Fukushima Radiation Fears Still Haunt Japan

Satellite image of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant three days after the March 2011 earthquake struck. (Image credit: GeoEye)

Disturbing news has come from the Fukushima area of Japan, site of the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that also destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, creating the worst nuclear disaster in decades.

Scientists monitoring sea life in the region have reported that a fish caught near the now-closed plant has radiation levels more than 2,500 times the limit established for seafood by the Japanese government, according to RT.com.

The murasoi fish — similar to a rockfish — was contaminated with 254,000 becquerels (Bq) per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of radioactive cesium, according to a study released by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Daily Mail reports.

A becquerel is a unit of radioactive decay; the Japanese government has established a limit of 100 Bq per kilogram of seafood and meat.

Additionally, health researchers have found the number of people seeking treatment for seizures in the eight weeks following the Fukushima disaster was significantly higher than the numbers seeking treatment during the same eight-week period in the three years prior, according to the Daily Mail.

The seizures were not directly related to the radiation released during the plant's nuclear meltdown, but were believed connected to stress following the disaster, the Daily Mail reports.

Thirteen patients were admitted to a local hospital after the disaster; 11 of them had pre-existing neurological conditions such as epilepsy or head injuries. The study was published in the Jan. 7 issue of the journal Epilepsia.

The epilepsy report has been challenged by skeptics.

"This is interesting, but I'm not 100 percent convinced," William Theodore, senior investigator of the clinical epilepsy section at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, told the Daily Mail.

Theodore notes that the number of people involved in the study was so small that random variation could have explained the rise in seizures. They also could have been triggered by simple events such as a lack of sleep, an infection or forgetting to take anti-seizure medication.

And the public's fear of seafood contamination is largely overblown, an editorial in the Japan Times insists.

"In May, Fukushima fisherman caught 18 tons of bonito off Hachijo Island off Tokyo and brought them to their home port, where radiation measurements confirmed that they were safe," the editorial states.

"But when the fish were shipped to Tokyo's Tsukiji wholesale market, the market did not even put them up for bidding" simply because the catch had been unloaded in a Fukushima Prefecture port. The lack of demand for the area's seafood, the editorial states, is crippling the Japanese fishing industry.

Nonetheless, the nuclear contamination at Fukushima is far from resolved. In October, TEPCO announced that radiation leaks at the plant have not fully stopped, according to RT.com.

The radiation appears to be having an effect on wildlife in the region. Butterflies captured near Fukushima have an unusual number of genetic mutations, and the deformities appear to increase through succeeding generations.

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Marc Lallanilla
Live Science Contributor
Marc Lallanilla has been a science writer and health editor at About.com and a producer with ABCNews.com. His freelance writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and TheWeek.com. Marc has a Master's degree in environmental planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.