David Suzuki: Despite Fukushima, scientists say eating West Coast fish is safe

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Following Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami, fear spread about risks of leaked radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plantfor the health of those living in or near Fukushima or involved in cleanup efforts, and for the planet and the potential impacts on our complex marine food web.

Shunichi Tanaka, head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, told reporters radioactive water has likely been leaking into the Pacific Ocean since the disaster hit. It’s the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed, according to one report. With 300 tonnes of contaminated water pouring into the sea every day, Japan’s government finally acknowledged the urgency of the situation in September.

Social media is now abuzz with people swearing off fish from the Pacific Ocean. Given the lack of information around containment efforts, some may find this reasonable. But preliminary research shows fish caught off Canada’s Pacific Coast are safe to eat.

It will take about three years from the time of the incident for the radiation plume to reach the West Coast, which would be early next year. Recent testing of migratory fish, including tissue samples collected from Pacific bluefin tuna caught off the California coast, assessed radiation levels and potential effects on marine food webs far away from Japan. Trace amounts of radioisotopes from the Fukushima plant were found, although the best available science puts them at levels below those naturally occurring in the environment around us. Natural, or background radiation, is found in many sources, including food items, medical treatments and air travel.

The most comprehensive health assessment, by the World Health Organization, concludes radioactive particles that make their way to North America’s waters will have a limited effect on human health, with concentrations predicted to be below WHO safety levels.

More reports are in the works. The UN agency charged with assessing global levels and consequences of ionizing radiation will present its findings to the UN General Assembly this month. This is where we may find answers about the amount of radioactive material released, how it was dispersed and any repercussions for the environment and food sources.

The ocean is vast and dynamic with many complexities we don’t fully understand. It appears two currents off Japan’s coast—the Kuroshio Current and Kurushio Extension—diluted radioactive material to below WHO safety levels within the first four months of the disaster. Eddies and giant whirlpools, some tens of kilometres wide, continue the dilution and will direct radioactive particles to coastal areas for at least two decades.

Fish from the water near the crippled plant are not faring so well. High levels of cesium-134, a radioactive isotope that decays rapidly, were found in fish samples there. Radiation levels in the sea around Japan have been holding steady and not falling as expected, further demonstrating that radiation leakage is not under control. At least 42 fish species from the immediate area are considered unsafe for consumption, and fisheries there remain closed.

New concerns continue to arise. While the initial leak contained cesium isotopes, water flowing into the ocean from the plant now appears to be higher in strontium-90, a radioactive substance that is absorbed differently. While cesium tends to go in and out of the body quickly, strontium heads for the bones.

A huge accumulation of radioactive water at the plant must be dealt with immediately. Determining the full effects of years of exposure to lower levels of radioactive contamination leaking into the ocean will take time and require continued monitoring and assessment. While Health Canada monitors radionuclide levels in food sold in Canada, and one of its studies incorporates samples from Vancouver, we need to remain vigilant and demand timely monitoring results.

Any amount of leaked radiation is harmful to the planet and the health of all species, including humans. A major release of radioactivity, such as that from Fukushima, is a huge concern, with unknowns remaining around long-term health risks such as cancers.

That doesn’t mean it’s unsafe to eat all fish caught on the Pacific West Coast. I’m taking a precautionary approach: fish will stay part of my diet, as long as they’re caught locally and sustainably, and will remain so until new research gives me pause to reconsider.

With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Theresa Beer. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

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Mr.Soft

Oct 8, 2013 at 5:35pm

Thanks but I'll pass.

dispensaryexchange

Oct 8, 2013 at 5:47pm

I guess you have not seen the reports of star fish disintigrating along the west coast. Or reports of fish bleeding from there eyeballs in Vancover BC? Take that along with the fact that government stop testing fish soon after the diaster. Where theres smoke there's fire. Also nobody is mesuring for plutonium or Uranium. I have kids and I would rather be safe than sorry.

MrEd

Oct 8, 2013 at 5:51pm

"Scientists say"

Fish Swim

Oct 8, 2013 at 6:07pm

Fish swim, get eaten by other fish and so the radioactive heavy elements accumulate in the food chain.

Jay

Oct 8, 2013 at 6:41pm

This is crap. NO amount of ingested radioactive particles are safe. If it is detectable, it will bioaccumulate inside of you and kill you. Forget the overwhelming arguable evidence such as the star fish melting on BC coasts, sea lions and polar bears losing their fur in Alaska, the sockeye salmon run that never happened for the first time in history, etc... Just the actual scientifically proven data such as the blue fin tuna with detectable levels of cesium 137 is enough to PROVE you are eating radiation if you eat anything from the pacific. WHY HAS NO ONE TESTED FOR ANY OF THE OTHER 200 RADIOACTIVE ISOTOPES THAT ARE RELEASED DURING NUCLEAR FISSION SUCH AS STRONTIUM 90, URANIUM, PLUTONIUM, MANY OF WHICH HAVE HALF LIVES OF 10,000+ YEARS???? FAR LONGER THAN CESIUM!!!!!!!!!

SHAME ON DAVID SUZUKI AND ALL OF HIS STAFF. I have been a Suzuki fan my entire life. You have clearly been bought out by someone.

SHAME SHAME SHAME SHAME SHAME!!!!!!!!!!!

Jay

Oct 8, 2013 at 7:03pm

A) thank you to the moderator that didn't block my last post

B) it should be known that Canada's current maximum acceptable level of radioactive nuclides is 1000bq, the US(aka WHO), is 1200bq while JAPANS is 100bq. so please ignore what "acceptable levels" are and look at the actual data. Learn what the numbers mean, and go by those. Not governmental levels of "acceptance".

Tonago

Oct 8, 2013 at 10:46pm

What a disappointing scientist.

scott jacobs

Oct 8, 2013 at 11:12pm

Lost faith in David. Sad day for Canada. He says he hates the corporate agenda, but just defended it. Shame.

Lee L

Oct 9, 2013 at 12:09am

Look...
Radioactive does not equal dangerous.

There has to be an AMOUNT, an exposure as well not to mention the TYPE of radiation.

Remember these points if you will before you rant about things that are as yet unmeasured and when measured are not as dangerous as a zealot's activism would demand.

1. In 1945 a Uranium bomb was detonated directly above the center of Hiroshima.

2. In 1945 a Plutonium bomb was detonated directly above Nagasaki.

Today... 78 years later...
Hiroshima supports a population of 1.2 million people.
Nagasaki supports a population of .5 million people.

Fukushima has leaked but a miniscule fraction of these exposures. This isn't a good thing, but it isn't the end of the world or the marine environment either.

3. Just for the sake of context, according to Stanford University, the total volume of the oceans is about 1.37 billion cubic kilometers, so there is a total of about 4.5 billion tons of uranium in seawater.

Now that is NATURALLY OCCURING Uranium in seawater.
The miniscule amounts of nuclides coming from Fukushima, leaking into a 1.37 billion cubic KILOMETRES of seawater, leaves me unconcerned.

One needs also to realize that the sensitivity of detection equipment today is amazing. Detecting a nuclide is not necessarily implying it is at a dangerous level.

Shame on david

Oct 9, 2013 at 10:20am

This coming from the same guy who thinks geo engineering is ok.

What next, the earth is only 5000 years old....

This guy was bought out long ago and the paper trail is all over the place with huge handouts from corporations.

He is a sell out and needs to step down and stop leading people on with false information.

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