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Officials have noted that the levels found in the food and water are not dangerous, but need to be banned because they are above government limits

Japan's 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11 has left plenty of destruction in its wake including tsunami waves, nuclear problems, and a death toll that could exceed 18,000

While troubles with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex in particular have become manageable, the World Health Organization (WHO) has pointed out a potentially harmful side effect of the radiation in Japan: contaminated food.

Recent reports have noted that radiation levels in Japan "remain safe," but WHO worries that radioactive particles have contaminated food and water in areas near and around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  

"Quite clearly it's a serious situation," said Peter Cordingley, spokesman for WHO's regional office for the Western Pacific. "It's a lot more serious than anybody thought in the early days when we thought that this kind of problem can be limited to 20 to 30 kilometers. It's safe to suppose that some contaminated produce got out of the contamination zone."

In response, Japan has stopped the sale of spinach from the Ibaraki Prefecture and raw milk from the Fukushima Prefecture due to radioactive iodine and cesium found in both. Locally grown crops have been banned as well.  

"From reports I have heard so far, it seems that the levels of radioactive iodine and cesium in milk and some foodstuffs are significantly higher than government limits," said Jim Smith, a specialist in earth and environmental science's at Portsmouth University. "This doesn't mean that consumption of these products is necessarily an immediate threat, as limits are set so that foodstuffs can be safely consumed over a fairly long period of time. Nevertheless, for foodstuffs which are found to be above limits, bans on sale and consumption will have to be put in place in the affected areas."

In addition, the health ministry of Japan has warned those near the plant to avoid drinking tap water as well, which contains high levels of radioactive iodine.  

Officials have noted that the levels found in food and water are not dangerous, but need to be banned if they are above government limits. Food imported from Japan will be monitored.

The ban will likely affect farmers who depend on income generated from both prefectures.

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RE: Iodine 131 has a short half life
By Solandri on 3/21/2011 5:34:44 PM , Rating: 2
It's not the iodine you really need to worry about. As you said, wait a few weeks and it's mostly gone.

The problem is the Cesium-137. 30 year half-life, beta emitter which has a decay product which is a gamma emitter with a 2.5 minute half life. So for all practical purposes, it's a beta + gamma emitter with a 30 year half-life. And it's produced in a bit less than half the quantity of iodine-131. The stuff is nasty - used in medical radiotherapy equipment and pernicious if it gets out.

Fortunately it's not airborne like iodine, but it is water soluble. It's unknown yet how much of it got out - I haven't seen any reports beyond "radioactive iodine and cesium were detected". In fact that's all this report says about it too.

The other main radioactive product of note, strontium-90, generally needs some sort of fire to carry it away from the plant. So hopefully we won't be seeing that.

That said, the legal limits for radioactivity on food are set assuming a year's consumption of the contaminated food. So a few days or even weeks of consumption shouldn't be dangerous. Catching it this early and pulling the food off out of stores is a preventative measure, not a response to an imminent threat to people's health.

RE: Iodine 131 has a short half life
By nafhan on 3/22/2011 9:56:59 AM , Rating: 2
I remember reading about the GoiĆ¢nia thing. People found the Cesium and were rubbing it on themselves so they would glow in the dark, etc... terrible.

On a related note, don't know if you saw this, but it's an excellent visual comparison of radiation amounts from numerous sources by the XKCD guy:

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