Food not checked for radiation poses risk in Fukushima: study


Staff Writer

Eating unchecked homegrown vegetables and wild game from radiation-tainted areas on a regular basis can lead to high levels of internal radiation exposure, according to the results of a study published Tuesday in the U.S. online science journal PLOS ONE.

However, levels of radioactive cesium detected in the bodies of the study’s participants declined once they stopped eating highly contaminated food, said the researchers, who called for renewed efforts to raise people’s awareness of risky foods at a time when public interest appears to be dwindling.

The study focused on Minamisoma, which stretches about 14 to 38 km north of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Researchers followed nine people, who were the only ones out of 30,622 examinees from the city to have internal cesium-137 levels greater than 50 becquerels per kilogram in screenings between March 11, 2012, and March 10, 2013. That’s roughly equal to 0.1 to 0.2 millisieverts per year.

Cesium-137 levels among the nine participants ranged from 3,230 to 15,918 becquerels per body, which corresponds to between 0.07 to 0.53 millisieverts per year, the report said. The International Commission on Radiological Protection set a radiation exposure limit under normal situations of 1 millisievert per year and said cumulative exposure of 100 millisieverts would increase the chance of death by cancer by 0.5 percent.

The study said the participants, aged 60 to 74, consumed “homegrown produce without radiation inspection, and often collected mushrooms in the wild or cultivated them on bed-logs in their homes.”

The person with the highest levels regularly ate wild boar meat and river fish, the report said. Wild game, river fish and wild mushrooms are highly contaminated and banned from being shipped out of Fukushima Prefecture.

A few months after being screened, the participants were advised to consume mainly food from supermarkets and to refrain from eating potentially contaminated foods, such as mushrooms, mountain vegetables and wild game, without having it inspected first. The researchers found that the degree of contamination fell across the board. Most of the cesium-137 levels were halved in about three months and dropped to less than a third in six months.

The study was led by Masaharu Tsubokura, a physician at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science. He said even though most of the Minamisoma residents’ internal radiation exposure level are nondetectable, it’s time to think about ways to support those who have little knowledge about, or interest in food contamination, as prolonged internal exposure may increase their risk of developing cancer.

  • rupertmja

    The article states that the man`s exposure waas `roughly equal to 0.1 to 0.2 millisieverts per year.` However, I am aware that in calculating this, they take the amount of exposure and `dilute` the effect by calculating it against the entire body weight when in fact, the exposure in the body by a `hot particle` (conveniently not mentioned) will be far far higher in the immediate vicinity of where the said hot particle is located in the body. Sometimes, the numbers lie. And I am of the opinion that `they` lie on purpose.

    • Sam Gilman

      When you talk about hot particles, are you recycling ideas from fringe scientists like Chris Busby and Arnie Gundersen?

      If so, are you aware that these ideas have been rejected by several scientific bodies?

      I’m rather keen to know this because it really is mischievous to spread bad science in such circumstances.

      • rupertmja

        Sorry – I can`t help you if you don`t understand. I worked in the nuclear industry for several years but am now anti-nuclear as I realise man cannot control it safely and that the powers that be go to extra-ordinary lengths to hide that fact.

      • Sam Gilman

        That’s a strangely evasive answer.

        Anyone can claim anything about themselves on the Internet. I’ve had someone claim they were a Cambridge don in medicine on here when they were clearly lying. You need to demonstrate expertise than claim it.

        So instead, let’s focus on what we both can confirm: published information. I’ll ask you again: are you relying on the “hot particle theory” as espoused by known cranks Chris Busby and Arnie Gundersen? It certainly looks like it. It’s a theory rejected by mainstream science, but promoted by cranks selling nonsense (often literally selling) to the anti-nuclear movement.

      • rupertmja

        A-ha. Now I get it. You refuse to understand. Checked out your other postings – You need to wake up and stop being a shill for TEPCO and nuke power stations in general. I have been reading up on Chris Busby – you mentioned him – and he is definitley `the man`. I cannot disagree with anything he says. He has gotten off his arse and has been out there doing research for years and years and all that time no one has been listening, instead just putting him down. Indeed, I hope he is wrong but my spidey sense tells me otherwise.

      • Sam Gilman

        Here’s what your spidey-sense tells you is “right”:

        – Busby’s ethics: he tried to flog useless mineral pills to frightened parents in Fukushima at 4 times the market price these useless pills usually go for, on the made-up grounds that they could stop radiation.

        – Busby’s methods: for example, when grown-ups (aka the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit) looked at one of Busby’s cancer studies (which he’d drawn up in order to get on the telly), they found his work so dreadful, they were reduced to saying as politely as possible that either he was cheating the data or he was unable to count to two.

        (It should be pointed out that Grown-ups don’t often bother looking at his work, as he tends not to publish his work in proper scientific forums but instead through one of his own little organisation, like “Green Audit” or the “Low Level Radiation Campaign”. It’s when he dupes those in the media and politics that grown-ups have to clean up his mess.)

        – Busby’s mind: he started spreading the essentially racist madcap theory that in effect thousands of Japanese would sooner give their own children cancer than embarrass the government, by stereotypically quietly and obediently complying with a grand plan to spread high-level radioactive waste across the whole of the main island of Honshu in order to cover-up increases in cancer in Fukushima. No evidence for this whatsoever – of course.

        – Busby’s science: His own dreamed-up version of hot particles – the second event theory – has no evidence, no plausibility to it, and has been rejected. His money-spinning theory that depleted uranium in ordinance causes cancers and deformities has been rejected. He was so desperate to have the veneer of scientific credibility, that at one point he started his own “peer-reviewed” scientific journal. It lasted six issues; eight of the “peer-reviewed” articles were by him.

        He’s a preposterous man who manages to dupe lay people because some will believe anything about radiation so long as it’s scary. So your hopes are fulfilled. Busby’s a wrong un’.

        The thing is, If you really are an expert in any of this, why did you find it so difficult to check out Busby’s credentials? Why would someone with scientific expertise need to rely on “spidey sense”, rather than a quick check of his publication record and reception by the wider scientific community?

        Oh and thank you for reviewing my other posts. You seem to believe you are important enough that I am actually being paid by TEPCO to argue with you. That’s an interesting level of paranoia. Do you think they are they also paying me to write about things like, for example only recently, “TEPCO’s indifference to safety, so long as they get their profits”, and how TEPCO is “one of the bad guys”?

      • rupertmja

        I think you have a bit of normalcy bias and I have a bit of worst-case scenario bias = disagreement. We all want more safety.

      • Starviking

        Oh, you worked in the nuclear industry for several years? Tell me then, what dangers do graphite moderator cracks in UK Advanced Gas Reactors pose? Is there a noticeable risk to the general public?

      • rupertmja

        Well, it has been awhile. But I guess if the graphite cracks the rods that slide thru them may encounter difficulty.

      • Starviking

        A good basic reply, but – do you think that there is a noticable risk to the general public?

      • rupertmja

        I was a supporter of nuclear power for most of my life. But now I realise man cannot control its safety, especially the disposal of the masses of waste. Anything related to nukes is dangerous, no matter how safe they tell us it is. We need to learn to live without requiring so much energy because, as oil runs out, we will have no choice. But the pessimist in me knows that for that same very reason, we are going to see more and more nuclear power stations being developed. The govts. of the world will hide as much negative information as it can as the energy industry requires that to survive. It looks like it will take something a lot worse than Fukushima to wake the sheeple up, but the Germans do seem to be alert.

  • badforu

    This article is only good in furthering the confusion between radiation and radioactive contamination. And once the Radioactive material is metabolized by the body, and it resides in the body, then its there. There isnt alot of known ways to cleanse the body once this happens. And they are only looking for 1 radio active element? They should look for all the elements that was released by fukushima.

    Here is a question i have been wondering. Once the radioactive material is metabolized into one system, does it maintain the half life it had before, like on the short half life idiones. If a childs thyroid got filled up with idione 131, and its half life is 18 days, after 18 days does the damage stop? I doubt it does, but i was just wondering.

    • Sam Gilman

      Hi Badforu,

      I’m slightly puzzled by your post. It begins very confidently declaring what scientists should or shouldn’t do with regard to radiation risk assessment. Great – it’s good to have informed opinion – at least that’s what you present yourself as having. However your post ends with a very basic question about the half-life of an element that suggests you don’t know what “half-life” means (leaving aside the fact that you’ve got wrong the half-life of iodine-131 (note the spelling, which you got wrong twice) which is 8 days, not 18.

      And I say that as someone who is openly not an expert in the matter. I’m just someone who tries to understand the science; half life is a pretty basic idea in understanding radioactivity. Over 8 days, half of the radioactive iodine will have decayed. Over 16 days 3/4 of the iodine will have undergone radioactive decay, over 24 days 7/8.

      People are overwhelmed by conflicting information. I think it would be better if you didn’t have such a strident tone when you’re actually not sure of what you’re saying.

      • badforu

        Thank you for breaking down what half life means. I did understand that basically that was the start of the decay process. But the question i have is, once it is in the thyroid, or any organ that gets radioactively contaminated, does the half life math still work, or is it changed to another element when metabolized that that half life dosnt apply to.

        On this issue, im sorry, man is sorely inept at dealing with nuclear anything. There 30 mill people in tokyo. We will see how deadly radioactive contamination is im sure. They will not be able to hide it, secrecy law or not. The cores are still unaccounted for, 150 tons of corium. Alot has already been released into the enviorment. There is no threshold for human radioactive contamination. I dont know what more is there to say.

      • Sam Gilman

        Again, given that you yourself admit you don’t know very much about any of the science of this, why are you making such bold (and bald) statements about 30 million people being in any danger whatsoever? Who are you relying on for your information?

        The World Health Organisation, using a model that they admit may lead to an overestimate, believe only the inhabitants of two small villages near the plant are at any plausible (but still theoretical) risk of damage to their health from radiation – a risk so small it’s indistinguishable statistically from zero. The head of the Chernobyl Tissue Bank, intimately familiar with the effects of low level radiation on a population, thinks that in Fukushima there will be no health effects at all for anyone outside the plant.

        Radiation itself does not travel far. Again, that’s a basic point that really needs to be grasped before someone starts confidently declaring that 30 million people are going to die. For radiation to travel, radioactive material has to travel. For Tokyo to be under threat, someone would have to go to Fukushima, find the cores, load the corium onto a truck, and drive it to Tokyo and distribute it all over Tokyo. Corium just sitting at the bottom of the reactor container, or even if the containment had been breached, would not be a threat to Tokyo. That’s not how it works.

        Again, where are you getting your information from? I suspect that might be a major issue here. I’m not sure you’ve latched on to a credible set of sources. You say “there is no threshold for human radioactive contamination” – not only is this very much disputed in the scientific literature, particularly at these very low levels, it has to be remembered that if you do take the no threshold theory on board, you have to apply it to all sources of radiation, not just those from a broken reactor. Congratulations: I don’t know where you are in the world, but all the objects around you just got rather more dangerous to your health than you thought.

        I rely on scientists who have exposed their working to other scientists (and thus have had quality control). Who do you rely on?

      • philippesama

        World Health Organisation lost any credibility already. Active lobbyist like sam gilman know it well but still spread same lies here again and again.

      • Sam Gilman

        In what way has the World Health Organisation lost credibility?

        It enjoys the respect of the mainstream scientific community, by which I mean active researchers publishing in scientific journals around the world. When it comes to science, these are the people whose respect matters.

        I think you may be confusing your personal disappointment that lots of people aren’t going to die (thereby depriving you of the opportunity to validate your political beliefs) with the illusion that the WHO is part of an official conspiracy against humanity.

      • Sam Gilman

        As for the half-life in the thyroid, I’ve never heard of anything like the half-life changing. I recall that safety limits for iodine in drinking water were a lot higher in the west than in Japan pre-Fukushima because the western limits took the short half-life into account.

      • philippesama

        Radionuclides Half Life never change on earth. Only inside nuclear reactor. No biologic effect, not any chemical reaction can change the nucleus of the atom. So after Cesium, Strontium, Plutonium… is made and spread outside the reactor, only time can stop radiation, this duration depend only on Half Life.

      • Starviking

        The half-life of the radioisotope is constant – it doesn’t matter if it is in your body or in deep space.

        A different, but easily confused concept, is the ‘biological half-life’. That’s how long the radioisotope in question stays in the body, as various biological processes and realities can excrete/expell the radioisotope from the body.

        Iodine is concentrated in the thyroid, stored for use in the body – so it has a long biological half-life. Xenon, a nobel gas, passes through body tissues with ease, and so does not reside in the body for more than seconds.

  • badforu

    Mr Gilman, question for you. What is the number one defense against radioactive contamination? espeically young children, and especially around nuclear faclitys? Its iodine pills… of the several accidents that man has had concerning radioactive releases, how many times have they handed out iodine? They rather talk the accident down then hand out the pills and deal with the realitys of it. This is why they should not be allowed to deal with nuclear. They are not trustworthy to the degree necessary to have my life in there hands.

    • Sam Gilman

      Handing out iodine pills (which work by filling up the thyroid with iodine so that radioactive iodine will not be absorbed) is not the only measure. Stopping people eating local foodstuffs, particularly children, and particularly things like milk that they may consume in large quantities is probably even more effective as far as I understand. That was done in Fukushima. We have evidence of the effectiveness of this food monitoring programme by looking at people who also ate food not going through the monitoring system (the paper this article is about) – once they were limited to monitored food, their exposure levels dropped back to normal.

      The highest estimated uptake of radioactive iodine by anyone in Fukushima (and it’s openly an overestimate) is about ten times lower than the average iodine uptake for children in general around Chernobyl. It’s too early to say whether we will see an actual rise in thyroid cancers in the future, but as I said above, the best available experts seriously doubt there will be one.

      • philippesama

        Fukushima children already got 30 times more thyroid cancer than average in Japan. Because nothing was done to protect them, NOTHING. You and your accomplices work hard to fool everyone. But the reality is that Japan and the nuclear industry have deliberately sacrificed population

      • Sam Gilman

        Hi Phillippe

        Fukushima children already got 30 times more thyroid cancer than average in Japan

        No, that’s simply false. I know you didn’t come up with this; I’m afraid you’re having the wool pulled over your eyes.

        Those self-appointed talking heads who keep insisting on this particular piece of scaremongering, even though the doctors doing the screening have been at great pains to explain why it’s false, even though international scientific bodies have clearly explained why it’s false, and even though studies in parts of Japan very far from Fukushima are demonstrating very clearly that it’s false, are now frankly bordering on outright cynical malice towards parents in Fukushima and Japan more widely.

        To spread their nastiness, they’re asking us to confuse thyroid cancers per year that are big enough to make someone notice it and go to the doctor about it, with thyroid cancers picked up by screening that might not have been diagnosed otherwise for up to thirty years. (The latency period of thyroid cancer is 5-30 years).

        All so that we panic and live in fear. It’s good for them, good for the media, and screw the parents having to cut through all this c**p to find out if their kids are going to be OK.

        I suggest you treat them with the disdain they deserve.

      • philippesama

        I suggest everyone to treat you, sam gilman, with the disdain you deserve.

        You and your accomplices have constantly misrepresented the evidence. Fukushima has dumped even more radionuclide than Chernobyl and continues endlessly, daily. Nothing is done to protect people. You respond to the health emergency by propaganda. You try to make believe that everything is okay while the situation is catastrophic.

        The number of children who already got thyroid cancer in Fukushima is incredibly huge. You can manipulate reality at your own convenience, but usually there is only a couple of case per year per million children. But in Fukushima almost half on 250000 have already thyroid problems and already 75 got thyroid cancer.
        On 3 years this is 100 per year per million.

      • Sam Gilman

        Hi Philippe

        Can you give me a link to your claim that Fukushima has released more radioactive material than Chernobyl? That’s not the standard view.

        Can you explain why the same researchers who are finding these cancers also do not believe they indicate an increase in the cancer rate? After all, if they are competent enough to conduct the screenings, shouldn’t their view of the screening programme’s results be taken seriously? I suspect they know more than you or me about the matter.

        Can you also explain what you mean by half of the children having a thyroid “problem”? That’s not what the screening programme has found. The screening programme found that half of the children had nodules less than 5mm in length. These nodules are not problematic.


      • Starviking

        Phillippe, both Sam and I live in Japan, have families, and have done some research on the matter.

        There are people out there putting out piss-poor reports and deliberate hype. I’ve checked that stuff out, and Sam has too. We have an incentive to do so, we’ve families to protect. The stuff is found wanting: hype, lies, poor science, wishful thinking, and scaremongering.

      • philippesama

        The fact of living in Japan gives you no credibility on the contrary. I also lived in Japan for a long time, so what? “some research”? so keep a look, you still have not understood. If you really want to protect your family and the people of Fukushima, do not stay there. There is lies everywhere, but now the place in the world where there is most radioactivity is Fukushima and far all around.

      • Starviking

        Well Phillipe, I’ll continue to eat Tohoku produce, and my family will too. I follow updates on radioisotope levels in the environment from scientific sources, and see nothing worrying there. Our local governments have access to calorimeters to measure internal radiation levels in local produce, and apart from low levels in some forest areas our food is below even Japan’s stringent limits.

      • philippesama

        No problem, you probably will not die immediately, and you have little chance that members of your family will one day demand accountability. So continue to sleep peacefully.

        However those who are not yet tired of that sterile discussion, you’d better not be as naive (or deceitful) as “Starviking”. “Local governments” probably has access to instruments much better suited than “calorimeters” to measure the radioactivity of food, but this is not the problem. The problem is lies and dissimulation practiced by many people in Japan and elsewhere. Do not trust nobody and test your own food, this is your only chance of survival.

      • badforu

        Sam your VERY wrong. I almost want to end this convo with you . Your just as confusing as everyone else. Radiation isnt the threat, its the radio active elements that radiation readings tells you is in the enviorment. They just released that it will be 15 years or so before they can tell you when they will have a handle on this problem. So im pretty sure you and yours will be dealing the with effects, wont be going away anytime soon.

        And you shouldnt even talk about the Chernobly children, sounds like right off the bat you dont know much about it. People like you make me mad. Wish they would have you there for the clean up.

      • Sam Gilman


        I’m really struggling to make sense of your response. Are you saying that radiation isn’t dangerous, it’s just how we find radioactive materials?

        Again, you’ve got some very basic science wrong. Radiation can be very dangerous. That’s kind of the whole point of this and other articles on Fukushima and health. All I am saying is that radiation acts over short distances. This is also very basic science.

        If you think I’m wrong in what I said about Chernobyl, could you explain what was wrong? Do you think it’s not true that Chernobyl children were exposed to much higher levels of radioactive iodine? Why do you think they had all those thyroid cases?

  • Phil Blank

    Cesium-137 and strontium-90 are the most dangerous radioisotopes to the environment in terms of their long-term effects.

    Any exposure to radiation is bad, there is NO safe limit of exposure.
    Cesium is one of only three metals that is a liquid near room temperature (83 °F). Thehalf of cesium-137 is 30 years. It decays by emission of a beta particle …