March 22, 2011 7:06 pm

Radiation fuels fears over Japanese fish

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High radiation levels have been found in the sea off Japan’s earthquake-stricken nuclear power plant, fuelling fears about the impact on the nation’s fishing industry.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power said unusual amounts of five kinds of radioactive material had been found in water samples near the Fukushima Daiichi plant. One of the substances, Iodine-131, was found at nearly 127 times the permitted level.

Officials said there was no immediate threat to human health from the apparent contamination of the water by radiation leaking from the power station, which had its cooling systems knocked out by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

But the discovery is a blow to the fishing industry, heightening concerns about the implications of the atomic crisis for food safety. The agriculture and fisheries ministry has received many calls from worried consumers, an official said.

South Korean retailer Lotte Mart said it had stopped selling Japanese pollack owing to customers’ concerns, even though the fish passed safety checks. Japan’s government has halted shipments of milk from Fukushima prefecture after abnormal radiation levels were found at a farm 30km from the plant. Sales of spinach from neighbouring Ibaraki Prefecture have also been stopped.

Shunichi Yamashita, an expert on radiation exposure, suggested that the health implications of leaks into the sea would be limited, as iodine-131 has a short half-life, meaning its radioactivity reduces quickly. “I’m not sure if it will take one week or one month but definitely the levels will go down below the regulation limits,” he said.

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