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Japan Nuclear Accident: Overview & Test Results

We were the first retailer to release the results of radiation tests on Pacific seafood products harvested after the accident in Japan.

Six rounds of tests – conducted from March of 2012 through April of 2016 – found our seafood completely safe.

Look below for the results of each of the six rounds of tests conducted to date.

No matter how the situation evolves over time, we will ensure that all products we sell meet high standards of purity and safety.

After all, Vital Choice families are among the largest consumers of our own fish.

You will find more information about our test program below, followed by relevant information. And we post the latest news in the Updates column at right.

You may also want to see this information:

To put radiation risks in perspective, we recommend "Fear vs. Radiation: The Mismatch", an October 21, 2013 essay in The New York Times by risk-assessment expert David Ropeik of Harvard University.

We compiled a chart that compares our March, 2012 test results to the radiation levels in common foods ... click here or on the image below to see the full-size version with explanatory text.


Results of tests on Vital Choice Seafood

April, 2016: Normal, safe cesium/iodine levels

Eurofins Laboratories again tested our sockeye salmon, king salmon, and albacore tuna for cesium-134, cesium-137, and iodine-131. They found no detectable amounts, except for barely detectable, clearly safe traces of cesium-137 in a sample of king salmon.

January, 2015: Normal, safe cesium/iodine levels; Safe level of strontrium-90 detected in dubious result

SGS and Eurofins Laboratories tested our sockeye salmon, king salmon, and albacore tuna for cesium-134, cesium-137, iodine-131, and strontium-90. They found only barely-detectable traces ... except for a higher but clearly safe amount of strontium-90 in our sockeye. (The presence of strontium-90, especially at the level reported, appears highly implausible, as we explain.)

November, 2013: No strontium-90 detected

SGS Laboratories tested our westward-migrating seafood (sockeye salmon, king salmon, albacore tuna) for a scarce but concerning radionuclide called strontium-90, and detected none.

September, 2013: Normal, safe cesium/iodine levels

Eurofins Laboratories tested our salmon (pink, king, sockeye, silver), tuna, cod, halibut, and sablefish for cesium-134, cesium-137, and iodine-131, and found none.

September, 2012: Normal, safe cesium/iodine levels

Eurofins Laboratories tested our Pacific albacore and our Alaskan halibut, sockeye salmon, and cod. They found no cesium-134 or iodine 131, and only a barely detectable, clearly safe level of Cesium 137 in a sample of cod.

March, 2012: Normal, safe cesium/iodine levels

Eurofins Laboratories tested 15 species of fish and shellfish for cesium-134, cesium-137, and iodine-131, and found none.


Why the risk of future contamination is near zero

Radiation released from Japan's nuclear plants is very unlikely to contaminate seafood harvested from Alaskan or North Pacific waters.

No Vital Choice seafood is caught, spawns, or swims and stays near the stricken nuclear plant on the northeastern coast of Japan. See the information on this page to learn why none of our fish could present a credible health risk.

North Pacific albacore tuna is the only species we sell that could migrate to within 100 miles of the affected area. Sockeye is the only salmon species we sell that migrates through the mid-Pacific ocean.


Vital Choice seafood harvest areas

  • All of our Pacific seafood – salmon, sablefish, halibut, cod, prawns, shrimp, Dungeness crab, mussels, and clams – is caught or harvested off Alaska, Washington State, Oregon, and British Columbia (BC), between 4,000 and 5,000 miles east of the nuclear plant.

  • The sole exceptions are albacore tuna and king crab. Our albacore is caught off Midway Island, and our king crab is caught in the Bering Sea. Both areas are located about 2,500 miles east of the plant.

  • Our sardines and mackerel are caught off the Atlantic coast of Portugal, about 7,000 miles from the Japanese plant.


Sockeye migration routes:
Blue (Alaskan) and Red (British Columbia) lines

Neither route comes within 1,000 miles of Japan. Our sockeye salmon are caught off Alaska and British Columbia, about 5,000 miles east of Japan

Sockeye Migration

Click here to view an animated map of Pacific Ocean currents. The map – updated every 5 days – is a project of Earth & Space Research (ESR), whose Ocean Surface Current Analyses Real-time (OSCAR) software calculates ocean surface velocities from satellite data..

The following explanation of the safety of North Pacific albacore tuna and Alaskan salmon comes from the May 3rd, 2011 joint statement by the U.S. EPA, FDA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the the FDA's December 7 update:

  • Juvenile North Pacific albacore tuna (2‐5 years old) typically begin an annual transoceanic migration in the spring and early summer in waters off Japan, continue migrating throughout the late summer into inshore waters off the U.S. Pacific coast, and end their migration in the late fall and winter in the western Pacific ocean. Migratory patterns of North American Pacific salmon most commonly do not reach the coastal or offshore waters of Japan. The majority of Alaska salmon spend most of their ocean residence in the Gulf of Alaska."

  • The migration of tuna and other species of fish from the coast of Japan to U.S. waters would take days or months under the best of circumstances, and vessels fishing beyond U.S. waters must also travel several days to return to port. During that time needed for a fish contaminated by radiation in Japan to migrate, be caught and reach the market, the level of short‐lived radionuclides such as I‐131 would drop significantly through natural radioactive decay. To date, no significantly elevated radiation levels have been detected in migratory species, including North Pacific albacore."

  • It is unlikely that a fish exposed to significant levels of radionuclides near the reactor could travel to U.S. waters and be caught and harvested. If this improbable trip did occur, the level of short-lived radionuclides such as I-131 would drop significantly through natural radioactive decay during the time needed to make the journey. At this time, Japanese tests have detected longer-lived radionuclides such as Cs-137 in only a few samples and at levels below FDA DILs [Derived Intervention Levels]. FDA's testing of fish imported from Japan has not detected the presence of Cs-137."

  • "The great quantity of water in the Pacific Ocean rapidly and effectively dilutes radioactive material ... radiation levels have dissipated rapidly, reaching drinking water standards by the 30 km [from the plant] test location. This means that seafood harvested in areas distant from the damaged reactor are unlikely to be affected."


Radiation experts see no cause for concern

A peer-reviewed study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June of 2013 evaluated the health risks of consuming Pacific bluefin tuna after the Fukushima event and the authors* came to this reassuring conclusion:

"The additional dose from Fukushima radionuclides to humans consuming tainted PBFT in the United States was calculated to be 0.9 and 4.7 µSv for average consumers and subsistence fishermen, respectively. Such doses are comparable to, or less than, the dose all humans routinely obtain from naturally occurring radionuclides in many food items, medical treatments, air travel, or other background sources."

The authors also reported these very reassuring facts, which put the risk into context:

  • A typical restaurant-sized portion of Pacific bluefin tuna (200 grams, or 7 ounces) contains about 5 percent of the radiation you would get from eating one uncontaminated banana and absorbing it's naturally occurring radiation. All foods on the planet contain radiation. Like every other toxin, it's the dose of radiation (rather than its simple presence) that determines whether it's toxic to humans.

  • Levels of naturally occurring radioactive isotopes (polonium-210 and potassium-40) in bluefin tuna are greater by orders of magnitude than levels of radioactive isotopes from Fukushima contamination (cesium-134 and cesium-137). In fact, levels of polonium-210 were 600 times higher than cesium. This suggests that the additional radiation (in the form of cesium) from Fukushima is insignificant from a health perspective.

  • Even at very high intakes (3/4 of a pound of contaminated bluefin tuna a day) for an entire year, you'd still receive only 12 percent of the dose of radiation you're exposed to during one cross-country flight from LA to New York.

  • Assuming the very high levels of fish consumption above, the excess relative risk of fatal cancer would be only 2 additional cases per 10 million similarly exposed people. And there's reason to believe that number is no more than chance. Statistically significant elevations in cancer risk are only observed at doses of radiation that are 25,000 times higher than what you'd be exposed to by eating 3/4 of a pound of bluefin tuna per day.

  • Some bottom-feeding fish right off the coast of Japan contain much higher levels of radiation (i.e. >250 times more cesium) than those found in Pacific bluefin tuna. Even if you consumed 1/3 of a pound per day of this highly contaminated fish, you'd still be below the international dose limit for radiation exposure from food.

*The authors came from Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station, Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety


Dilution of radiation in the ocean

On April 5, 2011, National Public Radio interviewed Dr. Masashi Kusakabe, director of Japan's Nakaminato Laboratory for Marine Radioecology, which studies what happens to radioactive material that gets into the ocean.

As Kusakabe noted, "the ocean is so vast that radioactive materials are heavily diluted by the time they travel even a few miles".

And on May 3, 2011, The New York Times reviewed the radiation risks to Americans from the Japanese plant, and the facts presented suggest that the risks are extremely low: see "Drumbeat of Nuclear Fallout Fear Doesn't Resound With Experts".

Here are some relevant comments from Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the State of Alaska.

  • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that it expects that no harmful levels of radioactivity would travel from Japan to the United States "given the thousands of miles between the two countries." (NYT 3/16/2011)

  • Union of Concerned Scientists physicist Ed Lyman, Ph.D., told The Anchorage Daily News, "it's unlikely, even worst case, that there would be significant health effects for [North American] people." (ADN 2011)

  • John Hocevar of the Greenpeace Oceans Campaign wrote in a letter to SeafoodNews.com, "… we have no reason to believe that radioactive contamination currently provides any health concern for seafood from the North Pacific." (SNC 3/16/2011)


State of Alaska pledges close scrutiny

The state of Alaska issued two statements in mid-March of 2011:

Radiation from nuclear event in Japan

We don't expect significant levels of radioactivity in our state, and there's no health risk at this time. Japan is thousands of miles from our state, and if radioactivity from the reactors is released it would be expected to be thinned-out by the winds before it could reach us.

We could see a very small increase in radiation levels — well below levels that would be a health concern. We're working with federal, state, and local agencies in a coordinated effort to monitor radiation levels in Alaska.

State continues monitoring damaged Japanese reactor situation:
Still no immediate or anticipated threat in Alaska

The state of Alaska, along with our federal counterparts, is continuing to monitor the situation in Japan regarding their nuclear reactors.

Although the situation surrounding the nuclear reactors in Fukushima Dai-ichi remains grave, radioactive material is still not expected to reach Alaska in any quantity sufficient to produce health concerns, according to scientists with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The only way the atmospheric radiation can reach the U.S. is through the high level jet stream. The jet streams over the Pacific are far south of Alaska for the next three days. There is no immediate or anticipated threat of harmful radiation reaching Alaska or its waters, therefore all seafood and other food items produced in Alaska are safe to consume. State officials will notify the public through regular media channels and department websites should the situation change.


Sources

Japan Situation Updates

According to the leading Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, government agencies detected no radiation in any seafood caught off Fukushima Prefecture, for the first time since the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Official Japanese tests cover seafood caught in 30 places within 20 kilometers of the nuclear plant.

(No radiation was detected in private seafood tests commissioned in 2013 by the Soma Futaba Fisheries Cooperative; see that report below.)

Species including bass, rockfish and stone flounder were tested between Nov. 11 and Nov. 28, and they all fell below the detection threshold for radioactive cesium.

Scientists say that most of the contaminated marine life has either passed its natural lifespan, or most of the radioactive cesium has left their bodies.

September 8, 2016
Alaskan seafood found
free of Fukushima radiation

The most recent FDA tests of Alaskan seafood, conducted in August and September of 2016, found no radionuclides in fish caught and Alaskan waters. (Radionuclides are atoms that emit radiation.)

Alaska state agencies (DEC and DHSS) worked with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to analyze Alaska fish species in 2014 and 2015. No Fukushima-related radionuclides were detected in any of the fish samples analyzed.

February 23, 2016
No Fukushima radiation detected in Canadian salmon
Scientists at Western Canada's University of Victoria found no Fukushima-related radionuclides in salmon caught off the coast of British Columbia, from where some Vital Choice salmon is sourced.

Some samples contained minuscule, completely safe levels of cesium-137, traces of which remain in the Pacific Ocean from nuclear tests conducted in the 1950s and 1960s.

December 29, 2014
Radioactivity in Pacific Coast waters projected to peak at very safe levels by 2016

Radioactivity from Japan will likely peak in North America's Pacific coastal waters over the next year or two, according to a Canadian-led scientific team.

Their analysis in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the projected peak "does not represent a threat to human health or the environment."

And the scientists predict that radioactivity in Pacific Northwest coastal waters will return to normal by 2021.

Canadian Coast Guard ships are collecting seawater up to 930 miles off the coast at depths of up to 2/3 of a mile, and scientists are testing it for two Fukushima radionuclides: Cesium-137 and Cesium-134.

Cesium-137 lingers for decades, but Cesium-134 decays with a few years.

The natural background level for Cesium-137 in the Pacific Ocean is about one becquerel (Bq) per cubic meter.

The Fukushima accident raised Cesium-137 levels off Canada's Pacific coast to about 2 Bq per cubic meter, and they're expected to peak at 3 to 5 Bq by 2016.

The projected peak is 2,000 times lower than Canadian limits for drinking water (10,000 Bq per cubic meter)

Accordingly, the scientists say that neither current levels nor the projected peak levels pose any risk to seafood consumers.

They noted that the dose expected from consuming Pacific bluefin tuna is comparable to the dose found in many common food items, and only a small fraction of doses from other sources.

June 25, 2014
State of Alaska detects no Japan-origin radiation in regional seafood

Today, the State of Alaska released the results of radiation testing of seafood from across the state, including all significant harvest areas. No radiation from the Fukushima nuclear reactor was detected.

The testing found no Fukushima-related radioisotopes (Iodine-131, Cesium-134, Cesium-137) … only normal, safe levels of naturally occurring radiation. The results indicate no risks.

The samples included tissue from several fish harvested all around the state, from the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea to Southeast Alaska.

January 17, 2014
Scientists refute rumors about radiation in seafood and West Coast waters

On January 12, the Los Angeles Times refuted a "persistent stream of fear mongering about a radiation threat in American seafood and along California coasts".

The article links to posts by credible researchers at Deep Sea News and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The recent fears were stoked by online videos, blogs and social media.

As LA Times reporter Tony Baboza wrote, credible scientists agree that "Fukushima radionuclides in ocean water and marine life are at trace levels and declining – so low that they are trivial compared with what already exists in nature".

October 3, 2013
No radiation detected in fish caught near Fukushima

No radiation was detected in seafood caught in the Pacific Ocean near the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

Tests looking for radionuclides from the plant were commissioned by the Soma Futaba Fisheries Cooperative.

The tests covered 11 species of fish, plus squid, crab, and octopus.

According to Cooperative, no radioactive substances were detected in any of the samples.

Fukushima Prefecture has been testing radioactive cesium levels in marine products caught in local waters since April, 2011, one month after the reactor meltdowns.

It measures weekly radiation levels of 150 or so fish samples at about 40 locations in waters off Fukushima Prefecture, except the area within a 5-km radius of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant.

In tests in recent months, most marine samples, including flounder and white bait showed levels below the detection limit (16 becquerels per kilogram).

September 12, 2013
Bogus Internet rumors about radiation spread across Pacific

Recently, some bloggers have misrepresented the meaning of a graphic from the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ... a myth that's gone viral.

These bloggers claim that the NOAA graphic shows the flow of radiation from Japan. However, that claim is easily debunked, as in a post titled "Fukushima Emergency" at the fact-check website Snopes.com.

In fact, the alleged "radiation flow" map is NOAA's map of Pacific wave heights following the 2011 earthquake.

Yet, the NOAA wave map continues to spread, mislabeled, even though you can easily see a height-spectrum scale at its right-hand side.

June, 2013
National Academy of Sciences finds Pacific bluefin tuna safe

A peer-reviewed study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June of 2013 evaluated the health risks of consuming Pacific bluefin tuna after the Fukushima event and came to this reassuring conclusion:

"The additional dose from Fukushima radionuclides to humans consuming tainted PBFT in the United States was calculated to be 0.9 and 4.7 µSv for average consumers and subsistence fishermen, respectively. Such doses are comparable to, or less than, the dose all humans routinely obtain from naturally occurring radionuclides in many food items, medical treatments, air travel, or other background sources."

The authors came from Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station, Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety.

October 24, 2012
U.S. scientists find Pacific albacore tuna safe to eat

Scientists from Oregon State University and NOAA tested samples of albacore tuna caught off the West Coast of the U.S.

The fish show minute traces of radiation from the Fukushima reactor disaster, but at levels far below anything that would pose a risk to humans.

As they said, "To increase their normal annual dosage of radiation by just 1 percent, a person would have to eat more than 4,000 pounds of the highest (radiation) level albacore we've seen."

Read the full story here.

June 21, 2012
FDA detects no radiation in seafood from Japan

U.S. FDA tests on 199 samples of seafood from Japan (including king, silver, pink, and sockeye salmon) found no detectable radionuclides.

The lastest test was on Japanese mackerel, reported on May 14, 2012.

The test results and their meaning are described on the FDA's Radiation Safety page, from which you can access the results of all 1,313 tests.

This is the key excerpt:

"As of June 20th, FDA import investigators had performed 32,685 field examinations for radionuclide contamination [geiger counter, etc.]. FDA had tested 1313 samples, 199 which were seafood or seafood products. 1312 samples had no Iodine-131, Cesium-134, Cesium-137, or other gamma-ray emitting radionuclides of concern. One sample [ginger powder* from Japan] was found to contain detectable levels of Cesium, but was below the established Derived Intervention Level (DIL) and posed no public health concern."