Nuclear Fishin'

[This story was nominated for a Canadian Association of Journalists award for investigative reporting and by the Western Magazine Awards for a prize in the environment category. -AR]

Japanese tests have revealed high radiation levels in some Pacific Ocean seafood, creating concern among doctors at B.C. universities

by Alex Roslin
The Georgia Straight
July 19, 2012

Are fish from the Pacific Ocean and Japanese coastal and inland waters safe to eat 16 months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster?
Governments and many scientists say they are. But the largest collection of data on radiation in Japanese fish tells a very different story.
In June, 56 percent of Japanese fish catches tested by the Japanese government were contaminated with cesium-137 and -134. (Both are human-made radioactive isotopes—produced through nuclear fission—of the element cesium.)
And 9.3 percent of the catches exceeded Japan’s official ceiling for cesium, which is 100 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg). (A becquerel is a unit of radioactivity equal to one nuclear disintegration per second.)
Radiation levels remain especially high in many species that Japan has exported to Canada in recent years, such as cod, sole, halibut, landlocked kokanee, carp, trout, and eel.
Of these species, cod, sole, and halibut, which are oceanic species, could also be fished by other nations that export their Pacific Ocean catch to Canada.
The revelations come from the Japanese Fisheries Agency’s radiation tests on almost 14,000 commercial fish catches in both international Pacific and Japanese waters since March 11, 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami triggered multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
The wrecked plant spewed enormous amounts of radiation into the Pacific, where cesium levels near the Fukushima coast shot up to an astonishing 45 million times the pre-accident levels.
Japan’s Fisheries Agency data is easily the most comprehensive on Fukushima’s radioactive impacts on the Pacific Ocean, home to the world’s biggest fishery and a major food source for more than a billion people.
The numbers show that far from dissipating with time, as government officials and scientists in Canada and elsewhere claimed they would, levels of radiation from Fukushima have stayed stubbornly high in fish. In June 2012, the average contaminated fish catch had 65 becquerels of cesium per kilo. That’s much higher than the average of five Bq/kg found in the days after the accident back in March 2011, before cesium from Fukushima had spread widely through the region’s food chain.
In some species, radiation levels are actually higher this year than last.

[Read the rest of this story here and the original version on the Georgia Straight's website here.]