Japanese officials announced on Monday that seawater near the damaged nuclear reactors has elevated levels of radioactivity, posing a threat to near-shore seafood resources. The New York Times examines the unpredictable path of radiation through the food chain after a nuclear accident and wonders about the danger to major North Pacific fisheries in the wake of the Japan crisis.
In a worst-case scenario, said Paul Falkowski, a professor of marine sciences and geology at Rutgers University, a major ocean current that travels up the coast of Japan, across the Pacific and into the Gulf of Alaska could carry radiation to Alaska fisheries months from now. He said the International Atomic Energy Agency should monitor such movements, although he and other experts considered it highly unlikely that the current would take the radiation to Alaska unless the leak became far worse.
Many fish and the oceans already contain radiation, both naturally occurring and as a result of prior nuclear testing, said [marine scientist Nicholas] Fisher, who added that current levels from the damaged reactors were not likely to be significant in terms of human health.
But he and other experts say that vigilance is crucial because problematic levels of radiation can turn up unexpectedly.
Meanwhile, Gunnar Knapp a professor of economics at the University of Alaska Anchorage and a fisheries economist, talked to the Deckboss blog about the possible effects of the earthquake/tsunami disaster on Japan's huge demand for Alaska fisheries products. There is some reason for worry, he says.
Different parts of the Alaska industry are likely to be affected to differing extents. My general instinct is that the events in Japan will be a significant disruption and will cause significant losses for some parts of the Alaska seafood industry, but that it will not be an economic catastrophe for the industry as a whole.
Alaska's seafood industry is diversified across many species and products and geographic markets. It does not depend entirely on Japan. Japan is a big country. There are large parts of the country that are not directly affected by the earthquake or tsunami or radiation concerns. And many of the effects will be fairly short-term.