Is Fukushima a Threat to North America?

Fukushima is in the news again, thanks to a report that noted an increase in radiation levels in Canadian sockeye salmon. The report also noted that due to the slow movement of the plume, we still haven’t seen peak contamination at our shores. The result of this report has been a rise in public anxiety, as seen in social media and google search trends. The report sounds scary. Should we all give up fish for the foreseeable future? Should west coasters move inland? Will cancer levels rise?

As laymen, the key when discussing radiation contamination risk is to think in relative terms rather than absolute. Major media outlets don’t always provide context, such as exposure thresholds or how the results compare to background radiation. When a report says levels are “much higher than expected,” the necessary context is 1) what was expected, and 2) how much is “much higher”? Much higher but still near background radiation does not necessarily mean greater risk.

Knowledge can keep the panic at bay. When news of the Fukushima accident hit in 2011, Californians panicked and rushed out to buy potassium iodine supplements in anticipation of rising levels of Iodine-131. But as this new report shows, effects of the radiation plume are still below safety thresholds, and the snails-pace of its progression means any run on supplements was premature. Unnecessary, even. As it turns out, as of August 2016 no iodine isotopes have been detected in west coast fish samples [1].

Fear of radiation comes mostly from fear of the unknown. When news sources leave you with too many unknowns, look for more information. Try these informative links:

Explore InFORM Monitoring Data

As a side note, the last time Fukushima trended in the news was around this time of year in 2013 [2]. Maybe this new information has less to do with changing risk and more to do with media cycles.



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