Studies detailing adverse long-term health effects following the Fukushima disaster have been rather inconclusive. However, with debris beginning to wash up on US shores, some may begin to worry. As of now, only twelve pieces of debris have made their way to American soil of the 2 million tons that remain unaccounted for.
In our oceans
Getting an exact measurement of radiation in our surf at any given time is difficult. The decay of radioactive materials, often measured in becquerels, varies depending on the pocket of water that you’re studying. Ocean currents and eddies make the task more difficult, though decent estimates can be made. However, an estimate will never be perfect information.
It is extremely difficult to attribute individual instances of cancer to radiation – ambient or otherwise. While large radiation doses (one Sievert or greater) can be conclusively related to radiation sickness, no one is sure how much damage is caused by smaller doses. Even if someone is exposed to one Sievert of radiation the person has a 5% chance of dying as a result of it.
Projections of deaths due to radiation range widely, from as few as 15 to as high as 1,300. In a study that appeared in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, researchers projected 1.4 deaths in North America and 0.89 in Europe as a result of the radiation. In comparison, around 20,000 people were killed by the tsunami itself.
What can I do?
There is no miracle cure for the effects of radiation. Additionally, it’s everywhere. One kilogram of coffee has an estimated 1,000 becquerels of radiation. Humans have an estimated 100 becquerels per kilogram.
There are sometimes stockpiles of potassium iodide near nuclear power plants in case of a disaster. Potassium iodide protects against only one radioactive element: Iodine-131. But the primary radioactive element projected to reach the west coast’s shores is Cesium-137, which we have no surefire protection against.
The best protection we have against any level of radiation that we might face, as with many other cancer-causing agents, is a diet rich in antioxidants. Curcumin, the active compound in tumeric, helps to protect a number of body tissues. Reishi and cordyceps mushrooms can protect bone marrow. Some researchers also suggest garlic extract, ginger, melatonin, and magnesium supplements. Again, these supplements aid in preventing cancer in general; they are not silver bullets, and taking more than the recommended dose is not a healthy practice.
The last thing to remember is that there are dozens of radioactive elements and many sources of radiation. Every time you step outside you are bombarded with solar radiation. Fukushima is not the first (nor will it be the last) radiation threat and there are thousands of other cancer-causing agents in the world. The tsunami was a grave disaster, but it is by no means the end of the world.