Photo: Toru Yamanaka, AFP / Getty Images
Japanese officials have found radioactive iodine at 7.5 million times the legal limit in seawater near the crippled Fukushima plant. That staggering number has prompted the Japanese government to set radiation safety standards for the first time for seafood -- 2,000 bequerels of iodine per kilogram of fish.
Kounago fish caught on Friday, approximately 50 miles from the nuclear plant, were found to contain 4,080 bequerels of radioactive iodine-131 and 526 bequerels of cesium 137. According to the Wall Street Journal, those results were the first clear indication that fish were being contaminated as a result of leaks from the Daiichi plant.
Nichols Fisher, a professor of marine sciences at SUNY at Stony Brook told the New York Times that according to some radiation safety guidelines, people could eat 35 pounds of fish per year containing the level of cesium 137 detected in the Japanese fish.
"So you're not going to die from eating it right away, but we're getting to levels where I would think twice about eating it," he was quoted as saying.
The current radiation leak is coming from the No. 2 reactor. The Los Angeles Times reports that workers at the plant have been releasing water into the Pacific Ocean to make room for on-site storage tanks that will hold more highly contaminated water. While iodine-131 has a half life of eight days and will eventually dissipate, scientists are especially concerned about the levels of cesium-137 which could linger in the area for decades.
Fukushima is not considered a major fishing area for Japan, but according to CBS News, fishermen are worried that demand will collapse for seafood caught elsewhere.
"Even if the government says the fish is safe, people won't want to buy seafood from Fukushima," fisherman Ichiro Yamagata told CBS News. "We probably can't fish there for 10 to 20 years."
Seaweed, which can concentrate levels of radioactive elements as it grows is also of concern for Japanese consumers. The nuclear disaster is threatening the livelihood of coastal seaweed farmers as well.
"We have to live day by day, " Mitsue Murakami, a seaweed, scallop and oyster farmer on the island of Oshima, 90 miles north of Fukushima told NPR. "We won't know for years how much radiation exposure people received. The thing I'm most worried about today is if people stop buying our seaweed and scallops because they're afraid of radiation."