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Friday, April 8, 2011

Effects of Radiation from Fukushima Daiichion the U.S. Marine Environment

Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Harold F. Upton
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Peter Folger
Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy

The massive Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, caused extensive damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power installation in northeastern Japan, resulting in the release of radiation. Concerns have arisen about the potential effects of this released radiation on U.S. marine environment and resources.

Both ocean currents and atmospheric winds have the potential to transport radiation over and into marine waters under U.S. jurisdiction. It is unknown whether marine organisms that take up radiation in Japanese waters may subsequently migrate to where they may be harvested by U.S. commercial fishermen.

High levels of radioactive iodine-131 (with a half-life of about 8 days), cesium-137 (with a halflife of about 30 years), and cesium-134 (with a half-life of about 2 years) have been measured in seawater adjacent to the Fukushima Daiichi site.

EPA rainfall monitors in California, Idaho, and Minnesota have detected trace amounts of radioactive iodine, cesium, and tellurium consistent with the Japanese nuclear incident, with current concentrations below any level of concern. It is uncertain how precipitation of radioactive elements from the atmosphere may affect radiation levels in the marine environment.

Scientists have stated that radiation in the ocean will very quickly become diluted and should not be a problem beyond the coast of Japan. The same is true of radiation carried by winds. Unless radioactivity from Fukushima finds its way directly to another part of the world through food or other commercial products, it should become sufficiently dispersed over time that it will not prove to be a serious health threat elsewhere.

Currently, it appears that radioactive contamination of seafood from the recent nuclear disaster in Japan is not a food safety problem for consumers in the United States. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the damage to infrastructure in Japan has limited food production and associated exports from areas near the Fukushima nuclear facility. Food products from the areas near the Fukushima nuclear facility, including seafood, are also to be tested by FDA before they can enter the U.S. food supply.

Date of Report: April 5, 2011
Number of Pages: 8
Order Number: R41751
Price: $19.95

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