Many scientists claim that no level of man-made toxic radiation in the air, water or food is safe. "Exposure to radionuclides, such as iodine 131 and cesium 137, increases the incidence of cancer. For this reason, every effort must be taken to minimize the radionuclide content in food and water," Dr. Jeff Patterson, immediate past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said in late March.
Europe has recognized the risk. In France, the respected radiological research institute CRIIRAD in mid-April cautioned pregnant and breastfeeding women and children to avoid eating certain foods, including milk and creamy cheese and spinach and other broad leaf vegetables. CRIIRAD said the risks related to prolonged contamination among vulnerable groups of the population can no longer be considered "negligible" and it is now necessary to avoid "risky behavior." CRIIRAD also estimated that the West Coast of the U.S. is being subjected to eight to 10 times higher levels of radiation than Europe.
Chris Busby, Ph.D., scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, who published a "Don't Panic" guide in early April saying that the danger was insignificant, later changed his opinion. In an April 24 statement to Washington's Blog, Busby said, "Since then I have re-thought this advice as the thing is still fissioning and releasing 10 to the 14th Becquerels a day. This will mean that strontium 90 and uranium and particulates will be building up in the USA and Europe. I will assess this later but for now I think it prudent to stop drinking milk."
What Can Food Processors Do About Fukushima Food Safety?
While we may not be able to affect what's going on at Fukushima, we could certainly try to prevent such an accident from happening again. We need to express our concern and speak out to the President, who supports nuclear power, and to Congress and insist that aging reactors be inspected regularly, upgraded for safety and decommissioned when necessary. Letter writing works when you've got lots of constituents doing it.
This global-scale crisis happened from just one nuclear power plant. There are 104 nuclear reactors in operation in the U.S., with a number of them located in major earthquake and tsunami zones in heavily populated areas along the West Coast. God forbid something should happen close to home; we are in no way prepared to handle an accident of this magnitude.
We also should insist on increased, not scaled-back, testing for radiation in our air, water, soil and food. It is unconscionable that our public institutions established to safeguard food, health and the environment have neglected this responsibility. Food producers, too, need timely access to this information from federal, state and regulatory agencies.
What to do about food? As I make my livelihood in the food industry, it is difficult for me to say that pregnant women, breastfeeding moms, infants and children might want to avoid certain foods and to check the source of their drinking water. However, as an advocate of public health and the environment, that's what I think needs to be said. I would refer readers to CRIIRAD's recommendations to certain vulnerable segments of the European population.
I believe our food, water, health and environment have been terribly compromised by this global nuclear catastrophe. I also think that, after poor Japan, which may have to evacuate large portions of its sovereign land, the U.S. is directly downwind and downstream, so to speak, from the Fukushima disaster.
What our family is doing this summer is buying more locally grown food. We live in Colorado and I'm hoping the Rocky Mountains will take some of the stuff out of the air. But I am concerned for my friends on the West Coast and Hawaii. And frankly, the whole country, hemisphere and world will continue to be exposed to the fallout emitted from one nuclear power plant located thousands of miles away. And my prayers go to Japan. The world is truly a small place.
In my lifetime, there has been Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima, which is quickly surpassing Chernobyl as one of the world's worst nuclear disasters. And those are just the ones they've told us about. Basically, we have experienced a major nuclear accident about once every 20 years. That is not good odds, given that there are hundreds of reactors around the world. This type of incident could happen anywhere, whether it be from natural disaster or human error. With Fukushima in full meltdown, it is a very good time to speak out that nuclear power is not safe, and the cost is way too high.