Daily Video

March 6, 2014

Scientists fish for data in the waters around Fukushima


In March 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami hit the island nation of Japan, causing a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Three years later, experts are trying to assess how recovery efforts in the nuclear-affected area are progressing.

Among those impacted by the meltdown were Japan’s fisherman, who make their livelihood in the waters surrounding Fukushima.

“We cannot eat the fish we catch,” Captain Kimio Sato told the NewsHour’s Miles O’Brien. “All fish must be released. We are allowed to fish only the amount necessary for inspection.”

Instead of making a living off of the day’s catch, Kimio is now fishing for data. It’s part of a long-term effort to figure out when, if ever, fish caught near the Fukushima Daiichi power plant will be safe to eat.

In Japan, the radiation safety standard for fish is 100 Becquerels per kilogram, the most stringent in the world.

“We occasionally catch fish exceeding that safety standard,” says Kimio. “I don’t think there are many, though, but because we’re in the 20-kilometer zone, I think we should be cautious.”

The plume of water tainted with radiation from Fukushima is only now reaching the other side of the Pacific, which has prompted some safety concerns on the U.S. West Coast. While it may seem scary, experts say that the amount of cesium (a radioactive element released during the meltdown) in the plume is not and will not be a threat to marine or human health 5,000 miles away from Fukushima.

“If we get up to about seven Becquerels per cubic meter, that’s beyond what I’m actually expecting. That will be 1,000 times less than what we’re allowed to have in our drinking water,” said Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

While fish may be cleared for consumption in the near future, bottom dwellers like Fukushima flounder will not. Cesium released at the plant has made it into the sediment where bottom fish eat, causing increased concerns over their safety. While testing shows they display normal amounts of radiation, fishermen here will need to catch and test a lot more flounder before they can be declared safe to eat.

Warm up questions
  1. What do you remember about the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011?
  2. A nuclear power plant was destroyed during the disaster, what were the effects of the meltdown?
Discussion questions
  1. How has the melt down of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant affected the lives of those living in Japan?
  2. How has the melt down of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant affected the ecology of the area surrounding it?


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