Late yesterday, Medical Daily passed along the following conclusion from the National Academy of Sciences that puts that spate of erroneous news coverage in the proper perspective (emphasis mine):
Physicists argue that the Fukushima nuclear disaster was less damaging to the global fishing industry than early media reports led people to believe, according to a new report published today in PNAS. This report comes on the heels of United Nations prouncement that no foreseeable health effects are expected from the accident among the general public and the vast majority of workers from the plant.In the immediate aftermath of a crisis like Fukushima, it's normal for news reporting to overstate the risks, but the scientists at the National Academy make it fairly clear that the contemporary reporting in this case was further off base than usual:
Two surveys in 2012, also published in PNAS, calculated radioactive contamination in marine life in waters near the accident as well as from tuna that had migrated to shores near San Diego, Calif. In contrast to the ports in immediate vicinity of Fukushima, which remain closed to fishing to this day, the offshore regions of Japan and California were deemed safe.
"[Radiation] Doses to Japanese consumers were calculated to be higher than to American seafood consumers, but were still very low in most circumstances," said co-author Dr. Nicholas Fisher, Ph.D., distinguished professor at SUNY Stony Brook School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.
Both studies identified nuclear particles - cesium-134 and cesium-137 - in these marine ecosytems, but maintained that "radiation risks are below those generally considered harmful to marine animals and human consumers."
Despite this reassuring conclusion, over 1,000 stories appeared in newspapers, television, internet media, and radio outlets, with much of the coverage exaggerating the dangers posed to the seafood industry.
"The main point of this paper is that the radiation doses (and attendant risks) to human consumers eating Pacific bluefin tuna are likely to be extremely low, indeed orders of magnitude lower than that from naturally occurring radiation in the fish," said Fisher.PNAS stands for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I'll give you one guess whether or not this critique gets as much attention as the initial reporting.
The researchers estimated that, on an annual basis, the average seafood lover would consume 600 times more natural radiation than Fukushima-related radioactivity. They argue that 95 percent more radioactive potassium would be ingested by eating a common banana.
For a recreational fisherman, who the authors assumed eat about five times more seafood, the radiation dose from Pacific bluefin tuna would amount to a routine dentist's X-ray, which would increase their chances of developing cancer by 0.00002 percent.