Japan’s terrible radiation situation is having an impact on its food-exporting business, as countries like South Korea and Thailand begin measuring imports like fish, meat, and seaweed for radioactivity. Hey, I wonder if anything radioactive is coming to the U.S. The U.S. is wondering, too.

Turns out that we don’t really have much to worry about on that score: Japan eats most of its food domestically. A mere 9,000 tons of produce was shipped from Japan to European nations in 2010, for instance, reports the Wall Street Journal. Also reassuring: Most of Japan’s produce is already grown in greenhouses, which might help protect it from radiation.

Now for the scary stuff. Here’s the way contamination works: Particles fall onto plants and feed. These are eaten by humans and animals. When animals consume radioactive food, and then we eat the animals or drink their milk, the radioactivity comes along for the ride. After Chernobyl, one of the worst health effects was the spike in kids developing thyroid cancer: about 6,000 according to the UN. Turns out the problem was the radioactive iodine-131 concentrating in cows’ milk. Cows are great at picking up radioactivity from the grass and spewing it out in their milk.

Speaking of Chernobyl, radiation levels in the worst-hit spots still remain so high that local animals and mushrooms (nature’s little radiation sponges) are too dangerous for humans to consume.

Image source: Flickr member Ana_Fuji under Creative Commons

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