Radioactive Fukushima Tuna? Scientists Say Not to Worry
You’d have to eat 2½ tons of this tuna a year to have a problem, expert says
Forget what you’ve heard about the radioactive tuna swimming over from Japan: Your sushi isn’t glowing, and you can eat it without fear.
That’s what scientists are saying about trace levels of radiation that continue to show up in tuna more than four years after a major earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and triggered a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.
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Radioactive cesium that leaked from the damaged plant’s cooling system has shown up in caught Pacific fish, including Bluefin tuna used for sushi — but experts say the levels of the radioactive isotope are far below the lowest threshold for health concerns. Albacore tuna coast off the coasts of Oregon and Washington State have also tested positive for low levels of radiation.
Kim Martini, PhD, an oceanographer at the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, told SafeBee the tuna are safe to eat. At current cesium levels, “you’d have to eat two and a half tons of tuna per year,” before facing any health risk, she said.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also stressed that cesium levels in Pacific tuna are minuscule and the fish are safe to eat.
“To date, the 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,” the administration said in a news release in 2014. “This is true for both FDA-regulated food products imported from Japan and U.S. domestic food products, including seafood caught off the coast of the United States.” As a result, the FDA does not advise consumers to change their consumption of either fish imported from Japan or Pacific fish caught in U.S. waters.
Delvan Neville, a doctoral candidate in radiation health physics at Oregon State University, told National Public Radio that he has analyzed dozens of tuna samples from the Pacific since the Fukushima meltdown. The highest level of radioactive contamination he’s found “is more than 1,000 times lower than the point where the FDA would even think about whether or not they need to let people eat that food,” Neville said.
Still, some consumers are concerned. The website Eartheasy, devoted to organic living, has questioned whether Pacific-caught seafood is safe and whether the FDA is doing enough testing, although it cautioned its readers not to pay attention to “‘viral’ sensationalist blogs which hint at cover-ups, conspiracy, and impending doom” about traces of radioactivity in Pacific-caught fish.
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Although cesium levels are barely detectable in Pacific-caught tuna, FDA officials and their counterparts in Japan say they will continue testing fish for the foreseeable future.
What about swimming in these waters? Fukushima radiation reached U.S. shores in April 2015, but scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute told the Statesman Journal the beaches along the west coast are safe for swimming. Even if radiation levels were twice as high, Woods Hole oceanographers said, a person could still swim in the water six hours daily for a year and receive a dose 1,000 times smaller than the exposure from one dental X-ray.