If you go picking dandelions in the vicinity of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, you probably do not want to eat them.
But just as reports of a “China Syndrome” meltdown at Fukushima were premature, so too might be reports of Japan’s next disaster being the nuking of its food supply.
It is true that Japan has found radioactive iodine in food products near Fukushima.
Hong Kong is a large importer of Japanese food and it is located just 1,800 miles away. But Hong Kong officials are not worried. They’ve just been implementing their plan for dealing with a nuclear problem.
Two nuclear power stations in China’s Shenzhen province are located much closer to Hong Kong than Japan. At multiple locations in Hong Kong, daily measures are taken of the background radiation levels.
And within a couple of days of the devastating earthquake and punishing tsunami, Hong Kong on March 12 began testing food importers from Japan for radiation levels.
Through yesterday (March 21), Hong Kong’s Center for Food Safety, a unit of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, had tested 214 samples of food from Japan and none were a threat to human health.
Hong Kong’s daily tests have included samples from 57 lots of vegetables, 11 from fruits, two from milk powder, two from frozen confections, 119 from aquatic products, ten from meat, and 13 from other shipments like cereal products and snacks.
No fresh milk has been shipped to Hong Kong from Japan, so none has yet been tested.
Hong Kong officials are using hand-held survey meters for screening food imports from Japan. When readings beyond safety limits are taken, additional samples will be sent to the Government Laboratory for further quantitative analysis of Iodine-131, Caesium -134 and Caesium -137.
Hong Kong imported about 380 tons of foodstuffs from Japan in 2010. Japan was the source of about one percent of Hong Kong’s fruits and vegetables, and about five percent of its meat, milk, and frozen confections.
Importation of Japanese poultry and eggs was suspended last year over the avian flu scare.
Iodine levels in some public water systems around the damaged nuclear reactors in Japan were too high to be used as drinking water, while 150 miles away in Tokyo levels were low enough not to be a concern. (The tolerable limit for food and water is 300 becquerals per kg of iodine; Tokyo’s water was 1.5) The half-life for radioactive iodine is about eight days.
Japan’s March 11 “mega thrust” earthquake and subsequent tsunami appears to have killed more than 18,400 people. The largest number of deaths–some 15,000–was due to the tsunami hitting Miyagi prefecture.