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Glow-in-the-Dark Sushi?

Radioactive sushi

Aieee, I went to eat sushi last night and I have to admit, I was peering at the tuna anxiously for signs it might glow on the dark if they turned out the lights. After reading that tuna being caught off the coast of California were all tainted with radioactive Cesium from the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdown in 2011, I was kind of worried. To eat, or not to eat?

In the interests of not giving up tuna (sob!), I did a little ferreting around. Here’s what I found:

What totally scared me

This photo is from the CBS News piece I read

News reports said that tuna caught all the way across the ocean from Fukushima were contaminated with ten times more radioactive Cesium-134 and -137 than before the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant meltdown in 2011. There’s no doubt that the elevated fish radioactivity is a result of growing up in the reactor meltdown water that barreled into the ocean after the 3/11 tsunami – they tested tuna from the Atlantic Ocean and tuna that had migrated to California before the 3/11 earthquake and didn’t find any Cesium at all. So now the release of radioactive water (that is still leaking into the ocean from the damaged reactor, according to this weeks’ additional outraged headlines) is contaminating the food supply beyond Japan.

Aieeee! Do I have to give up tuna forever? Nooooo!

Okay, calm down. Maybe it’s not actually as bad as it seems at first glance. Surely there must be some article that will tell me just how many pieces of chu-toro I can pound down before I grow three heads. Beavering about some more, I found a couple of articles that said hey, don’t get your knickers in a twist, the amount of cesium in a serving of the recently-caught glow-in-the-dark tuna is equal to what you get from eating 1/20th of a banana. (Bananas always contain some radioactive potassium. Who knew? O_O)

Taking this to the logical next step, Forbes magazine was inspired to publish an article countering the eco-warrior spin on the hot fish news, quantifying the entire Fukushima radioactive water leak crisis in terms of bananas. Apparently, the Fukushima plant has dumped 76 million bananas-worth of radiation into the Pacific.

Whew. So it’s not really that bad, right?

Tra la tra la, pass the soy sauce!

But wait! There’s more.

First of all, the fish they tested were two to three years old. They’d been majorly dosed with radioactive water from the initial meltdown in their formative years, then they grew somewhat less radioactive as they got bigger and migrated to untainted parts of the ocean. Also, the Cesium-134 lodged in their tissues has a half-life of 2.0652 years, so it decayed somewhat from the time the fish were originally contaminated.

But what will happen when the plume of radioactive water that’s still leaking into the ocean from the damaged Fukushima reactor at the rate of 300,000 litres a day spreads throughout the Pacific, like these maps predict?


Or, more specifically, look at the dispersion map from researchers at the University of Hawaii, who used a more detailed model of the Pacific’s water movement patterns:


The U of H guys say the radioactivity won’t spread uniformly through they water. It will tend to collect in certain places, like off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, and next to the west coast of America. (Surf’s up dude. How do you like my new lead-lined wetsuit?)

So, what will happen to my future sashimi if radioactive water continues to sluice into the ocean from Fukushima Dai-ichi, adding to the plume from the earthquake that’s spreading across the Pacific? What if the tuna are exposed to radiation their whole lives, not just near Japan,where they hatch?

I guess we’ll find out when the results of a study planned for this summer come out. Researchers are going to measure the levels in fish that have been more constantly exposed to radioactive seawater their whole lives.

In the meantime, I wish the Japanese government would stop concentrating so hard on luring the 2020 Olympics to town, and more on getting Fukushima Dai-ichi shut down and cleaned up for good. Because come on, guys, I don’t look good in lead.

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Tokyo

A young woman dressed as a Gothic Lolita is found dead in a car with two strangers. But the more Yumi Hata learns about her friend’s death, the more she’s convinced it was murder…read more

Jonelle Patrick View All

Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!

8 thoughts on “Glow-in-the-Dark Sushi? Leave a comment

  1. An excellent commentary, Jonelle. I wish the NYT or other major media would pick it up as a guest editorial. I’m gonna share on FB and among friends in email. Thanks for your perspective on some majorly scary stuff.

    • I’m so happy to hear it helped make a little more sense of this wildly spin-massaged situation! This is one of those news items just asking to be used as fodder on the electronic soapbox, and even though I applaud those who want to use it to put pressure on the Japanese government to do something about the shameful Fukushima Dai-ichi leak, I hate it when truth gets stretched so far it can be dismissed by those in power as propaganda. That hurts more than it helps.

      The epilogue to this is that sadly, after all my investigations, I STILL felt bad eating my sushi, because I discovered that the tuna population has been so devastated by overfishing that some scientists were hoping the radioactivity scare would keep people from eating it for a while. (>_<)

  2. !!!! haha…

    I like that we’ve connected Jonelle!
    If you come through San Francisco again, definitely hit us up and come by our studio/workshop/factory space.

    • Likewise, on the connection! And actually, I’m in SF right now, until November 1st. Am supposed to be chained to computer starting Book #4, but am always looking for righteous procrastination. Checking out the Holy Stitch Denim Social Club just shot to the top of my list! Will beetle over to your website and see where you’re at.

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