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Japan’s Nuclear Crisis May Also Affect Fish

Japanese fish inspection for radiationPhoto: ChinaFotoPress / Getty Images

There’s more grim news coming out of Japan this morning as officials there widen the evacuation band near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant over concerns that additional radiation may leak from the damaged facility. Earlier this week, Tokyo parents were warned not to give infants tap water, which has tested positive for radioactive iodine; and despite import bans, some Japanese vegetables that have tested positive for radiation found their way to Singapore.

Radiation fears are also migrating to seafood. Japanese officials said they have detected higher levels of radiation in ocean waters near the damaged nuclear power plant, fueling fears on the impact this may have on Japan’s fishing industry. The catastrophe has left the famed Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo reeling.

Should the situation at the Fukushima plant worsen, the fallout from the disaster could have complications for some of our own seafood. Philadelphia science blogger Bix Webber posted a troubling graphic on her website earlier this week: a New York Times interactive map that shows travel projections should a plume of radiation head east towards the U.S. Underneath it, Webber shows another graphic illustrating the migratory patterns for Pacific salmon. They’re eerily similar.

Which leaves us with the money question: Could salmon stocks (and other species) be impacted should the situation worsen in Japan?

“There are five different species of salmon occurring all over the Pacific Rim from California to Korea,” says marine salmon scientist, Bill Heard from the Auke Bay Laboratories at the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute in Juneau, Alaska. “Each species from each stock may have a different ocean migratory pattern.

“If you’re talking about a plume of radiation, some stocks could potentially be impacted, while others wouldn’t be impacted at all, but at this stage, I think this is highly speculative. Right now, there would be no worry about radiation from Japan impacting any North American salmon,” he told Slashfood.

We also took our question to the FDA, who issued this statement:

“Seafood from the United States waters of the North Pacific is safe to eat. In the unlikely scenario that airborne pollutants could affect U.S. fishermen or fish landed in the U.S., FDA will work with NOAA to ensure frequent testing of seafood caught in those areas, and inspection of facilities that process and sell seafood from those areas.

The great quantity of water in the Pacific Ocean rapidly and effectively dilutes radioactive material, so fish and seafood are likely to be unaffected. Steam with radionuclide contamination disperses in the air and deposits on water/ground surface. Over how wide an area depends, among other things, on how high the steam is propelled and on wind speeds at that altitude range. If it deposits on water, it is further dispersed by currents and, ultimately, the laws of diffusion. If the amount of water available is large, the concentration becomes very low.”

That’s hopeful news, but for now, all eyes remain on Japan’s No. 3 reactor.

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