U.S. Buying ‘Safe and Delicious’ Fukushima Fish Banned by Other Countries – Brenda Baletti, Ph.D. 6/6/24

Source; ChildrensHealthDefense.org

Japan last month completed its fifth release into the Pacific Ocean of treated contaminated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Local fishing groups, residents, neighboring countries and many scientists and environmental organizations strongly oppose the discharges, citing concerns about the contaminated water’s effects on human and environmental health.

In an attempt to allay those concerns, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last Septemer, following the first discharge, released a video clip of himself eating Fukushima fish, which he called “safe and delicious.”

And Japan’s economic minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura, ate sashimi in Tokyo for the news cameras. “It’s really the best!” he said, The New York Times reported.

That didn’t stop China, Russia and South Korea from banning the import of Japanese seafood, over concerns about radioactive contamination.

But the U.S. took a different tack. In October 2023, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel announced the U.S. military would buy bulk Japanese seafood for service members stationed at military bases in Japan and explore more broadly how to help offset China’s ban on Japan’s seafood.

Emanual said the contract between Japanese fisheries and the U.S. armed forces would be long-term. It began by purchasing a metric ton of scallops with plans to expand eventually to all types of seafood.

He said the U.S. was also in talks with Japanese authorities to direct locally caught scallops to U.S.-registered processors and said the U.S. would look at its overall fish imports from Japan and China.

About a month before the announcement the Japanese embassy hosted a sushi-tasting event at the U.S. Capitol to protest China’s decision to ban Japanese seafood.

Enough radioactive water to fill 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), owner of Fukushima Daiichi, last year initiated periodic releases of large amounts of wastewater accumulated at the plant since the massive earthquake and tsunami that caused the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The earthquake destroyed the plant’s cooling system. Since then, TEPCO has been pumping in water to cool the reactor core’s fuel rods. That water becomes contaminated with highly radioactive material.

That radioactive water is stored in tanks, which now hold about 1.3 million metric tons of water — enough to fill 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Japan said it is running out of storage space for the water and needs the land where the tanks sit to build facilities that will allow the company to safely decommission the plant.

TEPCO began filtering most radioactive material out of the water and releasing it after the United Nations (U.N.) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in July 2023 determined TEPCO’s discharge plan met its international safety standards and would have only a “negligible” effect on humans and the environment.

Before the IAEA’s approval, the National Association of Marine Laboratories, made up of the 100 most prestigious institutions in the U.S., in 2022 called for the discharge plan to be suspended.

The National Association of Marine Laboratories, Greenpeace and many others who oppose the water release argue the risks haven’t been properly assessed and that TEPCO hasn’t presented enough data to determine the safety of the release.

Greenpeace’s Shaun Burnie, who authored the organization’s 2020 report on the plan, told The Defender there are several viable alternatives to TEPCO’s flawed water discharge plan.

However, rather than exploring those options, “TEPCO and the Japanese government have chosen what they claim is the cheapest option,” Burnie said. “TEPCO did not seriously consider the option of long-term storage and processing to remove tritium and carbon-14,” which would be less expensive than they allege.

A U.N. human rights special rapporteur warned Japan’s government that discharging the wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the environment violates the rights of its citizens and neighbors.

Kimberly Roberson, author of “Silence Deafening: Fukushima Fallout … A Mother’s Response” told The Defender that a green light from the IAEA, whose stated purpose is “carry[ing] out programs to maximize the contribution of nuclear technology to society,” does not mean the process is safe.

“Make no mistake, their mission is to promote nuclear power, and yet they are recognized as the authority,” she said.

“Standards, by the way, don’t necessarily equate with safety,” she added. “As for safeguarding, it’s like the fox guarding the hen house. The National Academies of Sciences BEIR VII report in 2006 unequivocally stated there is no safe dose of radiation.” This report examined the health effects of low-level radiation.

Is the water ‘safe’?

The radioactive water is captured in tanks and then filtered using the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to remove as many radioactive isotopes as possible, but TEPCO reports that the water still contains tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is hard to separate and remove.

The company dilutes the water until tritium levels fall below the IAEA’s international regulatory standards for drinking water before releasing the water into the ocean.

Burnie said that among other problems, the scientific panel commissioned to assess the Fukushima water issue for the Pacific Island Nations expressed serious concern about “the inappropriateness of using a drinking water-related parameter for a decades-long discharge of tritium contaminated water into the ocean,” especially when the existing regulatory process actually requires an Environmental Impact Assessment.

TEPCO also acknowledged that its ALPS processing technology is flawed, according to a 2020 Greenpeace report, and that tests show the water still contains radioactive materials it was supposed to be filtering out. The company claims more filtering can solve the problem.

Scientists, like oceanographer Ken Buesseler, Ph.D., from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts insist TEPCO’s claims of safety are “not supported by the quantity and quality of the data,” Science reported.

Others, like Robert Richmond, Ph.D., a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa said that even though tritium levels in the released water are below international recommended levels, they are still thousands of times higher than the natural level in seawater.

The water will be discharged at a single point for decades, he said. That’s a problem because tritium bioaccumulates, which means the levels build up in fish and other microorganisms and then can work their way up the food chain.

“I strongly adhere to what’s called the precautionary principle,” Richmond told NPR. “In the absence of data showing something is safe, you don’t assume that it’s safe. You rather put in those protective measures to be very conservative.”

Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, Ph.D., an adviser to the 18 Pacific Island Nations on the issue, said the information TEPCO gave the scientists indicated the company didn’t have complete data on what was in the tanks. The data TEPCO provided, he said, was “like a student handing in a poorly written assignment with no effort.”

Also, the data TEPCO did have was sampled only in small amounts of water from one-quarter of the tanks. Strontium-90 and cesium-137 — radionuclides produced by nuclear fission — have turned up in the water in highly variable concentrations, raising serious concerns about the process.

Burnie said TEPCO’s assessment “makes fundamental mistakes in radiation protection science” and ignores the risks posed by radionuclides other than tritium found in the water.

“Basic things such as how much radioactivity in total is planned to be discharged has not been provided.”

Burnie added:

“Ultimately, the concentrations [of isotopes in the seawater] are of direct relevance to those who may consume them, including marine species including fish and, ultimately, humans.”

Japan began releasing the contaminated water last summer at approximately 7,800 tons at a time, with this fifth release bringing the total to about 39,000 tons — emptying just over 10 of the approximately 1,000 tanks at the site. In fiscal year 2023, TEPCO plans to discharge a total of 54,600 tons of contaminated water in seven rounds, including the water released in May.

The entire process will take decades.