There are many bloggers & journalists currently writing about how seafood from the pacific is perfectly healthy to eat after the triple meltdown in Japan. Yet, people across the US and world are concerned about the safety of Pacific Ocean seafood.
In this article I'm going to show why these fears have merit and why there is a serious risk to health in eating Pacific seafood.
Before we get started let me explain that we won't be talking about health risks due to mercury or other heavy metals nor will we be discussing other chemical or toxic hazards in sea life of the Pacific. We'll be talking exclusively about health risks due to radioactive contamination.
Before we get started here are a few terms we'll be using and their definitions:
Becquerel (Bq) — A measurement of the Activity or disintegrations per second of radio-isotopes, usually compared with Kilograms(Kg) or Grams(g) of a substance. It's generally an overall measurement of radioactivity of a given substance. Example a measurement of 1,000 Bq/Kg is 1,000 emissions of Alpha/Beta/Gamma radiation per second per Kilogram of the substance tested.
Half-life — The time in which the radiation of a radioactive isotope falls or decays to half of it's original value. Typically with radioactive substances a magnitude of 10 is used to determine when the radiation will be completely gone. For example Cesium 137 has a half-life of just over 30 years, which means that it will take 300 years for a cesium contaminated substance to become completely non-radioactive.
A Long History of Pacific Ocean Radiological Contamination
Since the summer of 1946 and through 1962 the United States detonated over 100 nuclear bombs and hydrogen bombs with the equivalence of over 200 megatons of TNT. In addition the enormous explosive and destructive power of these detonations is the unfathomable amounts of radiation released.
Firstly, the nuclear criticalities and explosions released huge amounts of Alpha, Beta, and Gamma radiation within their blast zones. Secondly, these bombs spread radioactive particles up into the upper atmosphere which spread and deposited around the world.
The direct blast zones and the areas near them were severely contaminated with radiation and several islands and their inhabitants were irradiated. The nuclear bomb testing done in the Pacific Proving Grounds also raised the overall contamination level of the entire Pacific Ocean as well as raising the cancer risk for all peoples who eat anything caught from the Pacific Ocean.
Between 1946 and 1993 the U.S. and U.S.S.R. dumped over 1,000 TeraBecquerels (1,000,000,000,000,000) of radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean alone of over 200 radioactive isotopes produced in the enrichment of nuclear fuels, radioactive wastes from nuclear testing, nuclear power plants, and other medical radioactive contaminants.(source)
All of this history of contamination has raised the overall radiation levels in the Pacific as well as in most of the biological organisms in the ocean.
Continuous Ongoing Contamination From Fukushima Meltdowns
The triple meltdown in Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 released untold amounts of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen believes the total amount of noble gas released to be 3 times that of Chernobyl, and the Cesium(137 & 134) and Iodine 131 to be equal to Chernobyl.
This was fortunate for Japan, however not so for the western United States and the Pacific. These huge plumes of radioactive particles and gas blew over the Pacific contaminating much of the surface waters and then descended all across the U.S. and Canada.
Since the Fukushima disaster Tokyo Electric Power Company(TEPCO) has had to continuously dump at least 300 tons of seawater onto the 3 reactors. They put much of it into make shift tank farms however many of those tanks have been leaking.
Last week TEPCO admitted that the destroyed reactors have been leaking 300 metric tons (approx 80,000 gallons) per day of highly contaminated water from the very beginning of the accident.
Much of the contaminated water is in reactor's basement tunnels which are constantly flooded due to the water being pumped into the reactors to keep them cool. The water in these tunnels has tested at 2.35 Billion Becquerels per liter of contamination.
They also believe that the groundwater from the hills is flowing into the tunnels through the damage from the quake and explosions and from there into the sea.
Much worse than this however is the fact that TEPCO and the Japanese government will have to pump water into these reactors for at least the next 30 – 40 years! They still have no way of stopping this contaminated water from flowing into the Pacific.
Currently TEPCO and the Japanese government is attempting to erect a frozen wall underground to stop the water flowing into the Pacific, but clearly this is a very short term fix and will not hold back the water for very long.
Three Missing Nuclear Reactor Cores
To add to the increasing radioactive contamination is the problem of where the reactor cores are located. TEPCO believes that the cores are sitting at the bottom of the concrete primary containment structures.
A more likely situation is that the cores have either melted through the concrete containment floors and into the earth, or seeped through the cracks in the containment from the quake and into the earth in what is called a China Syndrome.
Either way if the cores (corium) are outside of the reactor containments there is no barrier keeping the huge amounts of radiation from leaking uncontrolled into the environment indefinitely.
What's worse is the radiation is so high in reactor 3 that no human can get anywhere close to the reactor building to even do an inspection. The radiation is so high that they have lost at least 3 robots trying to inspect the reactors.
Japanese Government Exporting Contaminated Seafood
While the Japanese government is testing it's seafood and produce for radiation and rejecting the contaminated portions, they are however exporting these same contaminated products to countries like the United States and Canada after they have exceeded Maximum Contamination Levels(MCL) deemed by the Japanese government.
Meanwhile the United States government(FDA & EPA) has long ago stopped testing imported seafood from Japan and the EPA has actually raised the acceptable levels of contamination in the U.S.
There's enough of a concern about the contamination that the American Medical Association has called on the FDA to monitor and test all seafood for radiation contamination, however the FDA has so far ignored the resolution.
The most important factor in our future health risk to eating food from the Pacific ocean is to a phenomenon called bioaccumulation. This is the process by which a contaminate is ingested or absorbed by lower forms of life which are then ingested and concentrated by higher and higher forms of life on up the food chain.
The highest forms of life high atop the food chain (think Humans) receive the highest doses of accumulated toxins & contaminates when they eat animals that have been contaminated by their own food.
This process while very harmful with toxic chemicals and heavy metals such as mercury in fish, is made much worse when applied to radioactive contaminates.
For example, one of the most harmful radioactive contaminates is Cesium 137, which has a half-life of 30 years. It is readily soluble in water as a radioactive salt, and when absorbed by animals it mimics potassium and goes into the muscle tissues. These contaminated muscle tissues concentrate the cesium levels in the predators that eat it, and so on up the food chain.
By the time we reach the human on the food chain, there is a significant amount of radioactive contamination in the food, and this contamination lasts for hundreds to thousands of years in the food chain.
External VS Internal Radiation
One of the main problems with proponents of the nuclear industry is their reliance upon a “old world” radiation risk model that was developed in the 50's before the discovery of DNA. All of the “acceptable levels” of radiation established by governments around the world are based upon this old risk model of exposure, that an internal exposure in an organism would be the same as an external exposure.
However, years and years of studies on low level radiation and their effects show the exact opposite. Professor Chris Busby would even equate external vs internal exposure like one warming oneself in front of a fire vs eating a hot coal.
When organisms ingest radioactive isotopes, these isotopes readily mimic ordinary compounds and are absorbed into the body and not excreted out as many other toxins would be. Once these particles are absorbed into the body they bypass the body's defense mechanisms and begin wreaking havoc to many of our most sensitive organs.
Exposure to Strontium 90 such as those in Chernobyl produces cancer in the bones or Leukemia. Exposure to Cesium 137 & 134 produces a devastating condition called Chernobyl heart in which the cardiac muscles are severely damaged and inhibit their function, the kidneys, liver and metabolism are all damaged beyond repair. There are numerous other peer reviewed studies on the people in the Ukraine, and surrounding areas of Chernobyl that show the devastating effects of internal radiation.
Verdict: Should You Eat Pacific Ocean Seafood?
We can see now that the Pacific Ocean has had a long history of radiation contamination by governments, the nuclear & medical industries. Since the Fukushima Meltdown the contamination of the Pacific has grown much worse with no end in sight.
Knowing the difference in radiation exposures also helps us understand why the seafood from the Pacific would present a continuing health threat that will get worse over time not better due to the ongoing disaster.
It would be wise for us to avoid eating any seafood or any other organism from the Pacific with special caution about Japanese caught seafood.
** Want to read more on the subject? I recommend Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer by Dr. Helen Caldicott.