Is it safe to eat sushi after the Fukushima disaster?

Ever since the tragic Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan caused by the tsunami and earthquake of March 2011, Sushifaq has been getting questions by concerned sushi consumers about possible radiation risks in sushi. We have taken a look at some of the studies and research that has been done up to this date to give an easy to read, clear indication of what the risk is today. Please note that we are not scientists, and can only analyze the results of studies rather than possible bias, errors, and incomplete information in said studies. Nothing in this article should be taken as health or scientific advice, especially considering the ever changing nature of this issue and possible new studies. Fortunately for sushi lovers, it seems that eating sushi is still safe, but the real question is “why is it safe to eat sushi after the Fukushima disaster.”

The tsunami and earthquake which afflicted Japan on March 11, 2011, caused a nuclear failure at the Fukushima nuclear plant. This has caused radioactive water to be released into the ocean, and as NBC reports, it could reach US coastal waters in 2014 and continue until well into 2016. Radioactivity reaches the water mainly through radioactive cooling water which is released or leaks into the ocean from the disaster site, as well as through the air and from contaminated soil which releases the radioactivity into the water slowly. It then travels in ocean currents as it spreads around the world becoming more and more diluted. This has caused great concern for many people, who are worried that the radioactivity in the waters will affect ocean life, especially pelagic species (species that live in the open ocean rather than close to shore) and their own health. While it seems scary, the level of risk has been charted as very low in multiple studies.

Personally, my consumption of seafood and sushi has not changed at all in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The majority of scientific studies and articles point to the conclusion that there is very little danger globally to human life. Here is an example of one such study, entitled “Evaluation of radiation doses and associated risk from the Fukushima nuclear accident to marine biota and human consumers of seafood,” Published June 3, 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (Nicholas S. Fisher, Karine Beaugelin-Seiller, Thomas G. Hinton, Zofia Baumann, Daneil J. Madigan). I tend to be a very skeptical person who errs on the side of caution, so while I would notmally take the safe route and avoid all pacific seafood, this is nearly impossible with ruling our most seafood, as one never knows the source always. But when a number of respected scientists, who have no vested interest in one opinion or another offer evidence pro or con, I take notice. Fortunately another such scientist, David Suzuki, has been very outspoken about the situation with the nuclear reactor, saying that more must be done to remediate the situation, he still supports the studies that indicate seafood from the pacific is currently safe.

This article is the result of studying radiation concentration in marine life as well as to humans, and charts the damage that would potentially be done to someone who ingests “contaminated tuna” (p.2 Fisher et al). The study looked at radiation doses in seafood and then used this information to calculate the risk for a US citizen who eats five times the average level of seafood. The risk associated with this level of seafood consumption was an increase in the probability of 0.000002%, meaning 2 additional cases of cancer in 10,000,000 people (p.5, Fisher et al). The conclusion of the study is that the doses of radiation from seafood is the same or less than routine radiation which we are exposed to with food, medical treatment, and air travel, meaning that radiation from seafood is at the background level (P.1, Fisher et al).

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Globally, it appears the seafood stocks are relatively unaffected by Fukushima radiation. This is a conclusion that the World Health Organization, who released a report in February 28, 2013, would agree with. The report, entitled “Global report on Fukushima nuclear accident details health risks” has concluded that for the general population inside and outside of Japan, there are very low risks of cancer rates because of the disaster.

The only rates that increased were for those peoples unfortunate to live in the most contaminated areas affected by the nuclear accident. While levels of radiation are higher near the disaster area, fisheries around the area have been shut down, as reported in a news story by NBC news.

So what’s the verdict? It looks like global seafood stocks remain relatively unaffected by the Fukushima disaster. There is still always room for new studies to be conducted to make sure the risk is low, but at this time I personally will continue to enjoy sushi in the same way as always.

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