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Japan says high seawater radiation levels are no cause for alarm

Japanese authorities began testing for radiation in seawater near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Tuesday, but officials stressed that the elevated levels are no cause for worry.

By Winifred BirdCorrespondent / March 22, 2011

Imported seafood from Japan is screened for radiation by a chef at a Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong Tuesday, March 22, to make sure the food is safe to eat. China, Japan's largest trading partner, has ordered testing of imports of Japanese food. The World Health Organization has urged Japan to adopt stricter measures and reassure the public after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant began leaking radiation March 11.

Kin Cheung/ AP

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Shingu, Japan

As engineers reported progress on stabilizing overheated reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant Tuesday, elevated levels of radiation have been found in seawater nearby, fueling concern over long-term environmental and health impacts.

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Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) announced today that in samples taken 1,100 feet south of the plant on Monday, radioactive iodine exceeded legal limits for wastewater by 126.7 times, cesium-134 by 24.8 times, and cesium-137 by 16.5 times. Samples taken 16 kilometers (10 miles) south were up to 16 times above legal levels.

Radioactive elements in the ocean will not likely pose a threat to human health because they quickly become diluted, says Masaharu Hoshi, a specialist in environmental impact assessments at Hiroshima University’s Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine. He says contamination of seawater was not a problem following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

However, Jun Misono of Tokyo’s Marine Ecology Research Institute said that while radioactive iodine breaks down relatively quickly, cesium is more persistent and can accumulate in marine animals, such as fish. “We need to carefully monitor the amount of radiation that continues to be emitted and evaluate the impacts,” he told national broadcaster NHK.

The science ministry announced it would begin monitoring seawater at eight locations near the plant.

Food safety concerns

A major concern among citizens is food safety. Yesterday, four prefectures were ordered to stop shipping spinach and another leafy green called kakina. The sale of milk from Fukushima prefecture was banned after high levels of iodine-131 were detected.

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