Researchers at Oregon State University have found trace levels of radiation from Fukushima in albacore tuna caught off the Oregon coast. Results of the study are being published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was destroyed by the earthquake that hit Japan in 2011. Radiation has made its way into the Pacific Ocean, raising concerns about exposure to Cesium-134 and 137.
Two OSU researchers, Jason Phillips and Delvan Neville, looked specifically at albacore tuna. The large fish migrate far distances and are near the top of the aquatic food chain. The study found detectable levels of Fukushima radiation in the 4-year-old fish. The majority of age 3 fish had no detectable level of Cesium-134. Neville said the amount found is very small compared to the radiation people are exposed to everyday.
“A year of albacore, which for the average American is about 16 pounds, at the highest concentration we saw is the same dose you’d get by spending 23-seconds in a stuffy basement,” Neville said.
Other authors of the study were Richard Brodeur of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, and Kathryn Higley of the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics. The study was supported by OSU and NOAA, with continued support from the Oregon Sea Grant.
Neville said the next round of research will study a larger number of albacore. For his dissertation, Neville will examine the near-surface food web along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California.
Is it safe to eat fish from the Pacific Ocean in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster? The consensus since the 2011 power plant failure has been a yes, but Seattle’s Loki Fish Co. found customers remained concerned.
The fishing company, a local institution, went on to do its own testing for radiation levels in its fish, and shared the laboratory reports online. (The short version: The fish were fine.)
“We were getting so much blowback from customers that have just been reading incredibly paranoid stuff on the Internet,” said Pete Knutson, co-founder of the family-owned business. Beyond some of the “off the charts” fears, though, he understands why people would be concerned, and he’s always interested in knowing how pure his own products are. The decision: “Let’s just do the testing and let the chips fall where they may.”
It helped his decision that he could find no specifics from public agencies like the FDA, which simply says on its website that “to date, FDA has no evidence that radionuclides from the Fukushima incident are present in the U.S. food supply at levels that would pose a public health concern.”
After the $1,200 endeavor, Loki’s web page reported that “All seven stocks of salmon were tested for the radionuclides associated with the nuclear plant failures in Japan: Cesium 134, Cesium 137, and Iodine 131. Of the seven samples, five did not register detectable levels of radionuclides. Two of the samples registered at trace levels – Alaskan Keta at 1.4Bq/kg for Cesium 137, and Alaskan Pink at 1.2Bq/kg for Cesium 134. There were no detectable levels of iodine-131 in any samples.
“To put those numbers in perspective, the critical limit set by the FDA for either Cesium-134 or Cesium-137 is 370 Bq/kg, far above the amount found in Loki’s Alaskan Keta and Pink salmon.”
Is that enough to ease the minds of diners? One customer on the Loki Facebook page wrote “A. it’s only January. B. keep testing.” Another warned that “it would be unrealistic to tell people afraid of the radiation on the basis of one test that the fish is safe forever.”
Knutson said that “I tell people, this isn’t conclusive, it’s only 7 samples, but it’s a random sampling,” not one that could have been gamed in any way. At the least, “it makes me feel better.”
Bellingham-based Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics, which sells fish online, has had fish tested several times with similar results. Knutson wasn’t aware of anyone else doing so, but thinks such moves might be more common in the future. His son, Dylan, faced regular queries about the radiation issue at Loki’s farmers market tables, though those customers are “a pretty motivated group that’s interested in chain of custody,” and perhaps more likely to raise the issue.
People are “not fully confident the government’s telling the truth,” or that corporations are telling the truth, he said. Sharing such direct data from producer to customer, he said, might just be “where the future of food is.”
Updated Jan. 20 to reflect additional Vital Choice tests.
TOKYO — TOKYO (AP) — Another day, another radioactive-water spill. The operator of the meltdown-plagued Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant says at least 430 liters (110 gallons) spilled when workers overfilled a storage tank that lacked a gauge that could have warned them of the danger.
The amount is tiny compared to the untold thousands of tons of radioactive water that have leaked, much of it into the Pacific Ocean, since a massive earthquake and tsunami wrecked the plant in 2011. But the error is one of many the operator has committed as it struggles to manage a seemingly endless, tainted flow.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Thursday workers detected the water spilling from the top of one large tank when they were patrolling the site the night before. The tank is one of about 1,000 erected on the grounds around the plant to hold water used to cool the melted nuclear fuel in the broken reactors.
TEPCO said the water spilled out of a concrete barrier surrounding the tank and believed that most of it reached the sea via a ditch next to the river.
The new leak is sure to add to public concern and criticism of TEPCO and the government for their handling of the nuclear crisis. In August, the utility reported a 300-ton leak from another storage tank, one of a string of leaks in recent months.
That came after the utility acknowledged that contaminated groundwater was seeping into ocean at a rate of 300 tons a day.
TEPCO spokesman Masayuki Ono told an urgent news conference Thursday that the overflow occurred at a tank without a water gauge and standing on an unlevel ground, slightly tilting toward the sea. The tank was already nearly full, but workers pumped in more contaminated water into it to maximize capacity as the plant was facing storage crunch.
Experts have faulted TEPCO for sloppiness in its handling of the water management, including insufficient tank inspection records, lack of water gauges, as well as connecting hoses lying directly on the grass-covered ground. Until recently, only one worker was assigned to 500 tanks in a two-hour patrol.
In recent meetings, regulators criticized TEPCO for even lacking basic skills to properly measure radioactivity in contaminated areas, and taking too long to find causes in case of problems. They also have criticized the one-foot (30-centimeter) high protective barriers around the tanks as being too low.
The government has said it will spend $470 billion to build an underground “ice wall” around the reactor and turbine buildings to block groundwater inflows and prevent potential leaks from spreading. It is also funding more advanced water treatment equipment to make the contaminated water clean enough to be eventually released into the sea.
YOTSUKURA, Japan (AP) — Third-generation fisherman Fumio Suzuki sets out into the Pacific Ocean every seven weeks. Not to catch fish to sell, but to catch fish that can be tested for radiation.
For the last 2 ½ years, fishermen from the port of Yotsukura near the stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant have been mostly stuck on land with little to do. There is no commercial fishing along most of the Fukushima coast. In a nation highly sensitive to food safety, there is no market for the fish caught near the stricken plant because the meltdowns it suffered contaminated the ocean water and marine life with radiation.
A sliver of hope emerged after recent sampling results showed a decline in radioactivity in some fish species. But a new crisis spawned by fresh leaks of radioactive water from the Fukushima plant last week may have dashed those prospects.
Fishermen like 47-year-old Suzuki now wonder whether they ever will be able to resume fishing, a mainstay for many small rural communities like Yotsukura, 45 kilometers (30 miles) south of the Fukushima plant. His son has already moved on, looking for work in construction.
“The operators (of the plant) are reacting too late every time in whatever they do,” said Suzuki, who works with his 79-year-old father Choji after inheriting the family business from him.
“We say, ‘Don’t spill contaminated water,’ and they spilled contaminated water. They are always a step behind so that is why we can’t trust them,” Suzuki said, as his trawler, the Ebisu Maru, traveled before dawn to a point about 45 kilometers (30 miles) offshore from the Fukushima plant to bring back a test catch.
With his father at the wheel, Suzuki dropped the heavy nets out the back of the boat, as the black of night faded to a sapphire sky, tinged orange at the horizon.
As the sun rose over a glassy sea, father and son hauled in the heavily laden nets and then set to the hard work of sorting the fish: sardines, starfish, sole, sea bream, sand sharks, tossing them into yellow and blue plastic baskets as sea gulls screamed and swooped overhead.
Five hours later, the Ebisu Maru docked at Yotsukura where waiting fishermen dumped the samples into coolers and rushed them to a nearby laboratory to be gutted and tested.
Suzuki says his fisheries co-operative will decide sometime soon whether to persist in gathering samples.
For now they will have to survive on compensation from the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator.
The cooperative also had plans to start larger-scale test catches next month that would potentially also be for consumption if radiation levels were deemed safe.
But those plans were put on hold after more bad news last week: authorities discovered that a massive amount of partially treated, radioactive water was leaking from tanks at Fukushima, the fifth and so far the worst, breach.
The water, stored in 1,000 tanks, is pumped into three damaged reactors to keep their melted fuel cool. Much of the water leaked into the ground but some may have escaped into the sea through a rain-water gutter.
It remains unclear what the environmental impact from the latest contamination will be on sea life. Scientists have said contamination tends to be carried by a southward current and largely diluted as it spreads.
The government’s safety limit is 100 becquerels per kilogram, but local officials have set a stricter bar of 50 becquerels, said Hatta, who still expects test fishing to resume in September.
It all depends on the type of fish, their habitat and what they eat. Out of 170 types of fish tested, 42 fish species are off limits due to concern they are too radioactive, another 15 species show little or no signs of contamination. Few, if any, show any detectable levels of cesium.
Tests take over a month and are complicated. The time lag makes it difficult to say at any given point if sea life caught off the Fukushima coast is really safe to eat.
Also, local labs lack the ability to test fish for other toxic elements such as strontium and tritium. Scientists say strontium should be particularly watched for, as it accumulates in bones. TEPCO’s monitoring results of sea water show spikes in strontium levels in recent weeks.
Suzuki has little faith in the future of his business.
“People in the fishing business have no choice but to give up,” he said. “Many have mostly given up already.”
Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.