The locus of fear in Japan has shifted from the Fukushima Daiichi plant (although smoke was seen coming from Unit #3 today) to the produce and other food products coming out of the region. The FDA has banned the imports of milk and fresh produce from around the stricken nuclear power plant, which seems sensible. Japanese officials already stopped the sale of such items from the four prefectures around Fukushima, and actually harvesting food and bringing it to market in these hard-hit areas is next to impossible. But if radiation has leaked into the water table, we have a whole new problem.
Radiation has seeped into vegetables, raw milk, the water supply and seawater since a magnitude-9 quake and killer tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant nearly two weeks ago.
Concerns about food safety spread Wednesday to Tokyo after officials said tap water showed elevated levels: 210 becquerels per liter of iodine-131 — more than twice the recommended limit of 100 becquerels per liter for infants. The recommended limit for adults is 300 becquerels.
“It is really scary. It is like a vicious negative spiral from the nuclear disaster,” said Etsuko Nomura, a mother of two young children ages 2 and 5. “We have contaminated milk and vegetables, and now tap water in Tokyo, and I’m wondering what’s next.”
This is the first time I’ve seen Japanese officials admit that any radiation existed above recommended levels, if only for infants. Older children and adults are supposedly OK. In fact, they’re still trying to say that any water consumed prior to this point by babies is fine. But they are cautioning against it now because of the presence of cancer-causing radioactive iodine. And that’s in Tokyo – 150 miles from Fukushima.
One doctor called this a psychosocial problem rather than a medical one, that the stress from drinking radioactive water is more dangerous than the water. But that’s only at this time. Only today are officials saying that the water is unsafe for toddlers. Does that hold? Once radioactivity has reached the water supply, aren’t we destined for more trouble?
Maybe the radioactivity lowers in the coming days. But given the different facets of this disaster, I certainly understand why support for nuclear power would plummet. And all the reassuring statements in the world are not likely to change that.