SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

The World

March 24, 2011

Japan's fishermen fear spread of radiation scare

(Continued)

At the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, which ships Kesennuma's catch to ports across the globe, wholesalers say that overseas orders have been slashed and prices on some fresh fish have fallen by half due to radioactivity concerns.

In recent days, the market's sushi bars, which usually are packed with tourists who wait more than two hours for service, are now half-empty.

At one export stall, exporter Yasuhiro Yamazaki had a cellphone pressed to his ear as he fielded calls from customers in the U.S., Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Indonesia. They all wanted to know the same thing: Are Japan's fish contaminated?

Said Yamazaki: "We are up against an invisible enemy."

The growing concerns could cause his company, one of the nation's largest exporters, to lose $10 million, roughly 20 percent of his annual revenues.

It's not clear how much seepage of radioactive isotopes has flowed into the sea at Fukushima through sources ranging from windblown smoke settling atop the water to possibly tens of thousands of gallons of water that has been pumped into the stricken reactors or dumped from above by helicopter. Water pumped into the reactors to cool the rods is usually protected from contamination by a zirconium casing; but casings have melted when reactors overheated, exposing any water moving past to high levels of radiation.

Some fishing industry officials here say they have been told by experts that radioactive particles that drifted out over the ocean have fallen into the water and could be absorbed into the local food chain.

As workers seek to repair the nuclear plant, the impact of radioactivity on comestibles produced here is intensifying. Officials have now urged consumers not to eat a dozen types of vegetables from Fukushima prefecture after traces of the radioactive isotopes iodine-131 and cesium-137 were found in the region. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned the import of milk, fresh fruit and vegetables from four areas near the nuclear plant.

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