because it goes tick doesn’t mean it was set to react to high levels. As a matter of fact most videos I have seen of people scanning a fillet of halibut was done on a Geiger counter set to read background levels in the air. So now that radiation is no longer the equivalent of the monster in the closet let us get to the main point.
Food safety is a major concern that we deal with in the seafood industry. In order to guarantee that our customers receive the highest quality in products at all times, in every capacity, we must build very strict quality protocols. Throughout the history of our industry, many protocols were created to keep harmful substances out of foods. These range from the formation of the FDA to the packaging protocols of HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). Each and every protocol and plan is created to keep elements out of stores that can cause everything from minor/short-term illness to death. With these protocols in place we test every day to ensure that nothing gets past our quality checks.
We in the seafood industry pride ourselves in providing high quality and nutritious foods to the world. When an event occurs that brings the safety of our products into question, we take it very seriously as it is not only a question of money, but of morals and ethics. In March of 2011, the nation of Japan experienced a disaster on a global scale. The earthquake and tsunami that followed wreaked massive damage to the country and took many lives. To this day I will not forget the image I saw on the TV of fleeing people being chased down by the tsunami and of course it is hard to forget the heartbreaking stories of loss among the Japanese people. Yet once the water receded back into the ocean, the world awaited a much larger disaster. The tsunami had crippled major functions of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant and 3 of the 6 reactors were going into meltdown. In order to vent off pressure, 300 tones of water contaminated with iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137 was released into the Pacific Ocean. To date this is considered one of the worst nuclear accidents in history, behind the meltdown of the Chernobyl reactor in the Soviet Union. Not only was the Fukushima disaster a huge environmental issue, but also questions of health safety and food safety came up very quickly.
The biggest question we had to face was when would the contaminated water hit every area of the Pacific Ocean and how concentrated would the contamination be. With tides and currents it was estimated that the first elements of the contaminated water would hit the US around the beginning of 2014. As for the levels of contamination, it was believed in the very beginning that the rise of radiation in the water would be absolutely minute. Today is the beginning of the second quarter of 2015 and I have just recently received a copy of the FDA’s analysis of the safety of Alaskan Seafood, and the results may shock you. They found that out of 8 major fisheries in 4 different regions of Alaska there has been such a small increase of radiation in the fish’s flesh that it is barely worth mentioning.
Oceanographers from all parts of the world have been working on this question since 2011. Results as of 2014 state that yes there are readings of cesium-134 and cesium-137 in the waters around the Western US and Canada. Yet the real question is how much of it is there. For starters the readings off of California are less than 10 Bq/m3. In layman’s terms Ken Buesseler of WHOI (Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution) says that you can swim in the waters off of California for 6 hours, every day for a year and only be exposed to the equivalent of 1/1000th of a chest x-ray. As we discussed, you’ll be more radiated from eating 2 bananas every day for a year.
In reality though, swimming and consuming are two completely different beasts, so let us get back to the seafood. For Cesium-137 and Cesium-134, the minimum concentration to be even detected is 1.9 Bq/kg and for Iodine-131 the minimum is 4.6 Bq/kg. The results of the FDA radionuclide testing in Alaska in the year 2014 found that in every species and every region tested, there for no detectable concentration of Cs-137, Cs-134 and I-131. So the conclusion is that 3-4 years after the spill and after a year of contamination in the waters, there has been no major increase in detected radiation in the Pacific Ocean or from the fish caught around Alaska and the US. Many people get stuck on the fact that 300 tones of water got spilled into the ocean, but they forget that the Pacific Ocean consists of roughly 187,189,915,062 billion gallons of water. 300 tones of water ends of being a small drop comparatively.
Today the people who live near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant are still facing the harsh realities of the disaster. Fishing in the nearby waters has been closed and many people are moving elsewhere to escape the cleanup and contamination. But that does not mean that the rest of the Pacific Ocean is in such horrible shape. The major brunt of the damage is isolated to the region surrounding Fukushima. With scientific studies and monitoring it has been made clear that the waters bordering the Western US and Canada are still as safe as they have ever been and the seafood from it is still very safe. Also I have posted the sources I used to write this article below. Please feel free to go in and read them.
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