Someone stands in a hazard suit with a nuclear explosion in the background.
Graphic: Creative Commons.
By Jeffrey Ledesma
Japan’s northeastern farmlands have shown levels of radioactive material exceeding safety standards, according to a scientific study conducted by international researchers.
The report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, states that the Fukushima region has been “extensively contaminated” after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was damaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
According to the Los Angles Times, researchers say that although the levels of radioactive material found in neighboring prefectures, such as Miyagi, Tochigi and Ibaraki, were lower, the levels could still pose a threat to food production.
Specifically, the study looked at levels of cesium-137. The study warns that this is of particular concern because it takes decades to decay.
“[The fact that] Cesium-137 (137Cs) has a half-life of 30.1 [years] causes the largest concerns because of its deleterious effect on agriculture and stock farming, and, thus, human life for decades,” the study said. “Removal of 137Cs contaminated soils or land use limitations in areas where removal is not possible is, therefore, an urgent issue.”
Like all radionuclides, according to the U.S. Enviornmental Protection Agency, exposure to radiation from cesium-137 results in increased risk of cancer.
“Exposure to waste materials, from contaminated sites, or from nuclear accidents can result in cancer risks much higher than typical environmental exposures,” explains the agency. “If exposures are very high, serious burns, and even death, can result.”
According to the PNAS report, one of the main goals of the study, led by Teppei Yasunari of the Universities Space Research Association in Maryland, is to help in the decontamination and regulatory efforts in Japan.
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