Nearby seawater radioactive

by Masami Ito

Radioactive materials that exceeded regulation levels have been found in seawater around the endangered Fukushima nuclear plant, but government officials offered reassurances Tuesday they will not have an immediate effect on people’s health.

The impact on marine resources is not yet known, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said, adding however that an embargo on seafood caught near the Fukushima plant is not currently necessary.

Meanwhile, the health ministry advised residents of five towns and cities in Fukushima Prefecture to avoid using tap water to make formula milk and other drinks for babies due to abnormally high radiation levels.

The government Monday instituted an indefinite ban on shipping spinach and other vegetables produced in Fukushima and neighboring prefectures.

“Given the current situation, I cannot rule out any possibility (including a ban on seafood), but it is not necessary at the moment,” Edano said. “But it is necessary to collect data from a wider range and firmly continue to have experts analyze them.”

According to a study conducted by Tokyo Electric Power Co. on seawater collected about 330 meters from the crippled plant’s drainage pipes Monday, the level of iodine-131 was 126.7 times higher than the limit set by the government and cesium-134 was 24.8 times higher, while cesium-137 was 16.5 times higher.

Later in the day, the iodine reading near the plant dropped to 29.8 times higher than acceptable levels.

Edano explained the government limit was very carefully set and based on the amount of radioactive material that can be consumed by a person for a year, which is 1 millisievert. But he added that monitoring of seawater would be strengthened.

“There is no direct effect on the human body” from the current level of radioactive materials found in seawater, he said.

“But there is the possibility that some kind of influence could occur if the situation continues and I have just given orders to related organizations to strengthen monitoring” of seawater.”

Japan’s strict regulation limit on radiation exposure has driven government officials to repeatedly say “there is no direct effect on the human body” on various occasions.

But Edano stressed the importance of setting the limit so the government can monitor and investigate situations even when the cause of a rise in radioactive material is unknown.

“As part of our country’s nuclear power policy, it has been necessary to be able to monitor the level of radiation to ensure it was all right” in any given situation, Edano said.