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National Academy of Sciences Says Offshore Fisheries in Japan and California Remain Safe

Our readers will recall that it was about a year ago that the media was inundated with stories warning consumers that the fish they eat might be contaminated with radioactive materials from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In terms of sheer volume, it was impossible to cover every outlet that devoted some sort of attention to the story.

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.

[...]

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.
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:
"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.

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.
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.

Comments

SteveK9 said…
The National Academy has also twice issued reports to be definitive on human caused climate change ... to little effect. I'm not sure why trust in Science seems to have decreased in the general population.
Anonymous said…
The trust in science has decreased due to a few disreputable people with credentials who use the general media to attack the scientific consensus.

The general media likes to get at least two sides to a story, but in science, there isn't two sides. There's the scientific consensus, which people with credentials should know has to be shifted with evidence. Making arguments in the general media is shortcutting the scientific process, and it promotes the distrust of Science.

These people are agenda-driven and usually associated with some think-tank, like the Marshall Institute or the Discovery Institute, which funds the propaganda. Sometimes they setup their own website, often asking for donations or trying to sell a book (also shortcuts the scientific process).

Bob Applebaum
jimwg said…
What the public needs for reassurance is a missionary-minded Mr. Fact. Mr. Fact will go off into the Fukushima countryside and test the tyrpoids and health of as many kids as he could lay hands and scanners on, and ditto with the local fish and clams and after due pure clinical investigation cough up a unpolitical and administratively undiluted findings score plain as day for Joe Six Pack to read, along with a healthy side line of real-world perspectives to keep imaginations from running wild and getting reality checks such as the miraculuous detection of one radioative particle in a tuna condemns that fish far less than the easily detectable grams of mercury and heavy metals that get a slide.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Don Kosloff said…
Any scientific consensus should be under constant attack as part of the use of the scientific method.

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