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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Are Your Days of Eating Pacific Ocean Fish Really Over?

by Mike Rothschild

September 2, 2013

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Donate To paraphrase an oft-misattributed quote, pseudoscience can travel halfway around the world while good science is still putting its lab coat on. This would appear to be the case for "At the Very Least, Your Days of Eating Pacific Ocean Fish Are Over," a hysterical blog post alleging that all fish out of the Pacific will be unsafe to eat forever because of leaking radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The piece was written by Gary Stamper, who runs "Collapse into Consciousness," a website devoted to surviving the supposed coming collapse of society. It went up on August 14th, and has been reposted on numerous blogs and Facebook pages since then. It's clear that a lot of people have read it (Stamper claims it's gotten half a million views) and become extremely frightened. Should they be? Is there anything to Stamper's claims of animals being burned, fish becoming inedible and thyroid cancer skyrocketing?

The short answer is no, there isn't. Certainly, the leak of radioactive water into the Pacific is dangerous and needs to be fixed. The situation at Fukushima started bad and hasn't gotten much better. But it's not the all-out disaster Stamper makes it out to be. And while Stamper can't be written off simply because of his credentials, he makes a number of allegations that have little to no validity behind them, backed by dubious sources and unsound science. He takes information out of context, leaving in the horrors and removing the explanations that make them not so horrible. And he wanders in and out of the topic at hand, lumping things together that have nothing to do with each other.

This is the kind of pseudoscience that demands a skeptical examination. So what does Stamper claim, and why is it wrong? Read on and find out. And if you'd like, enjoy some nice sushi-grade tuna while you do.

One thing to note is that there are several versions of the piece floating around. Stamper substantially rewrote the later sections after commenters accused him of plagiarizing a site called "Nuclear Crimes." For consistency's sake, I'm going to address the version currently on Stamper's site. The words might have changed, but the crap science remains.

All quotes [sic], of course.
At the Very Least, Your Days of Eating Pacific Ocean Fish Are Over
Opinion by Gary Stamper
Right off the bat, we have problems. A hyperbolic scare title designed to induce hysteria in readers is not responsible science. It's good click-bait, but not good journalism. And while the piece might label itself as "opinion," opinion presented as fact often takes on the appearance of fact. And fact this is not.
The heart-breaking news from Fukushima just keeps getting worse...a LOT worse...it is, quite simply, an out-of-control flow of death and destruction.
There's that hyperbole again. Worthy of collapsing into a fainting couch, perhaps, but not of anything meant to be a scientific document.
TEPCO is finally admitting that radiation has been leaking to the Pacific Ocean all along. and it's NOT over....
TEPCO is short for Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operators of the Fukushima-Daiichi power plant. On July 22, 2013, TEPCO revealed that a large amount of water was flowing into the basements of the damaged reactors and leaking out into the Pacific — at a rate of 300 long tons per day. This was contrary to previous assertions they made that contaminated water wasn't making its way into the open ocean.

While TEPCO's bungling of the situation is indefensible, what Stamper writes here is misleading. TEPCO did not admit "radiation" was leaking into the Pacific Ocean, they admitted radioactive water was leaking. It might sound like a minor difference, but it's not.
[...] It now appears that anywhere from 300 to possibly over 450 tons of contaminated water [...] is flooding into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima Daichi site everyday.
This is true. It's exactly what TEPCO said. And it's not good. So we should all be pulling our hair out before the radiation takes care of it, right? No, and here's why:

Radiation can be difficult and confusing to measure, so let's go with the figures from TEPCO. They admitted that between 20 and 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive material had gone into the ocean since the initial incident in March, 2011. Sounds bad, right? But what does that actually mean?

A becquerel is a unit of radioactivity that measures decays per second in the nucleus of an atom. It's a rate of action, not a dosage. So we can't say that a person or a fish was exposed to x number of becquerels of radiation, because that doesn't really mean anything. And while 20-40 trillion anything sounds like a scary number, the amount of becquerels in the water leaking into the Pacific is orders of magnitude less than what was spewing from the plant after the incident, which might have been as high as 15,000 terabecquerels. By comparison, the water leak has dumped around 7.2 terabecquerels total into the Pacific since the incident.

It's also a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the entire Pacific Ocean, which is roughly 187 quintillion gallons in volume and will quickly dilute the water in question. While hundreds of tons and trillions of becquerels sounds like a lot, this is simply not enough water to have any kind of lasting effect on the health of either the Pacific Ocean or the fish in it.
To give you an idea of how bad that actually is, Japanese experts estimate Fukushima's fallout at 20-30 times as high as as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings in 1945
At this point, Stamper has simply started talking about something else. Fallout from a nuclear explosion is not at all the same thing as leaking radioactive water. It's not even the same thing as fallout from a nuclear event, which is what Fukushima is considered. The only event that Fukushima can be compared to is the Chernobyl meltdown, and by every comparable measure, Chernobyl was much worse.

Comparing the Fukushima incident to the atomic bombings is lazy, simplistic and simply designed to scare people by tying an event which caused extraordinary death and destruction to one that did not.
There's a lot you're not being told. Oh, the information is out there, but you have to dig pretty deep to find it, and you won't find it on the corporate-owned evening news.
Ah yes. When in doubt, blame the "mainstream media." So what are "they" not telling you?
?An MSNBC article in April of 2012 reported that seals and polar bears were found to have "external maladies" that consisted of fur loss and open sores, obvious signs of radiation burns from the Fukushima meltdown, despite the conclusions of the article.
The article Stamper links to specifically says "Reuters noted that preliminary studies do not support a theory that the disease is due to contamination from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan." Stamper offers no proof that the article is wrong, other than him saying it's wrong.
?Fukushima radiation appears to be causing an epidemic of dead and starving Sea Lions in California and the FDA has refused to test for radiation
Given that the radiation plume from the Fukushima water leak has not reached the West Coast, this is literally impossible. Any radiation from the initial incident would be far too weak to do this kind of damage — which is why the NOAA isn't looking at it as a cause of the sea lion epidemic in California and Oregon.
?Update: Huffington Post reports that the reactors used "dirty fuel," a combination of plutonium and uranium (MOX), which means we can never return to this place again. This comes from a Russian nuclear physicist who is an expert on the kinds of gasses being released at Fukushima.
MOX is not "dirty fuel." It's uranium oxide with a small amount of plutonium in it. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, "[D]ue to [...] the relatively small differences between the radionuclide content of MOX and low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, the use of MOX fuel did not have a significant impact on the offsite releases of radioactivity." And the bit about the Russian physicist is simply appealing to authority. Pay it no mind.
?.Almost a third more US West Coast newborns may face thyroid problems after Fukushima nuclear disaster
This absurd claim is the finding of a study by the Radiation and Public Health Project, a New York-based anti-nuclear power research group. They use dubious methodology to tie a slight increase in hypothyroidism in certain Western states to exposure to iodine-131 from Fukushima — despite the fact that, again, the radiation plume from the water leak hasn't reached the US. Also, iodine-131 has a half-life of only eight days, meaning none will reach the US anyway.
?Contaminated water from Fukushima reactors could double radioactivity levels of US coastal waters in 5 years — "We were surprised at how quickly the tracer spread"
The quote is from Claus Boning, a researcher at the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany. And while Boning and his colleagues did find what Stamper alleges, Stamper leaves out the part of the study that contextualizes the findings: "While this may sound alarming, these [becquerel] levels are still lower than those permitted for drinking water." The radioactivity level of US coastal waters will increase — from miniscule to slightly less miniscule. Then it will decrease again, as the cesium decays.

So yes, the "corporate-owned evening news" is not telling you any of this. Because it's wrong.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7UQXfN-J4E
above: German Scientists have calculated the dispersion of Cs-137 in the Pacific Ocean
Here's where Stamper's lack of scientific rigor shows. In his original post, he used a map from the National Oceanic and and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to illustrate the severity of the radiation that would reach the US. Except the map had nothing whatsoever to do with radiation. It's a map of wave heights after the tsunami that followed the 2011 earthquake. But being totally wrong about something has never stopped people from being terrified of it. This image, devoid of context, spread so quickly around the internet in 2011 that Snopes devoted an entry to explaining what the picture actually is.

After being corrected by commenters, Stamper replaced the picture with the video above, illustrating the findings of the Helmholtz Centre cesium study. But the version Stamper posted omits the voiceover from the researcher (no doubt a paid shill for Big Cesium) explaining what it actually means and replaces it with ominous music — then silence. Devoid of context, it looks like a spreading plume of red death. Which it is not. This is the actual video from the Helmoltz Centre study, minus the Tubular Bells-esque horror:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyrO1UjfJX0
WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THE PACIFIC OCEAN FOOD CHAIN? — May 2013 — Researchers from the Japan Agency for Marine Earth Science and Technology [...] have detected radioactive cesium from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in plankton collected from all 10 points in the Pacific they checked, with the highest levels at around 25 degrees north latitude and 150 degrees west longitude. [...]
Another misleading, out-of-context study. Japanese researchers did indeed find higher levels of cesium in plankton from around the leak site. This is to be expected. But the highest concentration found was 10.5 becquerels per kilogram — which is far lower than the newly toughened Japanese standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram for general foodstuffs. "Higher" does not mean "so high it will kill you and everyone you love."
A WARNING TO SEAFOOD LOVERS EVERYWHERE — Scientists previously reported higher-than-expected concentrations of radiation in fish off Japan.
Yes, fish from around Fukushima do have a much higher than permitted becquerel level. This is why Japan has banned the sale of fish from this area. But on the West Coast of the US, only Pacific Bluefin tuna have been found to have any kind of radiation increase — and only in trivial amounts, far lower than the radiation that naturally occurs in potassium rich foods like bananas.
Now there are calls for testing of seafood sold in the U.S. Although contaminated air, rainfall and even radioactive debris from Japan have drifted toward the U.S. West Coast since the disaster occurred 2 1/2 years ago, scientists are unclear about how the contaminated waters could impact the health of Americans, and while scientists say that 300 tons of contaminate water is diluted in the Pacific, no one knows how long that's been going during those 2 1/2 years as we also now know TEPCO has been lying all along.
This sentence is so long and rambling that I can't actually tell what it's trying to say. Radiation from the initial leak reached the US a few days after the incident, but it was so weak that it couldn't possibly have had any kind of effect. The same will be true of the radiation from the water leak. The length of time the leak has been going on simply is irrelevant. The Pacific will dilute the radioactivity in the water to the point of being harmless.
Nuclear experts are calling on the U.S. government to test West Coast waters and Pacific seafood sold in the U.S. in the wake of Japan's alarming admission about an ongoing radiation leak, something the EPA and the FDA have so far refused to do, as they are only testing imported fish, not wild-caught. WHY?
Completely false. The FDA was testing wild-caught fish in the aftermath of the incident. They tested 1313 samples, 1312 of which had no increase in radioactivity. One did, but it was still below the acceptable threshold. So they stopped testing.
The only way to protect your children and grandchildren is by NOT EATING SEAFOOD from the Pacific Ocean until we have better information.
We have the information we need, and it all points to one thing: Pacific Ocean fish being perfectly safe.
Source.Information posted at the website of heThe Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California recommends not buying any fish from the Pacific Ocean or western states, including Baja.
Stamper links here not to the official website of the University of California at Berkeley, but an anonymous message board post from someone connected to Berkeley who won't buy anymore Pacific Ocean fish. Which is completely their right, but it should not be mistaken as properly vetted scientific information.
WHAT YOU HAVEN'T BEEN TOLD ABOUT FISH CONTAMINATION

[...]
The rest of the piece is a long, rambling Gish Gallop of random information, out-of-context links, opinion and anti-technology haranguing. Most of it has little or nothing to do with the topic at hand. Feel free to read it, but it's only going to make your brain hurt.

Obviously, the situation at Fukushima is distressing, and not at all something that should be shrugged off. But compounding it with scaremongering about our food supply does nothing productive for anyone. Whether or not you continue to eat fish from the Pacific Ocean is entirely up to you. But I urge you to make that decision based on sound scientific research and testable claims, not hysterical screeds backed by supposition and fear.

by Mike Rothschild

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