Sushi Science: Fear, Not Radiation, Seen As Risk Concerns about radiation contamination have caused prices for fish and seaweed to fall sharply in Japan. How founded are these fears? One Japanese expert on marine radioecology says he's still eating fish.
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Sushi Science: Fear, Not Radiation, Seen As Risk

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Sushi Science: Fear, Not Radiation, Seen As Risk

Sushi Science: Fear, Not Radiation, Seen As Risk

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JON HAMILTON: I'm Jon Hamilton, in Tokyo. Every day, hundreds of tons of fish and seaweed are bought and sold at the city's seafood markets. The markets are still bustling, despite the troubles in Fukushima, but prices have fallen sharply. People are afraid these products might be contaminated with radioactive material. To find out how likely that is, I went to see someone who should know.

D: My name is Masashi Kusakabe.

HAMILTON: Dr. Kusakabe says what's been getting into the Pacific Ocean near Fukushima is mostly radioactive iodine. It dissolves in water, and experiments have shown that the iodine tends to concentrate in algae. Then it gets even more concentrated as it works its way up the food chain. Dr. Kusakabe says that might sound bad.

D: But the iodine we're talking about now is iodine-131, which has a very short half-life at eight days.

HAMILTON: Every eight days, half of it goes away. So after a few weeks, there's not much iodine-131 left in a fish.

K: But what about the ocean-going fish that show up on sashimi platters, fish like salmon and tuna? I asked Dr. Kusakabe whether they might be contaminated by radioactive material from the power plant.

D: I don't think so, though, because tuna move everywhere. They travel, you know, maybe hundreds of kilometers. So they never stay there.

HAMILTON: Dr. Kusakabe says the biggest threat to the Japanese fishing industry right now isn't radiation. It's fear.

D: Most people now think, oh, it's very dangerous to eat fish in Japan or fish around this coast. But it's - I think it's very safe. So now is your chance to eat fish, because it's cheap.

HAMILTON: You're still eating fish?

D: Oh, of course. Why not?

HAMILTON: Jon Hamilton, NPR News, Tokyo.

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