International Atomic Energy Agency Japanese Earthquake Update, 19 March 2011 (12:00 UTC)

Vienna, Austria–(ENEWSPF)–19 March 2011 – 12:00 UTC. 

Contamination in Food Products around Fukushima

(Please note correction posted 19 March at 15:30 UTC in bold in text below. Apologies for the inconvenience.)

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has confirmed the presence of radioactive iodine contamination in food products measured in the Fukushima Prefecture, the area around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. According to the latest data, the food products were measured from 16-18 March and indicated the presence of radioactive iodine. To date, no other radioactive isotopes have been shown to increase in the analysis of food products around Fukushima.

Though radioactive iodine has a short half-life of about 8 days and decays naturally within a matter of weeks, there is a short-term risk to human health if radioactive iodine in food is absorbed into the human body. If ingested, it can accumulate in and cause damage to the thyroid. Children and young people are particularly at risk of thyroid damage due to the ingestion of radioactive iodine.

Japanese authorities have implemented two critical measures to counter the contamination of food products by radioactive iodine. First, on 16 March, Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission recommended local authorities to instruct evacuees leaving the 20-kilometre area to ingest stable (not radioactive) iodine. As an established method of prevention, the ingestion of stable iodine can help to prevent the accumulation of radioactive iodine in the thyroid. Stable iodine pills and syrup (for children) have been made available at evacuation centres. Second, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has requested an investigation into the possible stop of sales of food products from the Fukushima Prefecture.

The IAEA has passed this information to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and will continue to report on this development.

According to materials on its website, the FAO is prepared to respond upon request from the Government of Japan in the following areas:

  • – assessing radioactive contamination of the agricultural environment, especially foods
  • – providing technical advice and determining appropriate medium- and long-term measures for agriculture — including soil, land, forests, crops, fisheries, animal health and welfare and food safety
  • – facilitating international trade of foods, including agricultural produce

The IAEA continues to gather information on this development and will report further as events warrant.