Fear, Not Radiation, Seen As Risk to Japanese Sushi

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I’ve noticed that the Japanese restaurants I frequent have been much less busy recently. I wondered if the Japanese earthquake and subsequent Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster was effecting the fish, and this was a danger I should pay attention to. Apparently, not so much, instead, irrational fear of the unknown is a bigger reason why people are not eating sushi this spring.

Kai Sushi White Tuna appetizer

NPR posed the question to Masashi Kusakabe, director of the Nakaminato Laboratory for Marine Radioecology not far from Tokyo. The research center is devoted to figuring out precisely what happens to radioactive material that gets into the ocean.

Kusakabe says what’s been getting into the Pacific Ocean near Fukushima is mostly radioactive iodine. It dissolves in water, and experiments have shown that the iodine tends to concentrate in algae. Then it gets even more concentrated as it works its way up the food chain.

Kusakabe says that might sound bad, “but the iodine we’re talking about now is iodine -131, which has a very short half-life at eight days.”

Every eight days, half of the iodine goes away. So after a few weeks, there’s not much iodine-131 left in a fish. Kusakabe says radioactive cesium is a lot worse: Its half-life is measured in decades, not days. But so far, much less cesium has gotten into the ocean at Fukushima.  Also, the ocean is so vast that radioactive materials are heavily diluted by the time they travel even a few miles.

So the Japanese fish most likely to become contaminated are the ones that spend their entire lives right near the Fukushima power plant. And the government isn’t letting fishing vessels anywhere near the place.

But what about the ocean-going fish that show up on sashimi platters — fish like salmon and tuna? Might they be contaminated by radioactive material from the power plant?

“I don’t think so,” he says, “because tuna move everywhere. They travel, you know, maybe hundreds of kilometers, so they never stay there.”

A tuna might swim by the Fukushima plant. But it wouldn’t hang around long enough to become seriously contaminated.

Kusakabe says the biggest threat to the Japanese fishing industry right now isn’t radiation. It’s fear.

(click here to continue reading Sushi Science: Fear, Not Radiation, Seen As Risk : NPR.)

Fresh Copper River Sockeye Salmon

2 thoughts on “Fear, Not Radiation, Seen As Risk to Japanese Sushi

  1. It’s crazy to think that less than 3% of nuclear waste in the United States is from power plants, the majority is from military waste and some from health care.

  2. Mia says:

    Noses!!! No way!!! And you believe??? That most of the spill off is Radioactive Iodine???? Hahahahahha!!! Seriously!!??? This is a load of bull’s poop!!! Wait.. Would you possibly own a sushi restaurant? Or.. Been hire by one to write this story? Or just plain ignorant to this situation!!! What in the world??? The day after Fuku’s earth quake and tsunami.. Knowing the plant was going to fail.. The family and I went out and had our last fill of sushi and seafood delights.
    For some that have no clue about Nuclear Power Plants.. I hope to steer you that America is a sitting duck.. All of our plants lay on fault lines. They are VERY out dated.. And those against the sea.. Well let Fuku’s problem paint a picture for you..
    At this moment feb 2014 all and I mean every person on this planet has radiation from Fuku delivered to them in their foods; beyond sea food.. In the air.. In the rain.. Hence your crops and drinking water!!!
    Omg this post is absurd!!!

    Clearly you have written this for the need of our consumer dollars.. To business and corporations too..

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