Monday, November 25, 2013

Fukushima Fish in the Pacific Northwest?

Suz and I planned to harvest razor clams on the Washington coast until I reflected on the North Pacific Current possibly delivering pockets of Fukushima radioactive iodine-131, cesium-137, and strontium-90 to the Alaska Current, then north to our Washington coastline.  The list of "maybe, maybe-not-related" news events reads like a Hollywood doomsday script: "melting" starfish off Seattle and British Columbia; bleeding herring schools off British Columbia; recent collapse of the $32 million dollar sardine fishery where not a single fish was caught, even "threaten[ing] humpback whales," according to the October 14, 2013 Vancouver Sun; two widely-reported recently-beached elusive oarfish in California; an April 6, 2012, U.S. Geological Survey "Technical Announcement: Polar Bears in Alaska Observed with Patchy Hair Loss and other Skin Lesions" etc., etc., etc.

I recalled a Bill Moyers World of Ideas video, in which Isaac Asimov said "The morality of science is that you report the truth, you do your best to disprove your own findings, [ . . .]"   In my effort to disprove any connection between Pacific Northwest ills and Fukushima radiation, I found's article "Is Fukushima Radiation Contaminating Tuna, Salmon and Herring On the West Coast of North America?" posted on August 26, 2013.  The article cited an email from University of Washington Professor Trevor Branch which replied to an earlier's article titled “'Absolutely Every One' – 15 Out of 15 – Bluefin Tuna Tested In California Waters Contaminated with Fukushima Radiation."

Professor Branch wrote: "The scientists you quote repeated their own study on Pacific bluefin tuna in the US and Fukushima radiation testing in June 2013. Here are some highlights from their findings.
1. Radiation in bluefin from Fukushima is 1/1000 to 1/10000 of the radiation in natural seawater.
2. Radiation in bluefin from Fukushima is less than in food you eat every day that is uncontaminated (and much much less than x-rays, flying in a plane etc).
3. If 10,000,000 people each ate 124 kg per yr of bluefin tuna every year (which is a LOT), 2 might die from radiation.
4. However, global catch of Pacific bluefin is 20,000 t a year, allowing only 161,000 people to eat that much, resulting in only 0.03 extra deaths per year.
5. If they ate less, the risk would be much less.
6. Since a single Pacific bluefin tuna sold this year for $1.8 million, they would also be left in poverty. (Not all sell for that much, I know.)"

Professor Branch's email continued, "Now the salmon and herring in U.S. waters do not travel anywhere near Fukushima, and would have a radiation load thousands to millions of times lower. These fish have local populations and are quite distinct from those populations near Fukushima. Radiation from Fukushima is diluted very rapidly within a few km of the leaks (the volume of the ocean is vast), and further than that the radiation is less than the radiation from naturally occurring polonium in the ocean. [new paragraph] All of the scary stories compiled in the article are just that, scary stories completely unrelated to Fukushima. For example the quotes from Morton are specifically about disease in fish that has nothing to do with radiation."

Reading further in the aforementioned October 14, 2013 Vancouver Sun article, I learned sardines also "mysteriously disappeared — for decades — until the first one was observed again in 1992." so the relation with Fukushima may not be there.

I saw a article that on November 24, 2013, explored the issue by interviewing Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientist Ken Buesseler.  In that article, "[Buesseler] predicts the radiation will be so diluted after the long journey across the Pacific that it will pose no threat to American fisheries or recreational activities."

Furthermore, on August 23, 2013, Canadian researcher Anne Trudel of Triumf Laboratory said in a CBC Radio-Canada video, "The concentration of the radioactivity here, by the time the water gets here, will be much less than the already-existing, naturally-occuring radioactive species that are in water."

So, I thought to myself, "Maybe things are not so bad on the Washington coast." Then, as always, I thought, "Not so fast, Captain Starbuck."

In the same news story, Dr. Erica Frank raised another concern which was that of far-ranging salmon swimming through radioactive plumes from the Fukushima area. This seems to contradict Professor Branch's email above.

Specifically, in the CBC Radio-Canada video, Dr. Frank said, "There are Pacific wild salmon that migrate through the radioactive plumes that have been coming off of Fukushima, and then those fish come back to our shores and we catch them." Dr. Frank's credentials are impressive.  She is an MD, MPH, and is the Canada Research Chair in Preventive Medicine and Population Health, as well as a Professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health.  The video is at

In a YouTube video of "Letting in the Light," a symposium on water ecology held at the University of Alberta on Oct. 30 and 31, reposted at The Huffington Post B. C. on November 4, 2013, Dr. David Suzuki spoke something that could wreck clam-digging, at least temporarily, from Seattle to San Diego. Dr. Suzuki said, "I have seen a paper which says that if in fact the fourth [Fukushima] plant goes under in an earthquake and those rods are exposed, it's bye bye Japan and everybody on the west coast of North America should evacuate."  In that video Dr. Suzuki also noted, "And the probability of a seven or above earthquake in the next three years is over 95 per cent."  See  It has been widely-reported fuel from Fukushima Reactor 4 is in the process of being relocated.

Dr. David Schindler, speaking alongside Dr. Suzuki, added
"There are things that are important enough that you don't tolerate any risk. [ . . . . To do otherwise means] the precautionary principle has been lost."

I was exhausted reading all this, but I still wanted to know if I should cancel my hotel reservations for the razor clam dig.  Plus, I eat salmon three or four times a week, which I am very unlikely to change due to the great taste and health benefts -- unless science or my conscience steer me otherwise.  I will have to think more about Dr. Schindler's comment.

An August 17, 2012, Congressional Research Service report on "Effects of Tohoku Tsunami and Fukushima Radiation on the U.S. Marine Environment" by Eugene H. Buck < >, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy, and  Harold F. Upton < >, Analyst in Natural Resources Policy, noted, "radioactive contaminants from Fukushima Dai-ichi should be sufficiently dispersed over time that they will not prove to be a serious health threat elsewhere, unless they bioaccumulate in migratory fish  [ . . . .]  Regardless of the slow flow, radioactive contaminants with long half-lives (e.g., cesium-137, with a half-life of about 30 years) could still pose concerns if transported over long distances by ocean currents. [. . . .] It is unknown whether marine organisms that migrated through or near Japanese waters to locations where they might subsequently be harvested by U.S. fishermen (possibly some tuna or salmon in the North Pacific) might have been exposed to radiation in or near Japanese waters, or might have consumed prey that had accumulated radioactive contaminants." [ . . . .] However, there remains the slight potential for a relatively narrow corridor of highly contaminated water leading away from Japan and a very patchy distribution of contaminated fish—extensive monitoring will determine the exact dispersion of these radioactive contaminants."

Speaking of monitoring, "One Salmon, one steelhead, as well as razor clams" and tuna were tested after the Fukushima incident by the Washington State Dept. of Health which noted "All test results were far below levels that would pose a threat to peoples’ health."  See  However, as radiation arrives in whatever degree, I suspect this will be a moving target in the coming months and years. Since cesium-137 has a reported half life of 30 years, it seems like testing should continue.

I am not a numbers guy by nature, but I would still have rather seen the numbers posted instead of "below levels."  The reason is different countries have various guidelines about what is considered "safe" for the public, and I like to error on the side of caution.

So, according to the Washington State Health Dept., razor clams are safe, for now.  According to Dr. Suzuki, the 4th reactor at Fukushima is unsafe, but I am glad the fuel is being moved. And maybe I was born 200 years too late.