Japan Nuclear Crisis Prompts Seafood Concerns

The Japan nuclear crisis is now raising questions about seafood safety, following news earlier this week that the owner of the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station was dumping millions of gallons of radioactive water into the sea. The situation has prompted the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to require that seafood imported from Japan to be checked for radiation before it enters the food supply.

Radiation in seawater near the stricken nuclear reactors is now testing at 7.5 million times more radioactive than the legal limit. That has prompted the Japanese government to enact new radiation standards for fish.

Last month, the FDA halted the import of produce and dairy products from areas of Japan near the damaged reactors. Less than 4 percent of the food imported into the U.S. comes from Japan. According to the FDA, the most common Japanese imports include seafood, snack foods and processed fruits and vegetables.

“Other food products from this area, including seafood, although not subject to the Import Alert, will be diverted for testing by FDA before they can enter the food supply,” the FDA said in a prepared statement. “FDA will also be monitoring and testing food products, including seafood, from other areas of Japan as appropriate.”

However, according to a report from ABC News, the FDA’s new screening protocol does not entail testing all of the seafood. In fact, the FDA inspects less than 2 percent of seafood because of staffing and time constraints.

Since the screening began, the FDA has confirmed radioactive isotopes in three food products at levels that were “all too low to cause adverse events.” The agency maintains that every piece of seafood that has been imported to the United States is safe.

Meanwhile, experts say the Japan nuclear crisis is likely to lead to massive radiation legal claims against Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) – possibly the biggest in the country’s history. According to a Reuters report, the cost for the nuclear disaster is likely to be split between the utility and the Japanese government.

The material damage alone from last month’s devastating earthquake and tsunami is expected to total $300 billion, not counting the drag on the country’s economy caused by power shortages and compensation claims. Analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimate that claims could top $130 billion if the crisis continues for two years, Reuters said.

According to Reuters, most radiation claims will be made under the country’s 1961 Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage, which does not cap liability. Japanese law does allow operators to avoid liability for damages if an accident is caused by “a grave natural disaster of an ‘exceptional’ nature,” Reuters said. But TEPCO, the owner of the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station, will likely face intense political pressure to take on some of the cost. One legal expert told Reuters the utility could face between “40 to 60 percent of the liability given their mismanagement in the weeks after the earthquake.”

Possible claimants include 163,000 residents of Fukushima prefecture who are living in shelters because of the evacuation caused by the nuclear disaster, people living outside the evacuation zone who are likely to see property values decline, farmers with damaged crops, and just about every business located within the evacuation zone.

Experts anticipate the government will establish a fund to begin paying off the most urgent claims as soon as it is practically able to, Reuters said. The most contentious claims will end up in court.

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