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Muddling through, post-Fukushima

December 11, 2011


By David Ritchie

On a recent visit to Southeast Asia, I stopped at a market to buy groceries. The salty, tangy taste of dried seaweed might be nice, I thought. So I looked at the seaweed packets … and kept on moving.

You see, the brands were Japanese.

After the Fukushima meltdowns, the risk of eating radionuclides in Japan’s food products seems too great. During my childhood in the 1950s, “made in Japan” meant “cheap” or “low-quality.” Now it means “radioactive.”

One never knows how much hot stuff foods from Japan have soaked up from the meltdowns at Fukushima – especially foods from the sea, into which pollution from the ruined reactors has been seeping, when not pouring, for months. That is why, as a rule, I avoid foods imported from Japan.

Excessive caution? Perhaps. To someone of my age (almost 60), a little extra radioactivity probably won’t make much difference.

Yet wariness seems wise in view of online reports about how hot the Japanese diet – and, indeed, Japan in general — is getting. Consider a sampling of items from the Energy News website at

– A very small amount of radioactivity – 50 becquerels (Bq), or atomic disintegrations, per second – produces “irreversible” damage to vital organs: Mushroom logs (that is, substrates for growing mushrooms) near Fukushima show 3,790 Bq/kg:

– Much of Fukushima’s radioactive discharge is going into the ocean: Guess where much of Japan’s food comes from.

– Consequences for children in Japan can be severe: Something is stunting their growth, too:  They’ve been eating Yokohama mushrooms with almost 3000 Bq/kg of cesium: And they’ve shown eye swelling – a symptom of thyroid disorder – after playing in contaminated sandboxes: (Warning: that last article has shocking photos.)

– Moreover, hot particles are spreading around the world. Radioactivity has reached 300% normal levels in dust from the Los Angeles area: And radiation testing in Vancouver, British Columbia, reveals rainwater has iodine-131 at nearly 100 times US limit for drinking water:

– Where I live, in South Korea (almost at Fukushima’s back door), hot spots far higher than normal background radiation are starting to show up too, even though prevailing winds from the west usually carry Fukushima fallout eastward, away from us:

Enough. Welcome to the post-Fukushima era. Life after 3-11 has undergone a sea-change (plus an air-change and land-change) into something more radioactive and hazardous.

How to deal with this hot new world? The other day I put that question gently to a young Korean co-worker at the office.

“We try not to think too much about it,” he replied, “because there’s not much we can do.” He’s right. What are we supposed to do? Turn back the clock to 1939?

So, one just muddles through. Each day I exercise reasonable care in eating and try to avoid foods such as tuna, which concentrate radioisotopes through the food chain. (When was the last time I ate sashimi? Can’t remember. It’s been that long.) But high-quality protein must come from somewhere, so I compromise on shrimp and squid.

Meanwhile, the executioner’s mocking lyrics from The Mikado rewrite themselves in my mind:

                You’ve a jolly mood,
                Gauging safest food!
                Becquerels in kelp and tuna
                Lead you to the Reaper sooner,
                On that thought you brood!
                You’ve a jolly mood!
But as said before, I’m in the November of life anyway. Soon I’ll be gone, regardless of radionuclides in air, food, and water.

It’s different, though, for people decades younger. And when I see young Korean families with smiling infants and toddlers at the big shopping mall near my home in Seoul, something inside me wants to weep.

Is there, you may ask, any upside to all this? There’s one.

At least it takes your mind off the tragedy of who got eliminated on Dancing with the Stars.
©2011 David W. Ritchie


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One Comment
  1. Very interesting information!Perfect just what I was searching for!

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