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A message from Forest Measurement Laboratory in Namegawa

March 6, 2021

A message from a representative of the Forest Measurement Laboratory, a group that measures radioactivity in Saitama Prefecture, just north of Tokyo. It was founded in the fall of 2012 mainly by mothers after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

They thought that measurements by municipalities were not sufficient to protect their children from radiation exposure, so they started this project by themselves.

March 23, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , | Leave a comment

8% of Japanese consumers still hesitate to buy Fukushima food products

At their own risk and peril. There is no acceptable safe threshold when it comes to radioactive contamination.

Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori (left) promotes peaches from the prefecture in the city of Fukushima in July.


Feb 28, 2021

About 8.1% of consumers in Japan still hesitate to buy food products from Fukushima Prefecture almost 10 years after the March 2011 nuclear disaster, a survey by the Consumer Affairs Agency has shown.

Although the figure is the lowest since the survey started in February 2013, the finding is “very regrettable,” Shinji Inoue, minister for consumer affairs and food safety, said after the survey was released Friday. “Safety has been secured” for produce from Fukushima, he added.

The latest survey, the 14th of its kind, was carried out online on Jan. 15-19, with answers received from 5,176 people in their 20s to 60s mainly in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

The share of respondents who hesitate to buy food products from Fukushima has been on the decline since hitting 19.6% in the August 2014 survey, and fell below 10% for the first time in the latest survey.

Fukushima is home to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, the site of the triple meltdown disaster triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

According to the survey, the share of respondents who hesitate to buy food products from Iwate, Miyagi or Fukushima prefectures dropped to a record low of 6.1%, down from 6.4% in the previous poll in February 2020. The three prefectures were hit hardest in the disaster.

A record high 62.1% of respondents said they do not know that checks for radioactive substances have been conducted on food products from disaster areas. The figure has been rising since standing at 22.4% in the first survey.

An official said the agency will continue efforts to not only boost the share of people who are aware of radiation checks but also offer all of the information available about radioactive substances in food products.https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/28/national/fukushima-products-survey/

February 28, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Radiation criteria sow confusion for evacuees

Workers decontaminate a road in a special reconstruction district in the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, in October. | FUKUSHIMA MINPO

February 26, 2021

Traffic was lighter on the Joban Expressway in the Futaba district in Fukushima Prefecture during the New Year holiday, with people avoiding traveling back to see their relatives due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Roadside signs show the radiation levels of areas near the no-go zones put in place after meltdowns in 2011 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, reflecting the fact that, even after 10 years, Fukushima residents are unable to return to their homes.

The no-go zones, which are considered uninhabitable for the foreseeable future due to high radiation levels, stretch through six Fukushima towns and villages: Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba, Namie, Katsurao and Iitate. Parts of those zones are now designated as special reconstruction districts, where the government will concentrate its decontamination efforts so that residents can return to their homes in the future.

A decade after the tsunami-triggered nuclear disaster, decontaminating the areas damaged by the fallout is a crucial part of the reconstruction that will pave the way for evacuees to come back to their homes and resume the life they had before the disaster.

But two figures of radiation exposure levels — 20 millisieverts a year and 1 millisievert a year — that the government provides as safety criteria are causing confusion among residents, triggering criticism of what could be called a double standard.

One of the criteria for the government to lift evacuation orders is whether the area’s annual cumulative radiation level has become 20 millisieverts or below, based on a recommendation from the nongovernmental International Commission on Radiological Protection.

When there is a nuclear disaster similar to that at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the ICRP recommends that annual radiation exposure should be limited to between 20 to 100 millisieverts immediately after the disaster. It then recommends the exposure is lowered to between 1 to 20 millisieverts during the reconstruction period.

As the minimum recommended exposure level right after a disaster, the 20 millisieverts mark became the radiation level yardstick for the central government to order the evacuation of a certain area after the nuclear meltdowns.

Meanwhile, the government has set up a long-term decontamination goal of reducing the radiation levels of contaminated areas to an annual 1 millisievert and below. This is to keep a lifetime exposure level below 100 millisievert — the level at which it starts to affect one’s health.

Therefore, the government stipulated the annual 1 millisievert exposure level in its reconstruction policy plan for Fukushima approved by the Cabinet in July 2012. The Environment Ministry aims to keep radiation levels in the special reconstruction district under 1 millisievert as a long-term goal.

However, the no-go zones had been above 50 millisieverts on an annual basis immediately after the nuclear meltdowns. The radiation level is on the decline with natural attenuation of radioactive cesium as well as weathering effects, but there are still patches with high radiation levels.

Even within the no-go zones, there is no easy way to carry out decontamination. Typically it is done by mowing lawns, raking up fallen leaves, washing down roads and other surfaces with a high-pressure water hose, and wiping off the walls and roofs of buildings and housing.

“It’s not easy to bring down radiation levels to 1 millisievert or below just with decontamination,” said an Environment Ministry official in charge.

In Article 1 of the radiation decontamination legislation established after the nuclear disaster, it is stipulated that the purpose of decontamination is to “minimize the health risks of radioactive exposure as much as possible.”

Despite the criteria for easing evacuation orders and the long-term goal on bringing down radiation levels, it is unclear how the government can lower radiation levels to 1 millisievert after evacuation orders are lifted for no-go zones.

The two figures are creating a confusion among local residents, who are torn between the desire to return to their homes and concerns over the radiation level.

“I won’t feel safe until annual radiation levels are below 1 millisievert,” one resident said, while another said, “Can you say for sure that an annual exposure of 20 millisieverts won’t affect our health in the future?”

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/26/national/fukushima-radiation-criteria/

February 28, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima rice farmers innovate to survive, 10 years after disaster

Rice planting for commercial sales began in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, in May, 2017, for the first time since the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster. |

February 21, 2021

Fukushima – Although the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture still casts a shadow over local agriculture a decade later, rice farmers are working to shake off radiation-related rumors and pass on Fukushima’s rice farming to the next generation.

Some are pinning hopes on an original rice brand developed in the prefecture to find a way to overcome the difficulties posed by the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant. The disaster was triggered by the major earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

The annual rice harvest in Fukushima, which totaled 445,700 tons in fiscal 2010, slid to 353,600 tons in the following year and has since remained at around 350,000-380,000 tons. Although exports of Fukushima-grown rice have been increasing in recent years thanks to promotion measures by the national government, shipments to Hong Kong, for example, plunged to 2.6 tons in fiscal 2019 from some 100 tons in fiscal 2010 due to the strengthening of purchase restrictions introduced after the disaster.

All Fukushima-made rice had to undergo checks for cesium and other residual radioactive substances to secure safety. Finally, in 2020, rice grown in areas other than 12 municipalities near the accident-hit power plant was switched to random checks.

Also in 2020, rice of the “Fuku, Warai” (lucky, laughter) original brand was harvested for the first time after 14 years of development by the Fukushima Agricultural Technology Center. Of the total 37 tons harvested, the producers sold 16.8 tons via the internet and stores in the Tokyo metropolitan area, exceeding the sales projection of 15 tons. Full-scale sales of the rice, whose features include sweetness and a rich scent, will start in fiscal 2021.

Fukushima Prefecture plans to allow only farmers certified by the Good Agriculture Practice program and other selected producers to engage in the cropping of the new rice brand, in order to ensure quality and credibility.

“I take pride in producing safe and secure rice,” said Shiroyuki Terasawa, 70, who is the only producer of the new rice brand in the Hamadori coastal region in Fukushima Prefecture. “I want everyone to know that Fukushima-grown rice is tasty.”

Terasawa’s rice field in the city of Minamisoma was washed away by the tsunami. Despite worries about rumors related to the nuclear disaster, he restarted full-scale farming in 2015, out of a sense of responsibility for keeping local agriculture alive.

According to an official from the Fukushima prefectural government, some of those who initially abandoned farming have returned in recent years, partly thanks to large-scale streamlined farm operations realized through the establishment of agricultural corporations.

Terasawa also set up a corporation and started so-called smart farming, utilizing drones and GPS devices, on large-scale farmland of some 55 hectares. “Although the scenery and the environment have changed from before the disaster, I want to stay active in farming as long as I live.” he said.

Ami Endo, 23, from Minamisoma, experienced the disaster when she was 13.

“I wanted to restore the rural landscape and interactions among people in the local community that used to be common” before the disaster, she said, explaining her decision to go to an agricultural technical college and work in the farming sector.

Endo gave her father a push to resume farming although he was reluctant to begin again. They have been rice cropping together since 2019.

“I don’t see people of my age at community gatherings,” Endo said, aware that young people are moving away from agriculture.

She stays positive, however, saying: “I can learn things I don’t know from my predecessors in the community. I want to create an all-round company that will handle production, commercialization and distribution (of agricultural products).”https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/fukushima-rice-innovation/

February 21, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima residents demand stricter decontamination to enable safe return

Residents of the Yonomori district in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, march with a portable shrine in April 2007.

January 22, 2021

“Will Tomioka go back to how it was before?” Looking at the results of a survey, Kazuyoshi Kamata, vice head of the Yonomori Station northern administrative district in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, reflects on his hometown and its reconstruction following the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triple meltdown in 2011.

In the surveys conducted by the Reconstruction Agency last fall, Tomioka residents listed important conditions in deciding whether they would return to their hometown or not, such as the reopening and construction of new medical, welfare and elder care facilities as well as the resumption and improvement of shopping complexes.

One condition that stands out among the list, though, is a further reduction in the amount of radiation, which 1 in 3 residents raised as an important issue. The government has been decontaminating specially designated areas, where it was once thought that settlement was limited for good but which can be reopened for residents. It has set the annual radiation exposure limit to be lower than 20 millisieverts as one of the standards to lift the evacuation orders.

Now that nearly 10 years have passed since the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, Kamata stressed the need for the government to decontaminate the area under stricter standards so that residents will feel safer returning to their hometown.

“In order to maintain people’s feelings for their hometowns, I want (the government) to stick to the stance of rebuilding our Tomioka in the form that we all want, including restoring the (basic living) environment.”

Tomioka’s Yonomori district used to be bustling with an increasing population, said Kamata, adding that younger generations supported the local community by planning events utilizing a famous row of cherry blossom trees and developing agriculture centered around rice crops.

“The district was a place full of energy where everyone, regardless of generation, was involved in making the local community,” said Kamata.

At the Yonomori cherry blossom festival held in spring, for example, smiles spread among residents as children strolled around, and the event also featured a mikoshi, or Shinto palanquin, from Otoshi Shrine.

The government is also doing its part in reconstructing the specially designated area in Tomioka by establishing zones focused on revitalizing businesses and agriculture. With creating agricultural corporations and making use of tourism resources such as roadside cherry blossom trees as the two main pillars, the government is working to attract about 1,600 people to live there, which is 40% of the population before the accident.

In the meantime, residents have been raising concerns about the 20 millisieverts condition, demanding a higher standard and more decontamination. In places that have recorded higher radiation levels, it is expected there will be damage from harmful rumors about things including tourism and agriculture.

“Without people, reconstruction would not begin. Creating conditions to invite more people without concerns is of utmost importance,” said Kamata, arguing that alongside other areas, restoring the living environment, including decontamination with the aim of lowering the annual radiation exposure to 1 millisevert or less, will be needed for future generations to live in Yonomori.

“Once the evacuation order is lifted, I want the local community to regain its connections within (the district),” said Kamata, hoping to take on a role of handing down the district’s traditions and way of life, as well as traditional scenery, to younger generations once he returns. As a vice-head of the administrative district, though, Kamata also intends to communicate crucial issues to the local government while residing in the area.

The lifting of the evacuation order in the specially designated area is expected in the spring of 2023, 12 years after the order was first issued.

“Without tackling issues such as restoring the living environment and infrastructure, as well as decommissioning of the Fukushima No.1 plant in a diligent manner, people won’t come back,” said Kamata. Now he hopes the government will share his passion for the hometown’s rebuilding.

This section features topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original article was published Jan. 12.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/01/22/national/fukushima-decontaminating-town/

January 25, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Forests affected by Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident

November 22, 2020

Forestry was once a thriving industry in Fukushima – until the 2011 nuclear disaster struck. More than 70 percent of the prefecture is covered with trees, but large areas have been abandoned or neglected.

“It’s regrettable. I didn’t even imagine things were so bad,” says forester Akimoto Kimio, who visited a plantation in Tomioka, about 10 kilometers away from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Ever since an earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the facility, the forest has been abandoned. Some of its most prized pine trees, more than 50 years old, have died.

Akimoto, 72, heads a local forestry cooperative that was relocated elsewhere in the prefecture following the nuclear accident. But after nine years and eight months, it returned to Tomioka on November 4.

Akimoto Kimio, the head of the Futaba district forestry cooperative.

The forestry cooperative ships timber and manages maintenance, such as thinning out trees. Akimoto oversees about 2,000 hectares, 60 percent of which is in areas subject to an evacuation order due to high radiation levels.

His cooperative used to have 20 workers. At one point, the number dwindled to just two. Akimoto has worked hard to keep it afloat, negotiating with the central government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company on decontamination work and compensation. He believes forest preservation will one day help to ensure evacuated residents can return.

Unattended areas of woodland can pose various risks, including fires. A contaminated forest would be particularly hazardous in the event of a landslide, because the mud flow is likely to contain radioactive substances.

n 2017, a forest fire near Tomioka burned down trees on a 75-hectare-plot. It took 11 days to extinguish.

“Our mission is to take good care of our hometown forests and enhance the surrounding environment,” says Akimoto on the day his cooperative returned to Tomioka.

“We will help lay the groundwork to ensure residents can return worry-free. We hope many will come home.”

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/1383/

November 22, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Radioactive Isotopes Measured at Olympic and Paralympic Venues in Fukushima Prefecture and Tokyo, Japan

November 12, 2020

“This newly reviewed study of Radioactive Dusts and Dirt at Japanese Olympic sites and throughout Northern Japan by Fairewinds and Marco Kaltofen has four significant conclusions:

Different types of alpha and beta radioactive micro-particles were released at other times and landed in various locations throughout Japan. “The exclusive use of cesium-137 beta activity levels as a proxy for total internal and external exposure, therefore, introduces dose assessment errors.”

“Rooftops previously decontaminated in Minamisoma are recontaminated by airborne atmospheric dust containing radionuclides … from the Fukushima meltdowns. The data show a need for continuing reassessment and potentially, additional remedial work on many sites in Fukushima Prefecture.”

The greater Tokyo Olympic venues had activities similar to sample sites in the US. In contrast, Olympic sites in Northern Japan near Fukushima contained an average of about twice as much radioactivity as Tokyo, with Plutonium identified at the J-Village National Training Center.

Non-Olympic sites throughout Japan averaged 7.0 times greater beta activity than the Tokyo Olympic venues. These data show that remediation emphasized the Olympic venues over cleaning other contaminated parts of Japan.”

https://www.fairewinds.org/demystify/radioactive-isotopes-measured-at-olympic-and-paralympic-venues-in-fukushima-prefecture-and-tokyo-japan?fbclid=IwAR25v6TXTqn7TOPNxRoBkwLzF9r6_YLEPi3IbcMlpNnkA5s1tFhh5x4MAVY

November 15, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Rice harvested in ‘Fukushima’s tsunami-hit area’

Mind you, in this title they call it ‘Fukushima’s tsunami-hit area’ and not Fukushima Daiichi’s nuclear disaster-hit area”, the usual subtle propaganda from the Japanese media’s spin doctors denying the existing resulting radiation and contamination

October 3, 2020

Rice was harvested in the coastal areas of Namie Town, Fukushima Prefecture for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Rice farming resumed in the town’s inland areas after the evacuation order following the nuclear accident was lifted three years ago, but it only partially resumed this year in the coastal area where fields were hit by the tsunami and needed to be restored.

Personnel of an agricultural company that is leasing rice fields from farmers and about 30 students from Tokyo University of Agriculture, which has an alliance with the town, harvested golden rice plants on Saturday.

The rice will be sold at local roadside stands and at the university shop.

Shikoda Yuji, representative of Fukushima Stage Farm says, although the work to remove debris was painstaking, he was deeply moved to see rice being harvested in the tsunami-hit area for the first time in 10 years.

A student of the university says restarting of rice harvesting makes him feel that reconstruction is progressing, and that he is looking forward to tasting the rice.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20201003_22/

October 12, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Radioactive soil plan casts shadow over Fukushima village

Keiko Shigihara used to make pickles out of flower petals from a cherry tree at her former home in Fukushima Prefecture.

Sep 11, 2020

Keiko Shigihara, 58, soaks up the summer sun as she looks over her property in the village of Iitate in Fukushima Prefecture, from where she evacuated after the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The land where her home used to be is now an empty lot. Cherry trees and oak trees are the only things left.

Shigihara remembers the days when she used to make homemade salted cherry blossoms and rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves.

“It’s sad but there’s nothing to be done now except look forward,” said Shigihara, who evacuated to the city of Fukushima after the calamity.

Iitate’s Nagadoro administrative district, where her home was located, was designated a no-go zone due to its high radiation levels. But the Environment Ministry later designated the district as an area where radiation-tainted soil removed as part of the decontamination process would be reused to fill the land for farming.

The project is slated to begin by March 2021.

Shigihara was born in the town of Futaba, which is located on the coastline of Fukushima Prefecture — one of the areas hardest hit during the 2011 earthquake.

After graduating from high school in Futaba, she met Yoshiyuki, now 59, a native of Iitate, and the two married. She moved into his home, where her in-laws also lived, in Nagadoro in 1988 and helped out with farming. She raised her two daughters there, too.

The Nagadoro district, which is located in the southern part of the village, is a well-preserved area surrounded by mountains.

Different types of fish can be found in the nearby Hiso River, and Shigihara often made meals with fresh vegetables grown in the fields or plucked from the mountainsides.

“I bet you’re glad you married someone living in Iitate,” Shigihara’s late father-in-law used to say.

That peaceful lifestyle was upended in 2011. Life in evacuation, bleak as it was, continued for years, and the family did not know if they could ever return or what would happen to their home.

But, at the end of 2016, the government said, out of the blue, that it was planning to bury the contaminated soil to create arable land.

“Contaminated soil was supposed to be taken to an intermediate storage facility” where it’s preserved safely, Shigihara said. She was worried whether it was safe to bury it in the ground.

Naturally, the plan drew concern from local residents.

Deliberation between the central government, the village and its residents spanned a year.

Local residents were worried about whether it was possible for people to live there again if they were to go ahead with the project, or that a damaging reputation would haunt agricultural products harvested there.

But the government pressed on, saying it will be an experimental case to reuse contaminated soil in local areas. The government ensured it would also closely monitor radiation levels in the air and conduct tests to make sure the produce is safe.

In the end, locals gave in and the project was given the green light in November 2017.

In April 2018, 186 hectares of the Nagadoro administrative district’s 1,080 hectares were designated for the project. The village of Iitate proposed in May to lift evacuation orders.

At the end of last year, Shigihara’s cherished home was demolished for the plan. Watching it be torn down would have been too painful, so she waited to return until after it was done.

“Anything to help my hometown recover,” she said.

Fresh produce is being cultivated nearby and experiments have been conducted to plant crops on contaminated soil without adding a layer of uncontaminated soil.

In the long wait for Nagadoro’s residents to return home, the clock has finally begun moving again.

This section features topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original article was published Aug

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/09/11/national/iitate-fukushima-contaminated-soil/

September 13, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Has Turned These Grandparents Into Avid Radiation Testers

Takenori Kobayashi (left) and his wife Tomoko Kobayashi bring soil samples into what they refer to as a “grandma and grandpa lab” to test it for radiation, in Fukushima prefectures

September 11, 2020

Takenori Kobayashi lugs a garbage bag full of soil across a parking lot to an unmarked office. His wife, Tomoko, holds the door to a tiny work space with lab equipment and computers set up. On the edge of Fukushima’s former nuclear exclusion zone, this is the place the couple likes to call their “grandma and grandpa lab.”

It started as a makeshift operation in the city of Minamisoma the year after the 2011 nuclear disaster, when people — mostly elderly — returned to the area and were worried about high radiation levels in their food and soil.

“We’ve given up hope that our children and grandchildren will come back to live here,” Tomoko, 67, says. Most young people decided to start lives elsewhere rather than return, not wanting to take the risks with radiation. “But in order for them to come back and visit us,” she continues, “we need to know everything is safe. So we test it all.”

Citizen science like this flourished in Fukushima after the nuclear disaster in 2011, when a tsunami triggered explosions at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The wind carried radioactive material for miles, covering whole towns and neighborhoods with dangerous, yet invisible, particles. For weeks after the disaster, information was scarce and trust in the Japanese government plummeted. And now, almost a decade later, wide arrays of residents have taken it upon themselves to collect radiation data — from mothers worried about their kids to surfers monitoring beaches to individuals with Geiger counters in their homes — to help regain a sense of control.

Tomoko measures soil into a container that will go through a donated gamma counter, a big cylindrical machine that measures radioactive particles.

Inside the lab, the Kobayashis pair get to work. One measures out soil into small containers, the other starts labeling — so coordinated and practiced, it’s almost like a dance. They put the samples through a donated gamma counter, a big cylindrical machine that measures radioactive particles. Today, they’re testing soil from a nearby farm.

A handful of other residents help run the lab, and throughout the years, experts from nearby universities have come to teach them all about the different equipment and radiation science.

“All the grandparents here are radiation professionals now,” Takenori, 71, says with a smile.

Before the disaster, he was an accountant, and Tomoko helped run a nearby inn that has been in her family for generations. When the disaster happened, they were forced to evacuate for five years. But when they were allowed to come back home in 2016, they reopened the inn — and learned everything they could about radiation.

“We never thought we’d be doing this. What normal person would expect this?” says Tomoko with a chuckle. “But anyone who faces this kind of situation has to become a scientist to survive.”

Tomoko and Takenori were forced to evacuate Minamisoma after the disaster, but after five years, they returned to reopen Tomoko’s family inn.

Takenori points to colorful radiation maps of the area hanging on the wall. The couple made them, along with a team of volunteers, using donated Geiger counters — hand-held devices used to measure radiation — over the past few years as more neighborhoods reopened to the public.

“It is important for us to visualize the invisible,” he says. “We needed to see it.”

The maps show that Fukushima’s radiation levels are decreasing, because of both natural decay of particles and large-scale Japanese government decontamination efforts. But there are still a lot of hot spots — places where radiation is worryingly high. The authorities have tried to ease concerns, testing food in supermarkets and setting up radiation monitors in public parks, outside train stations or flashing along highways, but trust in the government is still extremely low. Many residents say they still feel best collecting information themselves.

Maps hang on the wall of the lab where the Kobayashis do radiation testing. The maps, one part of their work, were created by a team of volunteers who took air measurements. The maps show that the radiation levels in Fukushima are decreasing.

One of the original citizen data operations in Fukushima is called Safecast. The nonprofit organization formed in the immediate days after the disaster, when it became clear that accurate radiation information was not available. Safecast started building and distributing radiation monitors in Fukushima, and then putting all the data online for public use.

Now, nearly a decade later, Safecast has hundreds of devices in the area around the Daiichi nuclear power plant, with dozens of local residents helping to take hundreds of readings a day. There’s even one hanging in the Kobayashis’ inn.

“We found that simply allowing people to take measurements themselves, and have a way to compare it to government data was really important for their peace of mind, for their sense of agency,” says Azby Brown, the lead researcher at Safecast.

Azby Brown is the lead researcher at Safecast, an organization that formed in the immediate days after the disaster. It builds and distributes radiation monitors in Fukushima, and puts all the data online for public use.

Part of the reason people want to collect data themselves and compare it is because even after more information became available, it was often contradictory. The United Nations and the International Commission on Radiological Protection have published reports saying that radiation risks in Fukushima are low. Other organizations, like Greenpeace, dispute those findings. The Japanese government insists that the areas being reopened are safe. But many are quick to point out that the government raised the legal limit of radiation exposure in this part of Fukushima prefecture after the disaster — meaning that many of these areas wouldn’t necessarily be considered safe in other parts of Japan or the world.

Brown says that giving people the ability to collect and understand their own data can help them ease their anxiety and make decisions based on their personal comfort.

People stand near the ocean in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture, commemorating the ninth anniversary of the tsunami and nuclear disaster.

“Some people will look at the data and say, ‘Oh my God, I’m leaving,’ ” Brown says. “Other people will say, ‘Oh, you know, it’s not as bad as I feared, maybe I’ll stay.’ And yet others will say, ‘Well, it’s pretty bad, but now at least I know what I’m facing and I know how hard it’s going to be.’ “

That last option is ultimately how the Kobayashis felt when they decided to come back after their neighborhood was reopened in 2016. By that point, Tomoko had gotten a Geiger counter. She remembers how empowering it felt to know and understand the reading. It was low enough for the pair, something they both felt comfortable with.

“I was so relieved,” she says, “I knew I could come home.”

But now, Tomoko says, a new invisible threat has her worried — the coronavirus. She says a lot of the anxiety everyone is feeling now reminds her of how she felt back in 2011. She has stocked up the inn with cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and cloth face masks. But the travel sector has plummeted during the pandemic.

Tomoko stands at the inn in Fukushima prefecture that has been in her family for generations.

“Radiation is a bit similar to the virus,” she says sitting at the kitchen table of her inn. “It doesn’t have any smell, you can’t feel it, you can’t see it.”

Tomoko says she is, of course, aware that the two are very different, but the parallels have been striking to her. She remembers back in March and April, when she saw cities like London and New York looking abandoned and empty on TV. It reminded her of the towns in Fukushima, right after the disaster. It brought back a lot, she says.

“As long as you have a Geiger counter, you can detect radiation,” she says. “But with the virus, there is no Geiger counter.”

Tomoko says, like many of us, she’s eager for science to help find one.

https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/907881531/fukushima-has-turned-these-grandparents-into-avid-radiation-testers

September 13, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Particles from Fukushima meltdown contained plutonium

fukushima-nuclear-disaster-plutonium_1600Local residents who live around the 20km exclusion zone around the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant undergo a screening test for possible radiation at screening center on September 13, 2011 in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

 

August 6th, 2020 Posted by Stanford

Microscopic particles emitted during the Fukushima nuclear disaster contained plutonium, according to a new study.

The microscopic radioactive particles formed inside the Fukushima reactors when the melting nuclear fuel interacted with the reactor’s structural concrete.

Nearly ten years after meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant caused a nuclear disaster, the new information about the extent and severity of the meltdown and the distribution patterns of the plutonium have broad implications for understanding the mobility of plutonium during a nuclear accident.

The study used an extraordinary array of analytical techniques in order to complete the description of the particles at the atomic-scale,” says coauthor Rod Ewing, co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University.

The researchers found that, due to loss of containment in the reactors, the particles were released into the atmosphere and many were then deposited many miles from the reactor sites.

Studies have shown that the cesium-rich microparticles, or CsMPs, are highly radioactive and primarily composed of glass (with silica from concrete) and radio-cesium (a volatile fission product formed in the reactors). But the environmental impact and their distribution is still an active subject of research and debate. The new work offers a much-needed insight into the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) meltdowns.

The study used an extraordinary array of analytical techniques in order to complete the description of the particles at the atomic-scale.

The researchers used a combination of advanced analytical techniques, including synchrotron-based micro-X-ray analysis, secondary ion mass spectrometry, and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy, to find and characterize the plutonium that was present in the CsMP samples. They initially discovered incredibly small uranium-dioxide inclusions, of less than 10 nanometers in diameter, inside the CsMPs; this indicated possible inclusion of nuclear fuel inside the particles.

Detailed analysis revealed, for the first-time, that plutonium-oxide concentrates were associated with the uranium, and that the isotopic composition of the uranium and plutonium matched that calculated for the FDNPP irradiated fuel inventory.

These results strongly suggest that the nano-scale heterogeneity that is common in normal nuclear fuels is still present in the fuel debris that remains inside the site’s damaged reactors,” says geochemist Satoshi Utsunomiya of Kyushu University, who led the team.

This is important information as it tells us about the extent [and] severity of the meltdown. Further, this is important information for the eventual decommissioning of the damaged reactors and the long-term management of their wastes.”

With regards to environmental impact, Utsunomiya says, “as we already know that the CsMPs were distributed over a wide region in Japan, small amounts of plutonium were likely dispersed in the same way.”

This is important information for the eventual decommissioning of the damaged reactors and the long-term management of their wastes.

The team “will continue to experiment with the CsMPs, in an effort to better understand their long-term behavior and environmental impact,” says Gareth T. W. Law, a coauthor on the paper from the University of Helsinki. It is now clear that CsMPs are an important vector of radioactive contamination from nuclear accidents.”

While the plutonium released from the damaged reactors is low compared to that of cesium; the investigation provides crucial information for studying the associated health impact,” says coauthor Bernd Grambow of Nantes/France.

Utsunomiya emphasizes that this is a great achievement of international collaboration. “It’s been almost ten years since the nuclear disaster at Fukushima,” he says, “but research on Fukushima’s environmental impact and its decommissioning are a long way from being over.”

The paper appears in Science of the Total Environment.

Additional researchers from Kyushu University, University of Tsukuba, Tokyo Institute of Technology, National Institute of Polar Research, University of Helsinki, Paul Scherrer Institute, Diamond Light Source, and SUBATECH (IMT Atlantique, CNRS, University of Nantes) contributed to the work.

Source: Stanford University via Kyushu University

Original Study DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140539

https://www.futurity.org/fukushima-nuclear-disaster-plutonium-2417332-2/

 

August 7, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | 1 Comment

Fallout over Fukushima fallout papers continues as two are retracted

August 4, 2020

A radiology journal has retracted two papers about the fallout from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan over concerns that the researchers used “ethically inappropriate data” from the people they studied.

The articles, which appeared in the Journal of Radiological Protection in 2017, were written by  Makoto Miyazaki, of the Department of Radiation Health Management at Fukushima Medical University, and Ryugo Hayano, a professor of physics emeritus at the University of Tokyo. As we reported, both papers were initially subject to expressions of concern last year.

The papers have been cited a total of 26 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

The retraction notice for “Individual external dose monitoring of all citizens of Date City by passive dosimeter 5 to 51 months after the Fukushima NPP accident (series): 1. Comparison of individual dose with ambient dose rate monitored by aircraft surveys” reads:

Following the Expression of Concern issued on this article on 11 January 2019, IOP Publishing is now retracting this article. On 4 June 2020, IOP Publishing received confirmation from the authors of 2017 J. Radiol. Prot. 37 1 (the first in a series of two research articles) that ethically inappropriate data were used in the study reported in this article. This confirmation follows an investigation into the matter by Date City Citizen’s Exposure Data Provision Investigation Committee, which finds that some subjects within the study did not consent to their data being used for research, and it is unclear whether the unconsented data was provided to the author. IOP Publishing believes that the authors were unaware of the ethical problems with this data, which was supplied by a third party. The results of this investigation are available (in Japanese) at https://www.city.fukushima-date.lg.jp/soshiki/3/41833.html (IOP Publishing and the Society for Radiological Protection take no responsibility for the content at this link).

The readers are asked to note that, as part of the article submission process, the authors of the above referenced article confirmed that the research reported in the article adhered to the Ethical Policy of IOP Publishing and the Society for Radiological Protection.

As a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), this matter has been investigated by IOP Publishing in accordance with COPE guidelines and it was decided that the article should be retracted. The authors agree with this retraction and have fully complied with all investigations.

More details are expected to be forthcoming. However, in line with COPE guidelines, we are retracting this article promptly and will update this retraction notice with more information, as necessary and as it is released.

Based on the investigation report it has also been found that there is an error in table 1 of this article. The figure relating to glass badge holders in 2014 3Q is incorrect and should be close to N = 12 011. These data were also provided to the authors by the same third party and the authors were not aware of this mistake in advance of publication of the article.

The second paper, Individual external dose monitoring of all citizens of Date City by passive dosimeter 5 to 51 months after the Fukushima NPP accident (series): II. Prediction of lifetime additional effective dose and evaluating the effect of decontamination on individual dose,” carries an identical notice (minus the error).

Miyazaki, the corresponding author of the papers, has not responded to a request for comment.

Fallout over Fukushima fallout papers continues as two are retracted

A pair of radiation exposure studies on the people of Date City have been retracted. Authors Hayano and Miyazaki retracted the 2017 papers this week after years of dispute.

By early 2019 this issue had become too big to ignore. Hayano and Miyazaki attempted to claim unintentional mistakes and later tried to blame the city. An investigation into scientific misconduct at the University of Tokyo went nowhere as the statues required intent. Both researchers continued to claim the data manipulation that took months worth of data and applied it over years, making radiation exposures look less severe, was merely a spreadsheet accident.

Some of Hayano’s other Fukushima related studies raised questions about the methodology and potential biases. A 2014 study used a whole body counter scanning machine in small children but used an unusually short scan duration that may have grossly under counted their radiation exposures.

August 7, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Activist Professor Unveils English-language Video Warning of Tokyo Olympics Radiation Risk

July 24, 2020

SEOUL, July 24 (Korea Bizwire)Ahead of the Tokyo Summer Olympics scheduled to be held next year in Japan, Seo Kyung-duk, a professor at Sungshin Women’s University, unveiled on Thursday a video in English on social media such as YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, warning that the radiation risk still remains high in Japan.

The four-minute video focuses on highlighting the risk of being exposed to radioactive materials in Fukushima.

In 2013, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that the radiation in Fukushima was sufficiently under control.

The video, however, claims that in the seven years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the region’s nuclear power plant and its neighboring areas still remain a dangerous radioactive area, with the radiation level of some Fukushima areas being up to 1,775 times higher than internationally recommended levels.

The video warned that the Fukushima nuclear disaster is not terminated but still underway, adding that those who want to visit the Tokyo Olympics should be careful about the risk of being exposed to radiation.

The Japanese government plans to host some Olympic games in Fukushima as well as providing ingredients and foods from Fukushima to the athletes participating in the Tokyo Olympics,” Seo said.

This move is a sign that the Japanese government only wants to use the Tokyo Olympics as a chance to herald the rebuilding of Fukushima, neglecting the region’s radiation risk.”

Lina Jang (linajang@koreabizwire.com)

http://koreabizwire.com/activist-professor-unveils-english-language-video-warning-of-tokyo-olympics-radiation-risk/165490

August 3, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Japan grows the world’s “sweetest” peach – in Fukushima

Frankly speaking you have to be either masochist or suicidal to play Russian roulette by eating those Fukushima peaches, their sweetness should never make you forget their potential radioactive contamination. There are many other countries where to buy sweet and safe peaches from.

That said I cannot believe the nerve that this journalist has to write such a “sweet” propaganda piece. I understand that these people need to make a living, but should they not consider their moral responsability towards the people whose health might be put at risk buying and eating their potentially radiation contaminated products? All done in the name of “holy reconstruction”…. There is no such a thing as a harmless low dose in internal radiation.

eight_col_ian-baldwin-f7FwHomDgzg-unsplashFifth generation peach farmer Koji Furuyama has been striving to decontaminate Fukushima’s reputation by growing the world’s sweetest peaches.

20 July 2020

Would you buy a $7000 peach? A fruit so juicy, so sweet, so perfect you just don’t care about the sticky nectar dribbling down your face?

What if it came from Fukushima, infamous for one of the worst nuclear accidents in modern memory?

Before the disaster, peaches from the area were prized for their exceptional taste and luscious texture, but on 11 March 2011 a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered one of the world’s worst accidents of the nuclear power age.

As radiation spewed from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, tens of thousands of residents were forced to flee their homes – some never to return.

While radiation levels have slowly dissipated, an inescapable stigma remains for the people of Fukushima.

Since then, fifth generation peach farmer Koji Furuyama has been striving to decontaminate the region’s reputation by growing the world’s sweetest peaches.

“Produce in Fukushima was recognised as the world’s most worthless and dangerous,” Koji said.

“I thought of doing the complete opposite by making the world’s most delicious or sweetest peaches.”

‘The sweetness will be from an unknown world’

There is a scientific measurement which confirms the intense sweetness of Koji’s peaches.

When you bite into a peach, you might notice if it’s sweet or tart or bland. Among farmers, this is known as Degrees Brix, and it measures the fruit’s sugar content.

The higher on the Brix scale, which goes up to 40, the sweeter the fruit.

Your average supermarket peach is usually somewhere between 11 and 15 Degrees Brix.

In comparison, the Guinness World Records certified a peach grown in Kanechika, Japan as the world’s sweetest, with a sugar content of 22.2

But on the Furuyama Fruit Farm in rural Fukushima, Koji has managed to grow a peach so sweet, it came in at a mouth-watering 32 Degrees Brix.

While Koji sold that delectably sweet peach for $7000 a few years ago, he’s not done yet.

He has already grown a peach at 35, and is now setting his sights on the most perfect peach ever, aiming to achieve that elusive 40 Degrees Brix.

“The sweetness will be from an unknown world,” he vowed.

“It will be the only one in the world. To put a price on that, I have to settle at $40,000.”

This might seem like a lot of money for something that literally grows on trees, but fruit can play a very different cultural role in Japan.

A bunch of grapes the size of Ping-Pong balls just sold for about $NZ18,500 at auction in Ishikawa on 16 July.

The pricey, individually wrapped fruits sold at department stores are precious gifts given as a sign of respect or thanks.

Going to a housewarming or visiting a friend in hospital? Grab a box of giant, blemish-free, juicy strawberries.

It’s not always just an everyday snack here, and if you pick the wrong melon without checking the price tag, you can receive quite the hip-pocket surprise when you get to the checkout.

It means Japanese farmers are meticulous in their production processes and is the reason why Koji is unyieldingly striving for perfection.

The recovery from the March 2011 disaster also gives him a reason to keep going.

A peach replaces the Olympic torch

Japan’s organisers of the 2020 Olympics won their bid with a pitch highlighting how the Games would be the “recovery games”, showing off just how far Japan’s north-eastern region had come.

The region was hosting the baseball and softball events and the prefecture was to mark the beginning of the torch relay and play a big part of it.

The food grown in this area, including Koji’s peaches, are safe to eat. He was banking on the Olympic Games showing that off.

“If this becomes known worldwide, the image of Fukushima would improve and I thought I could change it. That’s why I focus on making such sweet peaches,” Koji said.

eight_col_053_1EMPERORPEACH201507168Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visit a peach farmer in Fukushima.

 

When coronavirus restrictions forced Olympics organisers to delay the torch relay, Koji still ran his leg as if the Games were going ahead. Instead of a torch, he carried a peach.

Koji holds onto hope the Games will go ahead, and Fukushima will get a chance to shine, even if it is not fully recovered.

“It’s hard to return to what it was 10 years ago, before the disaster. There are many victims who have started new lives and it’s true that it’s recovering gradually,” he said.

But once the coronavirus pandemic passes, a ‘recovery’ Olympics will take on a special meaning for everyone who survived it.

“Recovery from coronavirus will apply to people around the world,” he said.

“I think it could have a deeper meaning: recovery in [this region] and recovery from coronavirus. I am thinking in a positive way.”

Inside Fukushima’s no-go zone

Not everyone shares Koji’s optimism in Fukushima. The nuclear disaster destroyed Nobuyoshi Ito’s farming business.

He regularly visits the exclusion zones and doesn’t believe the government is surveying enough radiation hotspots.

He believes the idea of the recovery Olympics is “inappropriate”.

“Which part has recovered? When 30,000 people can return to their previous lives it’s recovery. But the government … abandoned those people,” he said.

“It’s trying to host the Olympics only with the people who have recovered.”

Around Fukushima, many of the clocks on the walls stopped ticking moments after the quake struck in 2011.

Currently, 371 square kilometres of the prefecture is a no-go zone, and parts of it will never be habitable again.

Sadao Sugishita left his home of around 70 years when the nuclear meltdown happened. He and his wife Tokuko were forced to evacuate.

Nestled in the lush green mountains, their home is in the no-go zone – inaccessible to anyone but former residents.

Every few minutes, large trucks carrying giant black bags of radioactive soil hurtle down their narrow road.

The bags sit piled up across the road from their property along with piles of rubble, a sadly iconic feature throughout this vast region.

Sugishita and his wife will never again live in their home. They’ve just agreed to tear the house down.

He doesn’t feel the prefecture has recovered.

“All our neighbours and close friends have become separate and the life in the city is completely different to the life here in the village,” he said.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/world/421610/japan-grows-the-world-s-sweetest-peach-in-fukushima

July 23, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Being Clear-Eyed About Citizen Science in the Age of COVID-19

1

July 15, 2020

An anthropologist explores the network of citizen monitoring capabilities that developed after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 for what they might teach all of us about such strategies for the covonavirus pandemic.

In March 2011, one of the strongest earthquakes on record struck the Fukushima Dai’ichi Nuclear Power Plant in northeastern Japan. Combined with a subsequent tsunami, the disasters triggered massive nuclear meltdowns and widespread evacuations.

On the quiet Friday afternoon of March 11, 2011, Natsuo* was working in Fukushima, the capital city of Fukushima prefecture. At 2:46 p.m., a devastating earthquake of 9.0 magnitude hit the Pacific coast of Japan, where the prefecture of Fukushima is situated. Natsuo recalled to me the sheer power of this earthquake: “The whole office shook like hell, everything began to fall from the walls. I thought to myself ‘That’s it … I’m going to die!’”

Natsuo quickly returned to her hometown of Koriyama City, unaware that the earthquake had triggered a massive tsunami, which inundated an important part of the prefectural shoreline and ultimately claimed the lives of nearly 20,000 people. On top of the initial devastation, the tsunami severely damaged the Fukushima Dai’ichi Nuclear Power Plant, in Ōkuma, Fukushima, located on the east coast of Fukushima prefecture. She later learned on TV that something “seemed wrong” with the nuclear power plant. “During that time,” she said, “I tried to get as much information as I could, but the media weren’t being clear on the situation.”

Something was indeed very wrong: The earthquake and subsequent tsunami led to core meltdowns within some of the Fukushima power plant’s nuclear reactors. This malfunction, along with other technical incidents, resulted in the atmospheric release of radioactive pollutants, which spread predominantly over the northeastern part of Japan, forcing a widespread evacuation of Fukushima residents. By March 12, the area around the power plant had been evacuated; those living and working within 20 kilometers of the radius of the plant were forced to relocate. In the days, weeks, and months following this disaster, uncertainty around the scale and extent of contamination grew swiftly—much like what we see occurring throughout the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most notably, the public grew increasingly concerned about the legitimacy of institutional experts’ ability to control and explain the risks of residual radioactivity, while citizens like Natsuo were unable to get adequate information through traditional media venues. Initially, data about radioactive contamination came sporadically and was often explained in hard-to-understand metrics by scientists who were cherry-picked by the state to send reassuring messages to citizens.

 

2Following the meltdown, school children helped sell food items to serve those who were displaced by the disaster.

Moreover, radioactive contamination was later found to be present in some food products and in school yards where children had been playing that lay beyond the official zone of evacuation. Over the ensuing months and years, the public lost confidence in the state’s response and began to take matters into their own hands, mobilizing expert practices of their own. Widespread grassroot actions led to citizen science networks in which people tracked radiation in their environment, organized learning workshops on radiation dangers, and tested food for contamination, often through local organizations or individual households.

As an anthropologist who conducted fieldwork on the Fukushima nuclear disaster between 2015 and 2017, I came to realize that citizen science can rise up to fill in the gaps of state responses toward crises, for better or for worse. As we’ve seen play out throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in various parts of the world, governance and leadership have often been confusing, mismatched, and at times utterly misleading. The case of Fukushima offers lessons about both the promises and pitfalls of citizen science and how civil society is playing an increasingly important role in managing various disasters, catastrophes, and crises.

The Geiger counter of Masayuki was not silent for long before it began to emit the distinctive “clicking” sound associated with radiation monitoring devices. The “click” grew louder in intensity as we located a hot spot, an area where the level of radiation is significantly higher than elsewhere. Masayuki dutifully noted the number provided by the device before leaving to search for another hot spot. We were standing in the Japanese village of Iitate, situated in the prefecture of Fukushima. It was common at this time for citizens to own their own Geiger counters—often purchased off the internet using international donations or made at home as DIY devices—to measure the level of radiation around them.

3Due to growing concerns about the government’s response, many citizens began purchasing Geiger counters to monitor the radiation around them.

 

When I first came to this rural village in the spring of 2016, more than five years had passed since the nuclear disaster. The forced evacuation of citizens from Fukushima and the surrounding areas had proved short-lived; by 2012, the Japanese state had already embraced a policy of repatriation to irradiated areas like Iitate village, which is where I met Masayuki and citizens like him in 2016.

Under this repatriation policy, Iitate had become a patchwork of three different safety areas, with boundaries defined by the annual level of atmospheric radiation projected to be received by residents if they remained within the zones. Citizens could only reside in “green zones,”

areas where evacuation orders were ready to be lifted. These areas were considered safe enough for all community activities, such as hiking and school events. The “yellow zones” represented areas in which citizens were still not permitted to live, and the “red zones” were areas considered off-limits to any form of entry due to their high level of radiation.

Those who had willingly returned to Iitate were typically elderly farmers for whom Iitate was one’s native land, a concept that the Japanese call furusato. As an elderly man explained to me in 2017: “It’s the place where I was born. I always wanted to come back to this place. Seeing the sun rise, seeing the moon at night. Seeing the blueness of the sky of Iitate.”

While happy to be back in their beloved region, many residents were critical of the state radiation-monitoring networks that were supposed to provide them with adequate information to allow them to live safely in the village. Indeed, state data on radiation was often provided through fixed monitoring in precise locations or through an average radiation level taken in the village. This kind of information was not practical enough for residents, who wanted to know the specific radiation levels behind their houses or in their rice paddy fields.

Likewise, official depictions of radiation levels through clear-cut chromatic zones did little to offer the citizens reassurance. As a result of the perceived limitation of state measures, residents quickly decided to track radiation themselves as a means to keep the map of their village relevant—often finding contamination that was not evident from state mapping. In the house of one farmer, I witnessed homemade models that exhibited a 3D topography of Iitate’s geographical landscape. These models had been made using 3D printers, and the level of radiation had been monitored by the citizens themselves.

In particular, the local knowledge of the geography of Iitate helped citizens to attain a level of precision that far exceeded that of the government map. Citizens soon learned that radiation doses could be higher at the bottom of a hill than farther upslope or that the woods behind one’s home, having trapped radiation, might impact the radiation level inside houses. These practices helped strengthen a community that had previously felt helpless in the face of an imperceptible radiation threat. Geiger counters became the ears and eyes of citizens like Masayuki, enabling them to make sense of and gain some semblance of control over a hazard that cannot be registered by the senses.

After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, one of the main sources of radiation exposure stemmed from consumption of food products such as milk or wild mushrooms that had been contaminated by radioactive fallout. In an effort to make sure that this did not happen in Japan, the government took on the task of testing the food produced in Fukushima, implementing a limit to the allowable amount of radioactivity in food products.

Within months after the meltdowns, the government assured the public of the safety of its food products, encouraging citizens to consume foods sold at public fairs and other public events. However, citizens of Fukushima also consume food harvested from streams, forests, home gardens, and mountain areas—where state monitoring was largely absent or insufficient.

4The author (center) stands with two community members in front of a citizen science center.

 

Again, citizens mobilized to fill in the gaps in food testing: With the help of public donations, citizen scientists were able to purchase scintillation detectors, which are used to measure radioactive contaminants in foodstuff. Such testing enabled citizens to gain an understanding of the types of foods most prone to radioactive contamination, such as mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, citrus, sea cucumber, and seaweeds. This in turn helped people avoid eating the most risky foods. Together with state monitoring, such citizen science practices resulted in lower consumption of contaminated foods.

While such examples demonstrate the power and potential of citizen science, there are inherent political complexities involved when citizens or nongovernmental organizations step in and claim expertise in areas typically reserved for state agencies and experts. Like those entities, citizen science has its own potential pitfalls.

For one, corporate polluters or state agencies can potentially exploit citizen science, delegating the monitoring of contamination to the victims of a disaster. For instance, by the end of this year, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Agency plans to remove 80 percent of radiation monitoring posts in Fukushima, arguing that the radiation levels in many areas have stabilized themselves—owing also in part to the presence and efficiency of monitoring networks provided by citizens. This decision has been controversial, since problems of radioactive contamination persist in Fukushima. For instance, one of the main radioactive pollutants, Cesium-137, has a long lifespan and can emit radiation for nearly 300 years.

Retiring these posts will force citizen scientists to take on the burden of monitoring, shifting liability for ensuring safe living conditions onto the shoulders of the nuclear victims. In addition, the growing impact of citizen science can lead to reduced public expenditure, minimal government intervention, and risk privatization, meaning that risk becomes individual and private. Too much delegation to citizens runs the risk of creating societies where individuals have to take care of themselves in increasingly polluted environments, while interpreting complex data about controversial environmental dangers. And not every community can afford to purchase expensive monitoring devices or test food in a consistent manner.

Citizen scientists also risk reproducing forms of ignorance around certain hazards. In post-Fukushima Japan, what is meant by the “science” of citizen science is often synonymous with a tracking and monitoring agenda, where individuals resort to the very same technologies and knowledge forms used by states, nuclear lobbies, or radiological protection agencies.

Yet many anthropologists and historians have argued that what we know (and don’t know) about the extent of radiation hazards and dangers was embedded in a culture of secrecy, denial, and propaganda that was shaped by the nuclear arms race of the Cold War. Considerations over international security and political stability were often prioritized over the safety of workers or citizens who had been exposed to radiation. As a result, some of the negative effects of radiation were downplayed through different tactics.

One such tactic, which was witnessed after Fukushima, occurred through the reframing of radiation risks as simplistic and natural, unrelated to the specific risks associated with Fukushima. For instance, the government distributed pamphlets that explained that radiation naturally exists in our food, such as the potassium levels present in bananas.

Yet such information is irrelevant to the hazards of internalizing fission products from a nuclear power plant. While bananas have naturally occurring potassium, it would require eating around 20 million bananas to get radiation poisoning. On the other hand, each radionuclide released during nuclear meltdown events like Fukushima possesses specific biological signatures and presents particular risks when inhaled or ingested. During my fieldwork in Fukushima, I witnessed that this legacy of misinformation was carried on by some citizens who unwittingly replicated these propagandist forms of knowledge by making similar naturalistic or overly simplistic comparisons.

As citizen science efforts grow, it is also critical to consider to what extent citizen involvement might put individuals at risk of adverse health effects. This is a tricky question when one considers that certain members of the population, like children, are more sensitive to radiation than others. In Fukushima, some Japanese parents have understandably opted to evacuate rather than rely on citizen science, arguing that doing so would expose their children to unacceptable levels of radiation and that forcing children to be responsible for their own safety is unethical.

Citizen scientists are hardly homogeneous groups, as mothers, farmers, and urban citizens do not experience hazards and recovery in the same way. In that regard, factors such as gender, employment, and social class strongly influence why people enter citizen science, how science is mobilized, and how data about a controversial hazard ends up being interpreted. For instance, people like Natsuo have used the results gathered by citizen science to highlight the dangers of living in Fukushima, while other citizen science organizations help bring people back to their beloved region. These conflicts can result in even more fragmented communities and conflicts within and around citizen science.

5Public protests and outcries from parents increased as distrust deepened toward the government’s response to ongoing radiation pollution from the Fukushima meltdown.

 

With the continuing uncertainties, frustrations, and misinformation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, we can expect civil society to rise up—perhaps as it did in the months and years following the Fukushima disaster. Indeed, early on in the pandemic’s spread across the U.S., there were calls for citizens to submit their COVID-19 symptoms, with the aim of tracking the rise of cases and filling in for incomplete testing at the federal and state levels in order to aid public health efforts.

Another citizen science initiative attempts to produce real-time epidemiology by enlisting individuals to use their smartphones to fight COVID-19. We have also seen a rise in 3D printing or DIY medical equipment, such as nonmedical face masks, to meet the urgent demand. The Citizen Science Association lists dozens of citizen science resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Much like in Fukushima, these movements will have unintended societal implications, legal ramifications, and ethical impacts—especially as they surround issues of public health safety, patented medical technologies, or data quality and interpretation amid the surge of a novel virus replete with uncertainty.

Yet, more strikingly, citizen science perhaps best demonstrates how lay people can directly draw from their own experience and scientific tools so as to provide concrete solutions beyond the traditional top-down control measures that too often epitomize post-disaster policies. In that regard, Masayuki once angrily told me, “For us, state experts are people who have 90 percent of knowledge (shiru), but no wisdom (wakaru)!”

In Japanese, two words—shiru and wakaru—can be used for the verb “knowing.” Shiru means “to find out” or “to learn.” It implies a process of acquisition of knowledge and information. Wakaru, on the other hand, is closer to “understanding this knowledge.” Shiru comes before wakaru, and in a way, one can know but not necessarily understand. Wakaru consequently shows a greater and more personal level of comprehension often based on a given context.

For Masayuki, state institutional experts possessed shiru, but not wakaru. Having been directly affected by radioactive contamination, Masayuki strongly believed that the inhabitants of a place, the jūmin (literally, the people who resided) were best suited to manage their life in a post-Fukushima Japan.

* Pseudonyms have been used to protect people’s privacy.

https://www.sapiens.org/culture/fukushima-citizen-science/

July 20, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment