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Marine Life Off Japan Coast Soaking Up Radiation

May 26, 2011

Greenpeace warned Thursday that marine life off the coast of Japan has shown radiation levels far above the legal limits.

The environmental group released preliminary results two weeks ago from their marine radiation monitoring work off the coast of Japan, near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The results showed worrying levels of radiation in seaweed, a key staple in the Japanese diet.

Researchers sent samples of seaweed, fish and shellfish to labs in France and Belgium to test for the contamination. The analysis confirms that there are elevated levels of contamination along the Fukushima coast as far out as 12 miles.

Greenpeace criticized Japanese authorities for their “continued inadequate response to the Fukushima nuclear crisis.”

The group said radiation levels in seaweed were 50 times higher than official limits, which raises “serious concerns about continued long-term risks to people and the environment from contaminated seawater.”

Analysis of several species of fish and shellfish also showed above-legal levels of radioactive iodine-131 and caesium-137.

“Our data show that significant amounts of contamination continue to spread over great distances from the Fukushima nuclear plant,” Jan Vande Putte, a radiation expert for Greenpeace, said at a press conference.

Japan’s seafood safety limit for cesium-137 is 227 Becquerels per pound. Greenpeace found levels of 340 Becquerels per pound in oysters, 400 per pound in certain fish species, 460 in sea cucumber, and 885 in seaweed.

The maximum iodine-131 limit is 900 Becquerels per pound for seaweed, but Greenpeace said it found 50 times that in one species of seaweed — Sargassum horneri.

It said that eating “one kilo of highly contaminated seaweed sampled by Greenpeace could increase the radiation by 2.8 millisievert” — nearly three times the globally recommended annual limit.

“Despite what the authorities are claiming, radioactive hazards are not decreasing through dilution or dispersion of materials, but the radioactivity is instead accumulating in marine life,” Vande Putte told AFP.

“The concentration of radioactive iodine we found in seaweed is particularly concerning as it tells us how far contamination is spreading along the coast, and because several species of seaweed are widely eaten in Japan,” he noted.

Vande Putte criticized Japan for doing too little to measure and share data on marine life contamination. He added: “Japan’s government is mistaken in assuming that an absence of data means there is no problem.”

“This complacency must end now, and (the government must) instead mount a comprehensive and continuous monitoring program of the marine environment along the Fukushima coast, along with full disclosure of all information about both past and ongoing releases of contaminated water,” Vande Putte said.

Tests were conducted by Greenpeace monitoring teams both on shore and from its Rainbow Warrior flagship, which was only allowed to test outside Japan owned waters — 12 miles out.

Japan said ocean currents and tides are rapidly diluting any contaminants from the tsunami-stricken nuclear facility. Fukushima prefecture told AFP on Thursday that no fishing is currently going on in the surrounding waters at this time.

“We have exercised self-restraint as (prefectural) safety tests have not been conducted yet,” said a Fukushima official. “We will make a decision after confirming the results of the tests, which will take place shortly.”

“People do not bother fishing now. If you caught fish or other marine products in waters near the plant, they wouldn’t sell,” the official added.

Japan’s fisheries agency has been checking marine products in different regions, and the government has prohibited fishermen from catching some species of seafood found to have elevated levels of contamination.

But that may not be enough.

The Japanese government must launch a comprehensive, ongoing analysis of the marine environment along the Fukushima coast, fully disclose all information about the release of contaminated water, and make proactive protection and compensation efforts to support the people most affected and at risk from this disaster.

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