Japan's gonna need some bigger regulations
April 5th, 2011
04:40 PM ET
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The eels didn’t manage to slip through.

After a haul turned up last Friday off the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture, with levels of radioactivity double the current standards set for vegetables, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano announced that the nation’s authorities would begin regulating the radiation levels in seafood.

Water samples taken Tuesday from concrete pits outside the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station showed radiation 5 million times the legal limits – down from a Saturday reading of 7.5 million, according to an official with the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the plant. Groundwater outside reactor No. 6 was similarly affected. The levels dropped steeply just several dozen meters out, but still remained several hundred thousand times above legal limits.

Radioactive iodine-131 is at the center of health experts’ concerns. The element iodine, in its non-radioactive isotopic form, is an essential part of thyroid regulation in the human body. Chronic exposure to its radioactive form, such as iodine-129 or iodine-131, can, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, cause thyroid problems such as nodules or cancer. Iodine-131 loses half its radiation every eight days and is further diluted by active ocean waters. Still – it’s making its way into seafood at levels exceeding those the Japanese government have deemed safe for consumption.

These new Japanese governmental standards - which will now allow up to 2,000 becquerels (a unit of radioactivity equal to one nuclear transformation or decay per second) per kilogram of fish, of iodine-131 – will rely upon enforcement at the town level, rather than the prefecture, according to Edano. He announced that if the radiation level of an area’s fish, milk or vegetables remains below the legal limits for three consecutive weeks, the ban on sales and distribution will be lifted – though radiation checks may continue even after this time has elapsed.

The people of Japan – and even the United States – put tremendous faith in the standards set by the Japanese government, a sentiment expressed repeatedly by the vendors at a recent seafood show in Boston. Ippei Nakao of Medallion Foods Inc., manning a booth at the event said, "Consumers believe Japanese food is safe because Japanese standards are very strict."

His co-exhibitor Terry Hasegawa of True World Foods – a major importer of wholesale seafood – concurs. "Everything we're getting from Japan is being inspected by the Japanese government and the health department and also the USDC and the FDA are working very closely to inspect our fish. I'm standing here all day long and not many people are asking questions about radiation in the fish. I don't think people are worried too much."

Additionally, the deep-water fish – like tuna and halibut - that generally make it to U.S. restaurants are far enough offshore that contamination is not yet thought to be a risk.

Even if that level of scrutiny was proven insufficient, supply chain expert and CEO of Demand Foresight Gene Tanski says that post-Gulf oil spill scrutiny of seafood, both imported and domestic, would disallow tainted Japanese seafood to reach American tables. Not only do the high-end chefs and purveyors dishing it out to consumers have a reputation to at stake – the fish just simply wouldn’t make it past the testing phase.

Tanski says, “"If you think about Japanese imports from a safety point of view, given the fact that there was this bright spotlight of concern because of nuclear radiation, the FDA is going to be very concerned that the food coming in is safe. That's not to say that fish with slight radiation won't come in, but chances are that they'll put it aside and say, 'Hey – not this crate.'"

He also notes that while the risk at this point - at least to Americans - is minimal, the economic impact on Japan could be quite severe. Tanksi says, "Japan exports two to two and a half billion dollars worth of seafood to the U.S. every year. Twenty percent of that comes from the affected area. The risk may not increase, but the prices are certainly likely to."

The batch of radioactive eels that triggered the new set of strictures was subsequently destroyed, but they've certainly put a new appetite for awareness on the menu.

CNN Wire Staff and Bob Crowley contributed to this report

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Filed under: Disaster • Environment • Fishing • Health News • Japan • Ocean • Radiation • Tainted Food


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soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Gordon Frangione

    The most common thyroid problems involve abnormal production of thyroid hormones. Too much thyroid hormone results in a condition known as hyperthyroidism. Insufficient hormone production leads to hypothyroidism."-^:

    Most current write-up on our very own web blog <http://www.healthmedicine.co/index.php

    July 6, 2013 at 6:18 am | Reply
  2. Heli Perrett

    I just read all the above: from policing grammar, to policing food,to policing the earth. But back to that topic of radiation-contaminated fish, where it all started (much as I love poetry and language). Yes, a good article, but a bit unbalanced. Two points. One, research on the effects of Chernobyl has found another radioisotope – cesium-137 to be still present in fish after decades, though slowly decreasing (some of the radiation reached the Baltic Sea because of wind currents). So certain people could be adding to their body burden for sometime to come in this case as well. Secondly, let's not forget fish in rivers and lakes, where wind and rain have also carried radiation. We'll hear about it soon. But yes, one hefty dose of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria in your seafood salad or your smoked salmon s likely to be much more deadly – and more quickly. Let's not lose sleep over it.

    April 7, 2011 at 9:16 am | Reply
  3. OEDLover

    Yikes people, I'm extremely aware of how our language evolves. Not looking to police anything. Lay off. I am just a fan of our language and how it's structured. Was saddened to see it appear in a title in a reputable publication, that is all. Educated people have a special place in their hearts for language, the meanings behind it, and what it conveys. It was an intelligent article, with an unintelligent title, that's all. Everyone can breathe...

    And my apologies Kat, no it didn't convey that. But I appreciate you clearing that up!

    April 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  4. no nukes

    I wonder when everyone will realize nuclear energy isnt more productive, kess expensive or safer to use... it just has a bigger lobby with more money to throw at politicians to cast a vote their way.

    Alternative sources of fuel and power will be the future.

    April 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Reply
  5. Rod C. Venger

    I think people are missing the bigger picture. Iodine is just one element being mentioned. There's dozens of others in that reactor and if one is leaking, it's likely the others are as well. Uranium, plutonium, strontium, cesium, the boron they dumped into the reactor, the salt in the seawater they pumped in, so sodium, chlorine, plus the hydrogen and the oxygen that make up the water. All radioactive. As radioactive particles move out through the ocean, they in turn irradiate elements that were not contaminated directly by the reactor. Given enough time, every particle in every ocean would be irradiated, albeit weakly so if ONLY iodine were involved. Plutonium though is far more energetic. It's cumulative effects over time are much more dangerous and long lasting. Gamma radiation, not alpha or beta. Had someone bothered to measure the radioactivity of the sea with instruments sensitive enough, we'd find that our nuke tests during the 50's and 60's in the South Pacific had a measurable effect on the ocean...that radiation level now are higher than they were then. In a sense, the planet's been given a dose of Ricin and it's going to die. What we don't know is when since the radioactivity will take time to move across the planet. The effects are cumulative, not acute. But we or our great or great great great grandchildren, will witness and experience the end. The cancers we have now are no mystery. Nukes by the hundreds or thousands were tested. Pollution too has taken it's toll. This is just another cut causing us to bleed a little more.

    April 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  6. Adam

    Kat – Do you realize that the short half life of the iodine moots your whole article? By the time one of those eels reached a consumer in the US the level of radioactivity would no longer exceed the (arbitrary) safety limit.

    In fact, I would not be suprised if the iodine from the plant decays almost as fast as it disperses, resulting in a problem of limited impact in both time and space.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Reply
    • joe

      I know, second hand smoke kills, definitely, but radiation is ok. No one on the planet knows what causes cancer, no one. it is just irresponsible to make claims like this until you solve cancer.

      April 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Reply
      • Jon

        @joe "radiation is ok". Tell that to Marie Curie. Radiation exposure causes far more illness than cancer.

        April 6, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Reply
      • Tony

        Joe, I think you are mistaken. We don't exactly know what the cause of epidemic of cancer is, although we have a few good guesses. But we do know radiation causes cancer. And like Jon said, cancer is just one of many things it causes.

        April 6, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Reply
      • The Witty One@Tony

        Doesn't radiation kill cancer cells?

        April 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Reply
      • AleeD@TWO

        Yes it does. BB went thru chemo & radiation therapy 10 years ago to kill squamous cancer. 10 years later he's here, happy & healthy as a horse. Using the proper types of radiation and controlled strengths for a given amount of time, it is a cure. It is a cure that is extremely hard on the human body, but not as hard on the body as chemo.

        Cancer curing technologies have progressed immensely in the 10 years since he went thru the treatments. It still kills cancer cells effectively, but can be more focused and less harmful to the surrounding healthy tissue.

        April 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Reply
      • The Witty One@AleeD

        So the answer isn;t that it kills cancer cells but that it kills all cells.

        Got it :)

        April 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Reply
      • AleeD@TWO

        Yup, just like chemo effects the whole body. But with the radiation, they can jack up the strength and target the cancer better than ever before – whereas chemo floods the body. The down side (if you can call it that these days) is you still have to recover from the effects of radiation bombarding the body regardless of how tight the dosage was aimed.

        April 6, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Reply
    • Tony

      Adam, half life of 8 days means even after 24 days, you still 12.5% of the radioactive particles. Japanese fish in California market is about 40 hours old. It will be significant. The safety limit is based on continual consumption for 70 years. They are raising the bar. So we are looking at maybe 10-20 years. Considering how cancer has been on the rise, for whatever reason, we are as a society on the brink of developing cancer. As we speak all of us have cancer cells floating around our body which our immune system is constantly fighting. Ingestion of these particles just may be 'the straw that broke camel's back' to some people. I really don't think this to be insignificant at all. Remember this is in addition to everyday radiation we are exposed to from various environmental sources. Those environmental radiations are occasional. But ingested particles remain inside your body bombarding nearby cells constantly 24/7 at a close proximity.

      April 6, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  7. Styymy

    Huh??? What the ell good are regulations when nobody follows them and when they are broken the penalty has less teeth than a 2 year old? Regulations are only as good as the paper they're written on and that's not much.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Reply
  8. OEDLover

    "Gonna" ... good work CNN. Good grammar and our beautiful English language are quickly becoming extinct. How very sad.

    April 6, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Reply
    • The Witty One@OEDLover

      When are you grammar police "gonna" stfu?

      It's Kat's posting and she can title it whatever she wants.

      So there.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Reply
      • joe

        The grammer police on CNN do not know a numer of things. One a fact, english grammer is largely based on the ear not rules. That is a falicy taught in school. Grammer is also to ensure we understand things like the object of a verb.

        Also, did you get the point, passing off bad grammer as bad ideas is equal to saying i can sing so i am an artist. I am so sick of mindless people who insult people because of bad grammer. Have you never heard of people from China, India, etc who have such different grammer that formal english is hard for them?

        People like you think Justin Beiber singing in great tune about love and other mindless things are gods. No wonder Americans can't think for itself!

        April 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Reply
      • joe

        sorry, meant to respond above.

        April 6, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Reply
      • Jerv@Joe

        Joe my friend, whatever the point was you were trying to make, you completely blew it out of the water with your spelling of grammar. I'm laughing with you not at you.

        April 6, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Reply
    • Kat Kinsman

      It's a reference to a famous line from Jaws: "You're gonna need a bigger boat." I apologize if that didn't translate.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Reply
      • joe

        Ignore these people, they just want an excuse not to debate issues. People in America have no clue as to what is beautiful in literature. I could go on about the bad, bad, bad, writting by the ones America loves but i would not want to insult the King lovers! But this is the biggest issue, King leads to Potter and no reads Alice! Shame on you grammer police, read a Russian novel and get over it. This is a blog, is the word blog good grammer?

        April 6, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Reply
    • AleeD@Kat

      It translated. Grammar nazi's just have nothing better to do.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Reply
    • Alex Gessong

      @OEDLover: our beautiful English language has been evolving for centuries. It be neither sacred nor immutable. Once upon a time, "girl" meant "any young person." An "idiot" was "an ordinary person." The time of "ye" and "thee" came and went. The time of "gonna" and "bling" is here. No need to lament this. English has always been a heavily bastardized language. Besides, here in the U.S., we tend to speak "American," not "English." That's not gonna change.

      April 6, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Reply
  9. Frederica

    Why did mankind get hand on nuclear energy in the first place on a planet where tectonic plates constantly move around? I think Japan's crisis is just a foretaste of tragedies of many nations.

    April 5, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Reply
    • Nomad

      "Non sequitur!
      Faulty
      Faulty!"

      April 6, 2011 at 7:21 am | Reply
  10. NadePaulKuciGravMcKi

    Fukushima Internal Emitters

    An ill wind comes arising
    Across the cities of the plain
    There's no swimming in the heavy water
    No singing in the acid rain

    Absalom Absalom Absalom

    April 5, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Reply
    • Neil Peart

      AWESOME. Thanx for the memory!

      April 6, 2011 at 7:59 am | Reply

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