Fukushima crisis new blow to fishermen's hopes (Update)

Aug 28, 2013 by Koji Ueda
In this Aug. 26, 2013 photo, fisherman Fumio Suzuki watches the sunrise aboard his boat Ebisu Maru before the star of fishing in the waters off Iwaki, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, Japan. Suzuki's trawler is one of 14 at his port helping to conduct once-a-week fishing expeditions in rotation to measure radiation levels of fish they catch in the waters off Fukushima. Fishermen in the area hope to resume test catches following favorable sampling results more than two years after the disaster, though for now fishing is suspended due to leaks of radiation-contaminated water from storage tanks at the nuclear power plant. (AP Photo/Koji Ueda)

Third-generation fisherman Fumio Suzuki sets out into the Pacific Ocean every seven weeks. Not to catch fish to sell, but to catch fish that can be tested for radiation.

For the last 2 ½ years, fishermen from the port of Yotsukura near the stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant have been mostly stuck on land with little to do. There is no commercial fishing along most of the Fukushima coast. In a nation highly sensitive to food safety, there is no market for the fish caught near the stricken plant because the meltdowns it suffered contaminated the ocean water and marine life with radiation.

A sliver of hope emerged after recent sampling results showed a decline in radioactivity in some fish species. But a new crisis spawned by fresh leaks of radioactive water from the Fukushima plant last week may have dashed those prospects.

Fishermen like 47-year-old Suzuki now wonder whether they ever will be able to resume fishing, a mainstay for many small rural communities like Yotsukura, 45 kilometers (30 miles) south of the Fukushima plant. His son has already moved on, looking for work in construction.

"The operators (of the plant) are reacting too late every time in whatever they do," said Suzuki, who works with his 79-year-old father Choji after inheriting the family business from him.

"We say, 'Don't spill contaminated water,' and they spilled contaminated water. They are always a step behind so that is why we can't trust them," Suzuki said, as his trawler, the Ebisu Maru, traveled before dawn to a point about 45 kilometers (30 miles) offshore from the Fukushima plant to bring back a test catch.

With his father at the wheel, Suzuki dropped the heavy nets out the back of the boat, as the black of night faded to a sapphire sky, tinged orange at the horizon.

In this Aug. 26, 2013 photo, fisherman Fumio Suzuki sorts out fish he caught aboard his boat Ebisu Maru in the waters off Iwaki, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, Japan. Suzuki's trawler is one of 14 at his port helping to conduct once-a-week fishing expeditions in rotation to measure radiation levels of fish they catch in the waters off Fukushima. Fishermen in the area hope to resume test catches following favorable sampling results more than two years after the disaster, though for now fishing is suspended due to leaks of radiation-contaminated water from storage tanks at the nuclear power plant. (AP Photo/Koji Ueda)

As the sun rose over a glassy sea, father and son hauled in the heavily laden nets and then set to the hard work of sorting the fish: sardines, starfish, sole, sea bream, sand sharks, tossing them into yellow and blue plastic baskets as sea gulls screamed and swooped overhead.

Five hours later, the Ebisu Maru docked at Yotsukura where waiting fishermen dumped the samples into coolers and rushed them to a nearby laboratory to be gutted and tested.

Suzuki says his fisheries co-operative will decide sometime soon whether to persist in gathering samples.

For now they will have to survive on compensation from the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant's operator.

The cooperative also had plans to start larger-scale test catches next month that would potentially also be for consumption if radiation levels were deemed safe.

In this Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 photo, fisherman Fumio Suzuki stands on his boat Ebisu Maru before the start of fishing in the waters off Iwaki, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, Japan. Suzuki's trawler is one of 14 at his port helping to conduct once-a-week fishing expeditions in rotation to measure radiation levels of fish they catch in the waters off Fukushima. Fishermen in the area hope to resume test catches following favorable sampling results more than two years after the disaster, though for now fishing is suspended due to leaks of radiation-contaminated water from storage tanks at the nuclear power plant. (AP Photo/Koji Ueda)

But those plans were put on hold after more bad news last week: authorities discovered that a massive amount of partially treated, radioactive water was leaking from tanks at Fukushima, the fifth and so far the worst, breach.

The water, stored in 1,000 tanks, is pumped into three damaged reactors to keep their melted fuel cool. Much of the water leaked into the ground but some may have escaped into the sea through a rain-water gutter.

On Wednesday, the Nuclear Regulation Authority upgraded its rating of the leak to a "serious incident," or level 3, up from a level 1 on the international scale of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In this Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 photo, fisherman Choji Suzuki, rear left, stands on his boat Ebisu Maru as he prepares for the start of fishing in the waters off Iwaki, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, Japan. Suzuki and his son Fumio, not shown, run the trawler which is one of 14 helping to conduct once-a-week fishing expeditions in rotation to measure radiation levels of fish they catch in the waters off Fukushima. Fishermen in the area hope to resume test catches following favorable sampling results more than two years after the disaster, though for now fishing is suspended due to leaks of radiation-contaminated water from storage tanks at the nuclear power plant. (AP Photo/Koji Ueda)

It remains unclear what the environmental impact from the latest contamination will be on sea life. Scientists have said contamination tends to be carried by a southward current and largely diluted as it spreads.

Nobuyuki Hatta, director of the Fukushima Prefecture Fisheries Research Center, said the trend had been positive before the latest leaks, with fewer fish found exceeding radiation limits.

In this Aug. 26, 2013 photo, fisherman Choji Suzuki navigates the Ebisu Maru before fishing in the waters off Iwaki, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, Japan. Suzuki and his son Fumio run a trawler that is one of 14 helping to conduct once-a-week fishing expeditions in rotation to measure radiation levels of fish they catch in the waters off Fukushima. Fishermen in the area hope to resume test catches following favorable sampling results more than two years after the disaster, though for now fishing is suspended due to leaks of radiation-contaminated water from storage tanks at the nuclear power plant. (AP Photo/Koji Ueda)

The government's safety limit is 100 becquerels per kilogram, but local officials have set a stricter bar of 50 becquerels, said Hatta, who still expects test fishing to resume in September.

It all depends on the type of fish, their habitat and what they eat. Out of 170 types of fish tested, 42 fish species are off limits due to concern they are too radioactive, another 15 species show little or no signs of contamination. Few, if any, show any detectable levels of cesium.

Tests take over a month and are complicated. The time lag makes it difficult to say at any given point if sea life caught off the Fukushima coast is really safe to eat.

In this Aug. 26, 2013 photo, fishermen Choji Suzuki, left, and his son Fumio sort out fish they caught aboard their boat Ebisu Maru in the waters off Iwaki, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, Japan. Suzuki's trawler is one of 14 at his port helping to conduct once-a-week fishing expeditions in rotation to measure radiation levels of fish they catch in the waters off Fukushima. Fishermen in the area hope to resume test catches following favorable sampling results more than two years after the disaster, though for now fishing is suspended due to leaks of radiation-contaminated water from storage tanks at the nuclear power plant. (AP Photo/Koji Ueda)

Also, local labs lack the ability to test fish for other toxic elements such as strontium and tritium. Scientists say strontium should be particularly watched for, as it accumulates in bones. TEPCO's monitoring results of sea water show spikes in strontium levels in recent weeks.

Suzuki has little faith in the future of his business.

"People in the fishing business have no choice but to give up," he said. "Many have mostly given up already."

Explore further: Boosting global corn yields depends on improving nutrient balance

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

High cesium level found in fish by Fukushima plant

Mar 17, 2013

The Japanese utility that owns the tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant says it has detected a record 740,000 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium in a fish caught close to the plant.

TEPCO: Record high radiation level found in fish

Jan 18, 2013

A fish contaminated with radiation levels more than 2,500 times the legal limit has been caught near Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, its operator said Friday.

Toxic puddles at Fukushima nuclear plant: report

Aug 19, 2013

Puddles with extremely high radiation levels have been found near water storage tanks at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, Japan's atomic regulator and operator said Monday, according to a report.

Fukushima workers checking 300 tanks for more leaks

Aug 22, 2013

Workers at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant on Thursday scrambled to check hundreds of tanks storing highly radioactive water, after one sprang a leak that is feared to have seeped into the Pacific.

Record radiation in fish off Japan nuclear plant

Aug 21, 2012

A pair of greenlings have shown the highest level of radioactive caesium detected in fish and shellfish caught in waters off Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, its operator said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Global change: Trees continue to grow at a faster rate

34 minutes ago

Trees have been growing significantly faster since the 1960s. The typical development phases of trees and stands have barely changed, but they have accelerated—by as much as 70 percent. This was the outcome ...

Study finds Great Barrier Reef is an effective wave absorber

38 minutes ago

New research has found that the Great Barrier Reef is a remarkably effective wave absorber, despite large gaps between the reefs. This means that landward of the reefs, waves are mostly related to local winds rather than ...

Cape Cod saltmarsh recovery looks good, falls short

51 minutes ago

After decades of decline, grasses have returned to some once-denuded patches of Cape Cod's saltmarshes. To the eye, the marsh in those places seems healthy again, but a new study makes clear that a key service ...

Manure offsets fertiliser's nano-scale changes

54 minutes ago

A UWA study has shown how long-term use of chemical fertilisers changes the soil on a nanoparticle scale and how these changes can be avoided by adding organic matter such as manure.

Red tide off northwest Florida could hit economy

4 hours ago

It's like Florida's version of The Blob. Slow moving glops of toxic algae in the northeast Gulf of Mexico are killing sea turtles, sharks and fish, and threatening the waters and beaches that fuel the region's ...

User comments : 0