Over the past couple of months the Japanese government has found radiation contamination in milk, vegetables and water resulting from the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Since March 29, highly radioactive water has been flowing into the sea. As of April 9, this leak was plugged using 6,000 liters of a coagulant but the facility still plans on discharging 11, 500 tons of low-level nuclear contaminated water into the sea1.

The local fishermen are requesting that the plant stop dumping radioactive water into the sea. In the region of the power plant, the fishermen have stopped fishing and fear that they will never be able to fish again even if there is only a low level of contamination2.

Damage limitation

China has expanded the ban of edible agriculture products and feed coming from 12 areas in Japan including the area around Tokyo. South Korea is deciding whether to institute bans of products in the event of further dumping of radioactive water in the sea3. India banned all food imports from Japan, and the EU issued tighter radioactive limits on Japanese food imports on April 84. Australia is holding food from high risk regions and testing any product received to assure compliance with their regulations. Products affected include fruits, vegetables, milk, milk products, seaweed and seafood. Singapore and the U.S. have imposed restrictions on food from some regions in Japan5. Japan is not a major world food exporter6. For example, only EUR 187 million worth of food and only specific items such as fishery products, bivalve molluscs, casings and pet food are imported into the EU. In 2010, EU imports of Japanese food also included just 9,000 tons of vegetables and fruit.

Health risks for local population

Nevertheless, there is legitimate reason to worry about the effect of radioactive contamination to the environment and food chain after the nuclear accident in Japan. I-131 and Cs-137 are the main fission by-products which are released and can cause cancer in humans. I-131 moves through the atmosphere more easily than Cs-137, but it has a half-life of only eight days. Cs-137 attaches itself directly to the particle and deposits into soil for long period of time. The half-life of Cs-137 is about 30 years7. Both radionuclides can accumulate in plants, fruits, vegetables and crops, leading to an unsafe food supply chain. Additionally, Japan’s nuclear industry supplies about one-third of the country’s electricity and current electrical capacity in the country has been reduced by 40%. This restriction of energy production further reduces Japan’s capabilities to produce and transport products domestically and internationally. Further, it is estimated that the overall disaster will cost Japan $100-$235 billion USD and will take five years to rebuild the area affected8.

If history is any guide, Japan’s nuclear disaster will have comparatively little long-lasting health and environmental effects. Twenty years after the considerably worse Chernobyl disaster, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that radiation levels had returned to acceptable levels in most of the affected areas except for the immediately surrounding 30 kilometers and some closed lakes. Most of the remaining problems are economic and physiological, not health and environmental-related9.

SGS’s state-of-the-art radionuclide testing capabilities can help you detect and measure radioactive contamination in your food products. If you need more information, don’t hesitate to contact us.

1 The Energy Collective - Fukushima Nuclear Plant Crisis News Update
2 The Daily Yomuiri - Fishermen Fight Water Dump
3 Wall Street Journal - China Extends Import Ban
4 EU Reinforces Control on Imports from Japan
5 Office News - Radiation fears Hit Japan Food Exports
6 WHO - FAQ on Japan)
7 Pilant’s Business Ethics Blog - Iodine-131 and Cesium-137
8 Impact of Japan’s Earthquake on the Economy
9 WHO - Chernobyl: the true scale of the accident


James Cook
Food Safety Technologist

SGS North America Inc.
t +1 973 461 1493
Website: www.sgs.com/foodsafety

About SGS

The SGS Group is the global leader and innovator in inspection, verification, testing and certification services. Founded in 1878, SGS is recognized as the global benchmark in quality and integrity. With 64,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1,250 offices and laboratories around the world.