Buyers inspected fresh fish before an auction in Tokyo last Wednesday.________________________________________________________________________________
Japan Sets Radiation Standards for Fish
By ANDREW POLLACK, KEN BELSON and KEVIN DREW
April 5, 2011www.nytimes.com
TOKYO — Japan’s government announced its first radiation safety standards for fish on Tuesday, hours after the operator of a crippled nuclear power plant said that seawater collected near the facility contained radiation several million times the legal limit.
The standards were announced after a sample of kounago fish, or sand lance, that was caught last Friday off the coast halfway between the plant and Tokyo was found to have high levels of iodine 131.
On Wednesday morning, the company that operates the plant announced a rare bit of good news, saying it had halted a leak from a maintenance pit, discovered over the weekend, that has dumped tons of highly radioactive water a day into the ocean. But even if the repairs to the damaged pit continue to hold back the water there, the company is still having trouble ridding the plant of tons of runoff and has been flushing thousands of tons of relatively low-level radioactive water into the Pacific.
Workers are dumping that water to make room in storage containers for increasing amounts of far more contaminated runoff. The water being released contains about 100 times the legal limit of radiation, said the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant’s operator. The more contaminated water has about 10,000 times the legal limit.
The runoff resulted from workers’ pouring massive amounts of water on reactors and spent fuel-rod pools to keep them from overheating after their normal cooling systems failed.
The small fish caught Friday — before the intentional dumping began — had 4,080 becquerels of iodine 131 per kilogram. The standards allow up to 2,000 becquerels of iodine 131 per kilogram, the same standard used for vegetables in Japan.
The fish also contained cesium 137, which decays much more slowly than iodine 131, at a level of 526 becquerels per kilogram.
“Clearly the fish are consuming highly radioactive food,” said Paul G. Falkowski, a professor of marine, earth and planetary sciences at Rutgers University. But Professor Falkowski emphasized that even those levels were not likely to present health hazards in Japan or elsewhere, since fishing is restricted in Japan and these levels of radiation are not likely to travel far.
Still, experts on radiation in seafood said it was nearly impossible to get a full sense of the scope of the environmental and health risks until the Japanese released information on radiation levels in more species of fish and seaweed and in a greater number of locations.
Measurements in the seawater are often not a good indication of how much radiation may be entering the food chain, scientists say.
Fish and seaweed can concentrate radioactive elements as they grow, leading to levels that are higher, sometimes far higher, than in the surrounding water. Seaweed can concentrate iodine 131 10,000-fold over the surrounding water; fish concentrate cesium 137 modestly.
The announced standards for fish came hours after Tokyo Electric said it had found iodine 131 in seawater samples at 200,000 becquerels per cubic centimeter, or five million times the legal limit. The samples were collected Monday near the water intake of the No. 2 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
The samples also showed levels of cesium 137 to be 1.1 million times the legal limit, according to the Japanese public broadcaster NHK. Cesium remains in the environment for centuries, losing half its strength every 30 years.
The Monday sampling of seawater showed a drop in radioactive iodine levels since Saturday, when the company said the level of iodine 131 was 300,000 becquerels per cubic centimeter.
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Problems With Radioactive Water at the Plant
The Tokyo Electric Power Company is dealing with problems created by the buildup of radioactive water at its damaged nuclear power plant. Some of it is leaking, and the company has run out of space to store it.
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