The majority of radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear power plant tragedy was absorbed by the Pacific Ocean. What does that mean for seafood safety?
With prevailing westerly winds over Japan, radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear power plant tragedy was detected throughout North America at levels comparable to those seen 25 years earlier from Chernobyl, the only other category 7 nuclear events in history.
The highest levels of radioactive iodine in rain water was found in Boise, Idaho and the highest levels in milk were found in San Francisco at levels ten times higher than the federal maximum allowed in drinking water, but below that which would be expected to pose a direct threat to U.S. public health.
A controversial paper in the International Journal of Health Sciences suggested the radioactive plume from the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima may be responsible for the subsequenta bump in U.S. mortality similar to what we saw after Chernobel, though the authors themselves underscore their research shows merely a correlation, and potential evidence of a causal link, and that more research is necessary.
Of all the radiation released, only a tiny fraction of the fallout reached U.S. shores—most was absorbed by the Pacific Ocean. What does that mean for seafood safety?
Reserachers report unequivocal evidence that Pacific bluefin tuna have transported Fukushima-derived radioactive fallout across the entire North Pacific Ocean. Tuna actually migrate from Japan to California and appeared to have taken some radioactivity with them.
Even there was 10-fold spike in radioactive cesium levels in tuna, they put it in context by noting the baseline levels of radioactivy in fish even before Fukushima due to everything from thermonuclear weapons tests and sunken nuclear submarines to just the radioactive elements found naturally in the earth's crust. The levels in seawater of radioactive polonium are miniscule, but it strongly bioaccumulates up the food chain into fish.
This is the same polonium used in the horrific assassination of Russian dissident Litvinenko. That's the same polonium in fish. It's a by-product of uranium decay and frequently cited as one of the reasons that tobacco is so carcinogenic. Something the tobacco industry was well aware of and could have easily removed, but the process that could have removed the polonium affected the absorbability of nicotine and the loss of the nicotine “kick” sensation was found unacceptable by industry executives. And so they kept the polonium in.
The radioactive polonium in cigarettes has been specutively blamed for the link between smoking and male infertility, but most of human exposure comes from diet, mostly from fish and shellfish. And this was before Fukushima. So what then happens if you eat seafood? Researchers measured the increase in radioactive polonium levels in semen after a single seafood meal. It caused a 300% spike in levels. Probably not enough to cause infertility, but that was just one meal. Whether the kind of dose you can get from eating seafood would be enough to damage sperm enough still needs to be established. You may have to eat as much as a pound of seafood a month, before one might realize harmful effects of the radiation.
Interestingly, there's 8 times more polonium in cooked shrimp than in raw. Isn't that fascinating? They think it's because most of the polonium is in the shrimps' internal organs, which is released in to the boiling water and contaminates the muscle, so gutting crustaceans before cooking may decrease radiation exposure.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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Unfortunately our oceans have become humanity's sewers; everything eventually flows down into the sea. This has implications for other aspects of seafood safety:
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The greatest radiation exposure risk comes not from Fukishima fallout or the polonium naturally found in seafood, but from doctors. Stay tuned for my next video, Cancer Risk from CT Scan Radiation. If you sign up for daily, weekly, or monthly updates I'll email when new videos are released.
For more context check out my blogs: Top 10 Most Popular Videos from 2013, How Risky are CT Scans?, Fukushima Radiation and Seafood, Are Dental X-Rays Safe?, Dealing with Air Travel Radiation Exposure, and Ginger & Lemon Balm for Radiation Exposure.