Fukushima reactors and food contamination – a mix of good and bad news

According to the lasted reports from CNN and AP,  there has been noticeable progress in cooling down some of Fukushima reactors, which is fantastic news.  

Reactors 5 and 6 were declared under control. According to a late AP report, there are still pressure issues at reactor 3. and this morning, Monday, the Japanese military are continuing the douse reactor 4. At reactor 3, where they considered venting radioactive steam on Sunday, then decided not to because things stabilized, venting is still under consideration. Late Sunday, Tokyo Electric manager Hikaru Kuroda told reporters, “It has stabilized” but he also said the option to release highly radioactive gas is still under consideration should the pressure rise again. At reactor 2 reports say the water injection system has been repaired. I don’t know if they have started using it yet or not.

The reactors themselves are generally considered to be ruined for good because of the seawater used to cooling. So at the minimum the entire plant will most likely end up as scrap. Whether it needs to be buried is still an open question.

As far as contamination goes, I think the news is not as positive. There are still, in my opinion, reasonable precautions regarding food, tap water and rain for the Kanto and Tohoku regions.

Some people say it’s all blown out of proportion. Some people, like Ann Coulter on Bill O’Reilly are even claiming the radiation is good for you! Some people say the government is exaggerating risks out of an abundance of caution. Others say the government is lying about the risks to avoid panic.

There are mixed messages, even from “experts.”

My opinion is that it is reasonable to err on the side of caution. Also, I note that many of the radiation level standards have been in place for quite a while and weren’t figures made up out of thin air. Those standards were also based on expert opinions.

Based on this, the government is saying the level of radioactive iodine detected in the tap water in Tokyo  is far below the level of concern.

However, the government also says radioactive iodine at levels three times greater than the regulated standard were found in drinking water in Iitate village (pop. 6000) within 30 km of the Fukushima plant and are asking residents not to drink from the tap, according to Kyodo News. 

On Sunday, in addition to the previously found radioactive iodine in Tokyo tap water, cesium was also discovered. And, according to an AP report on Sunday evening, rain and dust are also contaminated.

As I write this it is raining in Tokyo. The official English Japanese Prime Minister twitter has posted cautions about exposure to rain in the Kanto and Tohoku regions. I think it is reasonable to take those cautions into account. I myself will wait for the rain to stop before going out today.

These precautions seem reasonable to me. I can’t understand why anybody would listen to conservative pundits who love nuclear power no matter what and recommend people drink the tap water anyway and go singing and dancing in the rain.

Late Sunday night the Japanese Health Ministry reported that tests of canola and chrysanthemum greens found levels exceeding government standards.

The government has also banned the sale of raw milk from Fukushima prefecture because radiation levels found in samples exceed levels set by law. Some people say that’s not reasonable, and that the levels are too conservative. My opinion is that it is reasonable, and the standards make sense. The same goes for the Health Ministry banning the sales of spinach from Ibaraki prefecture due to radiation levels over government limits.

Tainted milk was found 30 km from Fukushima and the contaminated spinach was found 100 km south of the plant – about halfway to Tokyo.

Yes, it is true that a person who ate the tainted food every day for a year would only get the radiation equivalent of a single CT scan, basically tripling their normal background radiation exposure for a year (according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration). But people eat a mix of food, so what is the real total after a year?

It’s vague statements by officials in reports that make it seem reasonable to err on the side of caution. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano said, “even if you consume the spinach in question for a long time, it will not pose and immediate threat to your health.”

People are used to parsing statements from officials, and it is phrases like “not pose an immediate threat to your health” that tend to glare at you. OK – so what about long-term threats to health?

And why did the government create these standards to begin if some people say it’s ok to ignore them now?

Again, to me, it seems reasonable and not panicky to not eat foods contaminated beyond the government allowed levels.



Fukushima reactors and food contamination – a mix of good and bad news — 3 Comments

  1. Allan,Thanks for your note. Very interesting information. I think I’m going to re-post that in my FaceBook stream, where I had posted the same content as my blog entry and where there are some comments.Thanks,doug

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