The Internet was abuzz last week over a set of lurid images purporting to show the "freakish" effects of nuclear radiation on plant life in and around Fukushima, Japan.
ABC News admitted it was "unclear exactly where the images came from," but published them anyway. Yahoo News Singapore said it "hasn't been proved that the nuclear disaster is to blame," but published them anyway. So did the Daily Mail. After running a 22-image "Freaky Veggies from Fukushima" slideshow, msnNOW apologized for misinforming the public.
Turns out they, and we, got punked.
The majority of the photos weren't taken anywhere near Fukushima. Most are a year or more old (one actually dates back to 2004, seven years before the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown took place), and all of the deformities documented in the photos are naturally occurring and much more common than people might think.
Here are some of the more interesting "mutations" attributed to Fukushima radiation:
The photo at right first appeared on the TV Asahi website on July 13, 2011 in a feature devoted to odd and humorous pictures submitted by viewers. A Japanese source claims the tomato was harvested in Saitama, which, if true, means it was grown more than 150 miles from Fukushima. Far from being an "anomaly," it appears to be an example of a not-all-that-uncommon heirloom varietal known as a "reisetomate."
Tomato with green hair
"Mutation" number two, a tomato with green sprouts rising from the top, was first documented in a July 7, 2012 story in Japan's Asahi Shimbun, which states that the fruit in question was grown in Nara Prefecture, 500 miles from Fukushima. There was no mention of nuclear radiation, or even a suspicion of it. Overripe tomatoes sometimes sprout seedlings, that's just a fact. Here's another example. And another.
This nine-pound cabbage was harvested in Oita Prefecture, according to the June 16, 2012 edition of the Oita Godo Shimbun. The farmer, a Mr. Tsutsumi, said he couldn't explain why his cabbage was so much larger than his friend's, though the fact that he was holding it closer to the camera lens surely had something to do with it. Nuclear contamination would be the least likely explanation, given that Oita and Fukushima are a good 750 miles apart. By the way, have you ever seen a 17-pound head of cabbage? How about a 25-pounder?
This photo of a radish with digits came from a Dec. 13, 2004 posting on a Korean website. The EXIF data embedded in the image confirms the photo is nine years old. Needless to say, the deformity in question could not have been caused by radiation leakage from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, which occurred in March 2011. View more radishes with toes.
Split-personality mandarin orange
According to a Dec. 18, 2011 story in the Kumanichi Weekly, the half-green mandarin orange pictured at right was harvested in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture, a group of islands roughly a thousand miles from Fukushima. Want to see more examples of "chimeric" oranges? Look here. And here.
Featured on what must have been a very slow news day in the July 2, 2012 edition of the Daily Tohoku, this otherwise ordinary-looking cucumber with a leaf sprouting from its midriff was grown in a home garden in Towada, Aomori Prefecture, 300 miles north of Fukushima. You can view more examples of the same sort of anomaly, attributed in the news story to climate and soil conditions, here, here, and here.
At last, a specimen actually grown in Fukushima Prefecture! According to Fukushima Minpo, the five-fingered eggplant pictured at right was harvested near the city of Date, about 60 miles northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility, in August 2012. Was the anomaly caused by radioactive contamination? Unlikely. It's a common mutation found all over the world.
Experimental data on biological effects of nuclear contamination:
• Effects of Ionizing Radiation on Terrestrial Plants and Animals: A Workshop Report (1995)
• Gamma Irradiation Effects on Seed Germination and Growth, etc. (2008)