Well, this is interesting.
Just when we were definitely not running out of things to worry about when it comes to the health of the world’s oceans, add “radioactive tuna” to the list.
OK, so I’m being overly dramatic. It’s been over a year now since the magnitude-9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan caused damage to the Fukushima nuclear reactor, resulting in concern about radiation damage as far away as the California coast. The disaster turned out to be far from the worst-cast-scenario in many ways – but the impact that the event had on marine life is undeniable.
Scientists knew and had already noted that plankton and smaller fish displayed higher levels of radiation and radiation exposure in the wake of the disaster. However, it came as a surprise to detect radiation in a fish as large as the Bluefin Tuna, which they thought would not be impacted as larger species have a much greater capacity to metabolize radioactive substances. Seems that they were somewhat mistaken.
Most reports (that I’ve found….) indicate that the radiation levels were low, and present in about 15 fish. They currently are not thought to present a significant health risk to humans, so there’s no reason to suddenly give up sushi forever. (Unless you don’t like sushi, in which case, why were you eating it again? Jeez.) There are a few reports claiming that the tuna could raise cancer risks, but since I am neither a toxicologist nor a doctor nor an expert in radiation, I will keep my nose out of that debate.
Then, why write about an event with no serious risk for public health, or where I have no expertise to add? Well, other than the fact that I find the story interesting, the fact that larger fish were thought to be unaffected by radiation is a reason to pause. Especially in our fast-paced, tech-driven era, humans are extremely likely to think that if an action has consequences, they will be seen immediately. We forget that sometimes, the past catches up with us. We forget that sometimes, it is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We forget that sometimes, the impact takes months, even years, to appear. We like to think of ourselves in isolation: if X happens, and I experience Y immediately, then the consequences of X are limited to Y.
But what if that’s not the case?
I’ll avoid waxing philosophical until we all stop reading (including me), but that was what I thought about when I read this article: you never know. The list of chemical and industrial practices that were once thought “perfectly safe” – ranging from lead paint to asbestos (it was great as a fire retardant!) to smoking (it did totally look cool when Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn did it) – is quite long. Which doesn’t mean we should stop doing everything, but maybe, we should think and look a little harder before we decide that things have “no impact.”
On the other hand, it might be cool to have, say, multicolored glowing radioactive sushi. I could see some restaurants in Vegas getting into that niche. You never know.