Last week the Japanese revealed that Fukushima, the nuclear reactor devasted in the tsunami two years ago, was still leaking radiation into the Pacific ocean. In fact, it had never stopped. The news, long suspected by scholars, environmentalists and fishermen, has raised questions about the healthfulness of all fish harvested on both sides of the Pacific. Many species, including salmon, herring, and bluefin tuna, spend part of their migration in the waters off of Japan before being caught off of North America. As reported in Huffington Post, scientists in Hawaii are now regularly testing the fish on their shores, though it seems the real “plume of radiation” will not hit the US until next year.
Opinions are mixed as to whether Pacific fish will remain edible or whether radiation levels will make it too dangerous . Researchers seeking to allay public concerns point to the small size of the leak relative to the trillions of gallon of ocean water, and point out that there has been radiation in the water since the atomic tests and actual bombings in the 1940s . They advocate filtering the water as it leaves the Fukushima plant, and add that low levels of certain types of radiation in the fish muscles will dissipate as they cross the ocean to American shores.
Others are deeply concerned about an ocean wide contamination of the fish poulation that could last for decades. Researchers and health professionals who have already found increased levels of cesium in fish caught of off the West Coast , are afraid that even low levels of radiation may cause enormous health problems. It appears that the levels of cesium leaking from the failed Japanese reactor are 3x those released at Chernobyl , but even worse may be the levels of strontium in the water. Strontium, unlike cesium, is collected in the bones of the fish and does not dissipate as rapidly. Levels of strontium may take decades to reduce to harmless levels.
The answer is that there is no clear answer right now. Consumers may need to monitor future data on Pacific fish populations much the way we now look at seafood “Watch Lists” and opt for alternatives to un-sustainably harvested types of fish. One option may be choosing only Atlantic species. Another option may be organically raised farmed fish .