About This Project
It’s time to cooperate
When we started up MDS (Minna no Data Site, Everyone’s Data Site) we constructed inclusive and shared system on measuring data of food as the first stage, as there were many people who were concerned about food intake.
However, we planned to launch the measuring data of soil as a second stage after intensively equipped the system on food.
In autumn 2014, after one year from opening of MDS, we start up to platform soil measurement data. We, as citizens, try to start to map the status of soil contamination spread over East Japan.
The following is the reason why we stand up to start the East Japan Soil Becquerel Measurement Project. Objectives, outline and methodology of the project is explained.
In the Project, the method of collection is standardized in order to make comparison of data from multiple measurement laboratories. The Manual for Collection is developed by considering the easiest method of measurement within the limits of keeping accuracy, because many citizens conduct collection and measurement by themselves.
Collected soil is measured by the participating measuring laboratories of MDS. The result becomes open to the public and the report is sent to the collector.
Radioactivity contamination by the accident of Tepko Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant is long term lasting.
The soil contamination map of broader areas is needed to understand contamination of neighborhood by measurement and comparison of data.
Though central and local governments conduct soil researches, those researches are insufficient because the value is lower by measuring deep place, or they measure only air dose.
As they decide the spot of measurement by mesh, the data what citizens want to know is lacking.
In our Project, we aim to grasp status of contamination where citizens make living every day. For example, place where children frequently play, where people pick wild grass, or where farmers work is being measured.
The Project aims that people can access necessary information as much as possible by utilizing data and database and by accumulating information which one can find at a glance and can search at ease.
We hope the result would be used as a tool for action for everyone.
■ The depth of collection is from 0 to 5 cm, because most of cesium stays within 5 cm from surface of the earth.
Collection of soil should be conducted when it does not rain for several days, in order to avoid weight error caused by water. Less than 10 percent of moisture content is desirable.
■ Spot for collection is set at higher dose spot by measuring rate of air dose (1m、5cm).
The extreme high spot such as micro hot spots and concentrated environment are excluded.
■ Collection is made by a method to compare results of each place.
■ Samples are measured at the participating laboratories of MDS.
・Measurement accuracy of those laboratories is ensured by the MDS original examination.
・The results are accumulated in the common database.
■ The result sof measurement are open to public on MDS. MDS has Japanese and English site.
■ Mapping of data is planned after gathering enough results.
■ Trial calculation of amount of radioactivity by a square meter is planned to be conducted. (Becquerel/ Kg →Becquerel /square meter)
Target areas：17prefectures in east-Japan
* In Iwate, the Soil Project Iwate had implemented measurement at more than 300 spots in 2012 and 2013.
The project activity will be made starting from requested districts. Individuals, groups and any organization such as school and daycare can participate in measurement of proposed spots. Proposing more than 5 spots are desirable.
The measurement spots will be decided after consultation basically in the same municipality.
★ How to support us：
Collection of samples, payment of 2,000yen for measurement of one sample, payment of actual postage for samples.
★ How to feed back :
Sending result of measurement of the spots including spectrum, Reading and downloading data at MDS.
Support our site and project!
To those of you who are viewing this site from overseas, Thank you for visiting ”Minna no Data Site” (Combined Database of Independent Radioactivity Measurement Labs) .
MDS has stacked the data measured by the independent radioactivity measurement laboratories in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, As of September 2014, the number of the food data became nearly 10,000.
For the benefit of those who worry about radioactive contamination of Japan from overseas, we opened the English site. We have started “East Japan soil measurement project” since October 2014 in addition to the food data.
From the fact that government has not done the adequate soil contamination survey for the citizens, this project promotes measuring soils of the places like parks, vacant lots, and educational facilities which are closely related to children’s daily life.
This project is based on the method of “Iwate soil measurement project “(2012- 2013) by citizens of Iwate Prefecture. If the method for collecting the soil is different, the results of monitoring vary greatly.
By using an easy-to-understand manual of the standardized method, you are able to compare, review and analysis the data from different locations. We will publish the measurement results of soil on this site.
We record the status of the radioactive contamination of Japan carefully from the standpoint of citizens, and hope that it will help people who are living with anxiety. For the people overseas, we are preparing the English version of data to show where and how much radioactively contaminated.
To run this project, big budget for measurement cost and update cost of web systems are required. There are 300 locations in each 17 prefectures in Eastern Japan, and each place costs about 4,000 yen.
Although it is planned to reduce costs and to ask for volunteers as much as possible, still the costs such as measurement costs, project management costs and Web systems costs are expected to some extent also.
It is a project of the scale that no one even challenged yet. We rely on your generosity to help funding for this project. We would appreciate your support from abroad. Thank you for your cooperation and support.
The information page of “East Japan soil measurement project” is currently in preparation. It will be published shortly.
◎Donate by the bank transfer
Postal Transfer Account : 10090-85754261
Account Name: Minna no data site Unei Iinkai
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Interim : 8575426
Account Name: Minna no data site Unei Iinkai
Remittances in either USD or EUR can be made from overseas banks,.
Please note that remittances to Japan cannot be made from certain financial institutions.
For details, please ask your local bank.
Once radionuclides enter the eco-system, they move around carried by wind and water. They can’t “go away.” They can’t be “decontaminated.” They can only be moved, the biggest force moving them is nature, not clean up crews.
Ogaki Dam in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, as seen from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in July 2016, contains high concentrations of radioactive cesium exceeding the limit set for designated waste.
High levels of radioactive cesium pooling at dams near Fukushima nuke plant
High concentrations of radioactive cesium have been accumulating at the bottom of 10 major dams within a 50-kilometer radius from the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, a survey by the Environment Ministry has found.
Radioactive cesium emanating from the 2011 nuclear disaster is pooling at those dams, which are used to hold drinking water and for agricultural use, after the substances flew into there from mountains, forests and rivers. The radiation levels at the bottom of those dams top those set for designated waste at over 8,000 becquerels per kilogram.
While the Environment Ministry plans to monitor the situation without decontaminating the dams on the grounds that radiation levels in dam water is not high enough to affect human health, experts are calling for the ministry to look into measures to counter any future risks.
The ministry began a monitoring survey on those dams and rivers downstream in September 2011 to grasp the moves of radioactive substances flowing into them from mountains and forests that are not subject to decontamination work. The survey samples water at 73 dams in Tokyo, Iwate and seven other prefectures about once every several months.
Among them, there were 10 dams in Fukushima Prefecture where the average concentration of cesium in the surface layer of bottom soil measured between fiscal 2011 and 2015 topped the regulated levels for designated waste. Those dams include Ganbe Dam in the village of Iitate with 64,439 becquerels per kilogram of cesium, Yokokawa Dam in the city of Minamisoma with 27,533 becquerels, and Mano Dam in Iitate with 26,859 becquerels.
Meanwhile, the surface water at those 10 dams contained 1-2 becquerels per liter of cesium, which is below the drinking water criteria at 10 becquerels.
While the total amount of cesium deposited at the bottom of those dams is unknown from the environment ministry’s survey, a separate study conducted at Ogaki Dam in the town of Namie by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ Tohoku Regional Agricultural Administration Office estimated in December 2013 that there was a combined 8 trillion becquerels of cesium 134 and cesium 137 at the dam. The figure came about after estimating the amount of accumulated cesium every 10-meter-square area based on cesium levels in sedimentary soil sampled at 110 locations at the bottom of the dam, which is for agricultural use.
The National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, will shortly begin a full-scale survey on cesium concentrations at several dams.
“At the moment, it is best to contain cesium at those dams. If we dredge it, the substance could curl up and could contaminate rivers downstream,” said an Environment Ministry official.
Anxiety soars as cesium builds up in Fukushima dams
Dams surrounding the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) have become de facto storage facilities for high concentrations of radioactive cesium as the element continues to accumulate.
With no effective countermeasures in sight, the government insists that water from the dams is safe, but to local residents, the government’s stance comes across as the shelving of a crucial problem.
“It’s best to leave it as it is,” an official from the Ministry of the Environment says, with the knowledge that in 10 dams in Fukushima Prefecture, there is soil containing concentrations of cesium over the limit set for designated waste — or over 8,000 becquerels per kilogram.
According to monitoring procedures carried out by the ministry, the levels of radioactive cesium detected in the dams’ waters, at 1 to 2 becquerels per liter, are well below the maximum amount permitted in drinking water, which is 10 becquerels per liter. The air radiation doses in the dams’ surrounding areas are at a maximum 2 microsieverts per hour, which the ministry says “does not immediately affect humans, if they avoid going near the dams.” This information is the main basis behind the central government’s wait-and-see stance. For the time being, the cesium appears to have attached itself to soil and is collected at the bottom of the dams, with the water above it blocking radiation from reaching and affecting the surrounding areas.
In a basic policy based on a special law, passed in August 2011, on measures for dealing with radioactive material following the onset of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Environment Ministry stipulates the decontamination of areas necessary from “the standpoint of protecting human health.” The ministry argues that as long as high concentrations of cesium at the bottom of multiple dams in Fukushima Prefecture do not pose imminent danger to human health, there are no legal problems in the ministry refraining from taking action.
“If the dams dry up due to water shortages, we just have to keep people from getting close to them,” the aforementioned ministry official says. “If we were to try to decontaminate the dams, how would we secure water sources while the work is in progress? The impact of trying to decontaminate the dams under the current state of affairs would be greater than not doing anything.”
This stance taken by the central government has drawn protests from local residents.
“The Environment Ministry only says that it will monitor the dams’ water and the surrounding areas. They say, ‘We’ll deal with anything that comes up,’ but when asked what they plan to do if the dams break, they have no answers. It’s painful to us that we can only give town residents the answers that the Environment Ministry gives us,” says an official with the revitalization division of the Namie Municipal Government. The central government is set to lift evacuation orders for a part of the Fukushima Prefecture town of Namie in spring of 2017.
According to a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries survey, Ogaki Dam, an agricultural dam in Namie, was estimated to have sediment totaling approximately 8 trillion becquerels of cesium as of December 2013. The agriculture ministry plans to re-survey the dam’s accumulated cesium amounts and water safety before the water is used for agricultural purposes. Agricultural and fishery products from Fukushima Prefecture are tested to ensure that radioactive substances that they contain are below the maximum permissible amounts stipulated by law before they are shipped for distribution.
Still, one town official worries how revelations of high levels of radioactive material in local dams will affect consumers. “No matter how much they are told that the water is safe, will consumers buy agricultural products from Namie, knowing that there is cesium at the bottom of local dams?”
A 57-year-old vegetable farmer from Namie who has been evacuated to the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki says, “The central government keeps on emphasizing that the dams are safe, but doesn’t seem to be considering any fundamental solutions to the problem. If this state of affairs persists, we won’t be able to return to Namie with peace of mind, nor will it be easy to resume farming.”
Just like Chernobyl before it, the radioactive exclusion zone surrounding the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is starting to attract tourists, possibly turning into another of the world’s “exotic” tourist destinations.
Unlike the Chernobyl nuclear disaster which happened over 30 years ago, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant catastrophe is practically a recent event. On March 11, 2011 a tsunami that followed the Tohoku earthquake smashed into the plant, causing several meltdowns and the release of radioactive material resulting in the second nuclear disaster in history to be given the Level 7 event classification of the International Nuclear Event Scale.
Yet even though the scars left by this disaster are still fresh, it seems that there are already people who consider the radioactive zone surrounding the Fukushima nuclear plant a tourist attraction.
The first project aimed at transforming the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into a tourist attraction was presented to the Japanese authorities in 2012, only a year after the disaster, by philosopher Hiroki Azuma, the author of the Chernobyl Dark Tourism Guide, and his group of fellow enthusiasts.
According to Azuma’s vision, people should’ve been allowed to visit the area and see the process of the Fukushima plant’s decontamination with their own eyes; and by 2036 visitors should be able to approach the plant without the need to wear protective suits
Unfortunately, the prefectural administration torpedoed the idea, arguing that the word ‘tourism’ should never be applied to the catastrophe site.
But even though Azuma’s project was not to be, there are already plenty of companies organizing tours in the disaster area.
Hiroshi Miura, head of one such enterprise called NPO Nomado, told Sputnik that he first started working as a tour guide for people visiting his home city of Minamisoma, located 16 miles north of the Fukushima nuclear plant, back in 2012.
“In October 2012 I established a non-commercial organization Nomada and continued my business by creating a ’20 Kilometers Away From Fukushima-1′ tour. By 2014, just by myself, I had over 5,000 clients. In 2015 other guides and volunteers started working with me, and over 10,000 people participated in our tours,” he said.
Miura also added that the current situation at the nuclear plant is barely discussed by the media, except for the local prefectural outlets, and that the place where he used to live, located only 12 kilometers away from Fukushima Daiichi, remains in the same state as it was right after the tsunami, as no decontamination or recovery operations were conducted there.
Yuta Hirai, another tour guide working in Fukushima, also told Sputnik that there are people from all walks of life interested in visiting the site of the tragedy: scientists, students, former residents, and a considerable number of foreign tourists.
He also believes that tourism could play an important role in helping the Fukushima prefecture to recover from the ordeal of 2011.
“I believe it is important for the prefecture residents to understand that people from without are paying attention to them. They have mixed feelings about the incident, like ‘I want to forget but I don’t want to be forgotten.’ If we learn our lesson from what happened, if we understand that it must not happen again, then it could help the people of Fukushima to believe in themselves. There’s a tendency to pay greater attention to opinions from without rather than to opinions from within. So if more people from other prefectures see the situation with their own eyes, feel it and talk about it, then perhaps the current depressing situation in Fukushima may change for the better,” he said.
In consideration of the feelings of evacuees who want to return home, it is important to promptly present a specific picture of how towns affected by the nuclear disaster will be reconstructed.
Regarding the “difficult-to-return zones” designated following the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the government has announced a policy of designating priority areas and carrying out full-scale decontamination work there starting next fiscal year.
Entry remains strictly restricted for the difficult-to-return zones, where the yearly dose of radiation was higher than 50 millisieverts as of March 2012. This is the first time for the government to announce a policy of allowing evacuees to eventually return home in the zones.
The zones spread over seven municipalities around the Fukushima plant, including the towns of Okuma, Futaba and Namie.
The latest policy is characterized by the government establishing “reconstruction bases” that center around town offices and railway stations, and drawing up development plans exclusively for the base areas. The government will implement the development of infrastructure, including roads, concurrently with the decontamination work. It aims to lift the evacuation orders for residents in the year 2022, making it possible for evacuees to return home.
To decontaminate the entire area within the difficult-to-return zones will require a sizable amount of money. It is an appropriate measure to move ahead with the decontamination work by narrowing down the target area from the viewpoint of pursuing efficiency.
In areas where the radiation dose is relatively low, namely areas where residence is restricted and where preparations are being made for the lifting of evacuation orders, evacuation orders have already been rescinded for five municipalities. Another four municipalities have also taken such measures as allowing residents to return home for long-term stays, with the aim of lifting the evacuation orders next spring.
Limited progress in returns
However, in areas where evacuation orders have already been lifted, there has not been as much progress in residents’ return as was hoped. Even in the town of Naraha, for which evacuation orders were lifted last autumn and which is considered a model case for residents’ return, only about 10 percent of residents have come back.
There has not been sufficient development of bases closely linked to people’s daily life, such as medical institutions and commercial facilities. This can be a primary factor in evacuees’ reluctance to return home. Younger generations also have strong concerns about their jobs and their children’s education following their return.
Even if residents of the difficult-to-return zones were able to return, that would be six years from now. It would be difficult for residents to plan for their daily life.
At the moment, matters such as where the reconstruction bases can be located and the details of development plans have yet to be decided. It is important to show residents early on how their hometowns would be reconstructed, so as to fulfill evacuees’ wishes of returning home.
Many evacuees have given up on returning home and rebuilt their lives within or outside Fukushima Prefecture. According to a survey taken last year by the Reconstruction Agency, only 11 percent of evacuees from Okuma and 13 percent of those from Futaba — the towns straddled by the plant — said they want to return home.
How should towns be reconstructed to induce evacuees to consider returning? Each municipality is urged to carefully take up the wishes of evacuees and reflect them in the development plans.
As Fukushima’s reconstruction progresses, the government needs to continue doing its utmost in assisting the prefecture so as not to have the difficult-to-return zones become “left-behind areas.”
SEOUL, Sept. 19 (Yonhap) — South Korea has imported over 400 tons of foods grown with radiation exposure in Fukushima, Japan, over the past six years, a South Korean opposition lawmaker said Monday, despite local consumers’ worries over contamination.
A total of 407 tons of goods from the region were brought into the country, said Choi Do-ja of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, citing data of the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) submitted to the National Assembly.
A devastating earthquake off the east coast of Japan and a subsequent tsunami in 2011 led to the meltdown of nuclear reactors there, sparking worries among South Korean consumers that Japanese-produced goods, especially fishery products, have been contaminated with radiation.
By products, processed fishery goods stood as the top product with 233 tons, followed by mixed products with 51 tons and candy with 41 tons, the data showed.
The South Korean government currently sends back unsafe products from the region after screening them for cesium and iodine.
“Our people think that the government should more sternly limit imported foods from Japan despite the Seoul government’s stance that food from Fukushima is relatively safe following strict quarantine,” Choi said.
Despite the increased exports, industry watchers said the public anxiety over Japanese fishery goods still exists. In 2015, local authorities rounded up owners of 70 stores that deceived consumers on the origins of Japanese fishery products.
High-level Post-traumatic Stress Symptoms of the Residents in Fukushima Temporary Housing: Bio-psycho-social lmpacts by Nuclear Power Plant Disaster
Takuya Tsujiuchi, Kumiko Komaki, Takahiro lwagaki, Kazutaka Masuda, Maya Yamaguchi, Chikako Fukuda, Noriko Ishikawa, Ryuhei Mochida, Takaya Kojima, Koichi Negayama, Atsushi Ogihara, Hiroaki Kumano
Backgrounds: Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster occurred following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11,2011. It bears comparison with the incident in Chernobyl in 1986 in the degree of radiological contamination to the surrounding environment.164,218 residents were displaced losing their home-land by this serious incident, of which 97,321 were relocated to other regions within the Fukushima prefecture, and 57,135 residents were relocated to other prefectures. The evacuees from Fukushima can be considered the largest number of internally displaced persons’ or ‘domestic refugees’ in Japan after the world war two.
Objective:This study investigated the scale of post-traumatic stress(PTS)symptoms in the evacuees as of two years after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. It also tried to identify the impact of bio-psycho-social factors related to PTS symptoms.
Samples and methods:Questionnaire survey was conducted by Waseda University and Japan Broadcasting Corporation(NHK). 2,425 households living at temporary housings within Fukushima prefecture were asked to answer the Impact of Event Scale-Revised(IES-R)and the self-report questionnaires that we generated in order to evaluate the damage by the disaster in relation to several bio-psycho-social factors in refugee lives. There were 745 replies(the cooperation rate;30.7%),of which 661 were analyzed. Besides, multiple logistic regression analysis was performed to examine several bio-psycho-social factors as predictors for probable PTSD.
Results:High level PTS symptoms were found. The mean score of IES-R was 34.20±20.56, and 62.56%were over 24/25 cut-off point determined as broadly defined PTSD which means high-risk presence of probable PTSD. The significant differences by chi-square test of high-risk subjects were found among economic difficulty (P=.000), concerns about compensation (p=.000), lost jobs (p=.023), unsatisfying housing (p=.025), unsatisfying environment around temporary housing (p=.000), having chronic disease (p=.003), aggravation of chronic disease (p=.000), affection of new disease (p=.000), lack of necessary information (p=.000), family split-up (prO31), and lack of acquaintance support (p=.000). By the result of multiple logistic regression analysis, the significant predictors of probable PTSD were economic difficulty (OR:2.34,95%CI:1.30-4.24), concerns about compensation (OR:4.16,95% CI 1.26-13.76), aggravation of chronic disease (OR:2.94,95%CI:1.63-5.30), affection of new disease (OR:2.20,95%CI:1.21-3.99), and lack of acquaintance support (OR:1.92,95%CI:1.07-3.42).
Conclusion:The findings revealed that there is a high-risk presence of probable PTSD strongly related to a number of bio-psycho-social factors due to the nuclear power plant disaster and its consequent evacuation. Our findings underscore the specific characteristics of the nuclear disaster as man-made disaster. Since the socio-economic problems such as compensation and reparation have not been solved, it is suggested that prolonged uncertainty regarding the insufficient salvation of the evacuees might account for the high-level PTS symptoms.
(Received August 9,2015;accepted January 9,2016)
A public-private sector consortium tasked with promoting alternative energy in Fukushima Prefecture will start building new power transmission networks next fiscal year.
The consortium, made up of central government agencies, the Fukushima Prefectural Government and electric power companies, met on Sept. 7. It formulated a plan to make the prefecture staggered by 2011 mega-quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster a pioneer in clean energy.
The prefecture has announced plans to create two new wind power generation zones.
The coastal zone, which is close to Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, encompasses the cities and towns of Minamisoma, Namie, Futaba, Okuma, Tomioka, Naraha and Hirono.
The other is the inland Fukushima Abukuma zone, covering Tamura and the villages of Kawauchi and Katsurao. Together, the zones are expected to be among the biggest bases for wind power in Japan.
But due to the lack of power transmission lines in the mountains of Abukuma, operators have dragged their feet on the project.
According to the plan, private-sector companies, as well as Tepco and Tohoku Electric Power Co., will set up a new company tasked with building, maintaining and running power transmission lines. Construction will be financed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which has requested ¥10 billion for the project in fiscal 2017 budget.
The METI subsidy is expected to make it easier for private-sector firms to join the project, as they will not have to make huge capital investments. It is also hoped the project will generate new industries and jobs.
Fukushima Prefecture will start to study the areas where new power lines can be built, with plans to begin construction in fiscal 2017.
The transmission lines will be used to send both wind and solar power by connecting four power generation facilities in the Hama-dori coastal area and the Abukuma mountains with a transformer substation in the town of Tomioka.
The power generated will be used not only in Fukushima, but also in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The consortium hopes to start transmitting power by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The total length of the transmission lines is projected to be around 100 km, most of which will be buried under roads. The project will also use existing transmission lines that connect Tepco’s Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant with the transformer substation.
The prefecture, which plans to have renewable energy sources cover all its energy needs by 2040, as opposed to around 20 percent as of 2009, is surveying the best sites for wind power production.
The prefecture plans to pick the operators for the wind project in the Abukuma area at the end of this fiscal year. But it has yet to find firms willing to participate in the coastal project.
Five years after the nuclear power plant meltdown, a journey through the Fukushima evacuation zone reveals some high levels of radiation and an overriding sense of fear. For many, the psychological damage is far more profound than the health effects.
A radiation monitoring station alongside a road in Namie, Japan.
Japan’s Highway 114 may not be the most famous road in the world. It doesn’t have the cachet of Route 66 or the Pan-American Highway. But it does have one claim to fame. It passes through what for the past five years has been one of the most radioactive landscapes on the planet – heading southeast from the Japanese city of Fukushima to the stricken nuclear power plant, Fukushima Daiichi, through the forested mountains where much of the fallout from the meltdown at the plant in March 2011 fell to earth.
It is a largely empty highway now, winding through abandoned villages and past overgrown rice paddy fields. For two days in August, I traveled its length to assess the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in the company of Baba Isao, an assemblyman who represents the town of Namie, located just three miles from the power plant and one of four major towns that remain evacuated.
At times, the radiation levels seemed scarily high – still too high for permanent occupation. But radiation was just the start. More worrying, I discovered, was the psychological and political fallout from the accident. While the radiation – most of it now from caesium-137, a radioactive isotope with a half-life of 30 years – is decaying, dispersing, or being cleaned up, it is far from clear that this wider trauma has yet peaked. Fukushima is going to be in rehab for decades.
I began my journey with Baba, a small bustling man of 72 years, at Kawamata, a town on Highway 114 that is a gateway to the mountains beyond. These mountains are where the fallout was greatest, and the forests that cover most of their slopes have retained the most radioactivity. The mountains make up most of the government-designated “red zone,” where radiation doses exceed 50 millisieverts a year and which are likely to remain uninhabited for many years.
A second “yellow zone” has doses of 20-50 millisieverts, where returning may soon be possible; and a third “green zone,” with less than 20 millisieverts, is deemed safe to live in, and an organized return is under way or planned. Zones are re-categorized as radioactivity decays and hotspots are decontaminated.
To check progress, I took with me a Geiger counter that measured gamma radiation, the main source of radiation for anyone not eating contaminated food.
Beyond Kawamata, the road was largely empty and houses sat abandoned and overgrown. There was no cellphone signal. At first, houses we measured at the roadside had radiation doses equivalent to only around 2 millisieverts per year, a tenth of the government threshold for reoccupation. But within minutes, as we climbed into the mountains, radiation increased as we moved from green to yellow to red zones.
A map tracing Japan’s Highway 114 through the Fukushima evacuation zone
Despite the radiation, wildlife is thriving in the absence of people, Baba said. There are elk, wolves, lynx, monkeys, and bears in the mountains. “Nature here is beautiful,” he said, “but we can’t fish or collect bamboo shoots or eat the mountain vegetables that people used to harvest from the forests.”
We stopped by an abandoned gas station in Tsushima, a village in the lee of Mount Hiyama, where wild boar had excavated the soil right by a vending machine that appeared remarkably intact. The bright-red digital display on an official Geiger counter read the equivalent of 21 millisieverts per year, just above the limit for human habitation.
The day after the disaster at the power plant began, 1,400 people from Namie came to Tsushima after being ordered to evacuate. “I was among them,” said Baba. “We had no information. People were just told to come. When we arrived, we went to the village police station and found that the police there were in full protective clothing against the radiation. They said it was a precaution in case they had to go to the power plant, but they had obviously been told that something serious was going on that the population hadn’t been told. That’s when our suspicion about the honesty of the authorities began.”
Tsushima has since become an unofficial shrine to the disaster. In the window of an abandoned shop are posters with bitter, ironic messages, some directed at the nuclear plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power: “Thanks to TEPCO, we can shed tears at our temporary housing,” read one. “Thanks to TEPCO, we can play pachinko.” But one, in English, just said, “I shall return.”
Back on Highway 114, a car stopped, and a woman got out. Konno Hidiko was driving to Namie – day trips are allowed, but overnight stays banned – to clean her parents’ former house and tidy an ancestral grave before relatives visited during an upcoming religious holiday. “My parents are dead now, but I still clean their house,” she said. “There are mice inside and wild boar have been in. We won’t ever return to live there. But we might build a new house there one day.”
Further along, Baba stopped the car and walked up a path swathed in vegetation. “This is my house,” he said suddenly, pointing to a barely visible building. It was shuttered. But I noticed laundry still hanging to dry in an upstairs window. On a tour of the grounds, Baba showed me his plum trees. “The fruit is too dangerous to eat now, and we can’t drink the water from the well, either.” We found a shed where he and his schoolteacher wife once kept cattle, and a former hay shed where he stored old election banners.
Baba Isao approaches his abandoned house in Namie.
I checked my meter. It read 26 millisieverts per year in the hay shed, but shot up to an alarming 80 in undergrowth outside. That was four times the safe level for habitation. No wonder Baba had no plans to return. “I am just the son of a farmer. I wonder who has a right to destroy our home and my livelihood,” he mused bitterly. “Please tell the world: No Nukes.”
At his local post office, an official monitor by the road measured 56 millisieverts. Mine agreed, but when we pointed it close to a sprig of moss pushing through the tarmac, it went off the scale. “They measured 500 millisieverts here last week,” Baba said. “Moss accumulates radioactivity.”
As we drove on, the roadside was now marked every few kilometers by massive pyramids of black plastic bags, containing radioactive soil that had been stripped from roadside edges, paddy fields, and house gardens as part of government efforts to decontaminate the land. An estimated 3 million bags, all neatly tagged, now await final disposal at facilities planned along the coast. But the task of transporting the soil is so huge that the authorities are building a new road so trucks can bypass the scenic mountain villages along Highway 114.
Through a checkpoint we came at last to Namie town. Just before my visit, major media such as The Guardian and CNN had published images of the town by a photographer who claimed to have gained secret, unauthorized entry to the “ghost town.” He posed in his images wearing a gas mask to show how dangerous it was.
My visit to the town had required a request in advance, via Baba, but no subterfuge. And I found Namie a surprisingly busy “ghost town.” Nobody is yet allowed to live there. But some 4,000 people work there every day, repairing the railway line and roads, building new houses, and knocking down quake-damaged shops, preparing for the planned return of its citizens in April 2017.
There was plenty of earthquake damage, and vegetation pushed through cracks in the roads and the pavement in the front yards. Black bags were everywhere. But the traffic lights functioned, and drivers obeyed them; there was a 7-Eleven and the vending machines had Coke in them. Nobody wore protective clothing or masks. My biggest safety concern was not radiation, but the news, conveyed over the town’s public address system on the afternoon I was there, that a bear had been spotted in the suburbs.
Despite its proximity to the power plant, average radiation levels in the town were down to around 2 millisieverts per year in Namie – lower, in fact, than I recorded in Fukushima City, which was never evacuated.
“I have no idea how many people will come back,” said Baba. “They have a lot of misgivings because of the radioactive contamination. And I think their fears are totally justified. It is totally unthinkable for me to return to my old place, so I cannot encourage them to return to theirs.” He quoted a survey of the town’s 21,000 former residents showing that only 18 percent wanted to come back. That sounded similar to nearby Naraha town, where only a fifth returned after the all-clear was given last year.
A deserted street in Namie in early 2016.
People especially feared for their children. The biggest concern was reports of an epidemic of thyroid cancer among children exposed to radioactive iodine in the days after the accident. An ultrasound screening program had found an apparent 30-fold increase in cysts, nodules, and some cancers in children’s thyroid glands. It had made headline news.
But at the Fukushima Medical University, doctors and medical researchers insisted that radiation doses were far too low to pose a serious cancer risk, not least because contaminated foodstuffs that could have harbored the iodine were rapidly withdrawn from sale. Ken Nollet, an American who is director of radiation health at the university, insists that the apparent epidemic was evidence only of better searching for disease. He told me a Korean screening study using the same techniques on a non-exposed population found similar rates to those in Fukushima’s contaminated zone.
Thanks to the rapid, if chaotic, evacuation of the area after the power plant began its meltdown, and the controls of foodstuffs, doctors say they believe there are unlikely to be many, if any, deaths among the public from radiation from the Fukushima accident. “A few members of the public got a CT scan’s worth of radiation; almost nobody received more than the dose from a barium meal,” said Nollet.
But there have been deaths nonetheless. Some 60 old people died as a direct result of the evacuation, including several who died of hunger after being left behind, said a doctor at Soma hospital, Sae Ochi. And depression remains widespread among evacuees, she says. There have been around 85 suicides linked to its after-effects. “It’s post-traumatic stress,” said Masaharu Maeda at Fukushima Medical University. “People with very negative views about the risks of radiation are more likely to be depressed. It’s a vicious circle.”
Some doctors told me that while the initial evacuation was necessary, the failure to plan a swift return as radiation levels fell had been disastrous. Apart from a few high-dose areas in the mountains, the psychological risks of staying away exceed the radiological risks of coming back. But the confusion has contributed to a serious loss of trust among the public for medical, as well as nuclear, authorities. “When we try to explain the situation,” says Nollet, “we are seen as complicit in nuclear power.”
It seems increasingly unlikely that the majority of families will return to the abandoned towns as the official all-clear is given. As we drove back from Namie, I dropped in on a group of old women living in an evacuation camp outside Kawamata. One told me they wanted to return to their old homes, but that “most young people simply won’t go back. They fear for their children, but also they have moved on in their lives, with new jobs and their children in new schools.”
And maybe that is not a bad thing. At a kindergarten in Soma City, just outside the exclusion zone, teachers told me that, away from the fear of radiation, there was a baby boom going on there. The crop of new students this year was the largest since the accident.
6th Citizen-Scientist International Symposium on Radiation Protection Date: Friday, October 7 – Monday, October 10, 2016
From the Reality of Chernobyl and Fukushima
Date: Friday, October 7 – Monday, October 10, 2016
Venue: Main Hall, Fukushima Gender Equality Centre 1-196-1 Kakunai, Nihonmatsu, Fukushima, 964-0904
The Citizen-Scientist International Symposium on Radiation Protection (CSRP), a politically, financially, ideologically and religiously independent non-profit organization, has been committed to keeping to minimum the damages on health and environment caused by the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in March 11, 2011.
CSRP has been inviting administrative officials, researchers, NGOs, member experts of governmental inquiry commissions and international organizations working on radiation protection, etc. Since around the 3rd CSRP, this approach has started to bear fruit, because scientists and other stakeholders with different positions and paradigms began to share the same table of discussion, thus gradually making possible constructive exchange of views.
In the course of this approach, however, we began to encounter a new challenge that may concern the premise of the CSRP; the deeper we got into scientific discussion, the higher the hurdle for participation got for the general public, especially for younger generations. Also, the diversity of voices were to be alienated from pointed scientific discussions that are decisive for the decision-making of the radiation protection of the general public. This lead us to some interrogations : “Isn’t ‘science’ given too much importance in decision-making?”; “Is ‘science’ the only way for citizens to bring today’s situation under their power?”
While always continuing to examine new scientific findings with respect to health, environmental and social impacts of low-dose exposure, we added the theme of “Between Art and Science” to the 5th symposium last year, exposed various art works inspired by nuclear power and nuclear disasters, and organized a panel discussion with artists and scientists. This was the CSRP’s new attempt to question “science” and “scientificity” with a view to reexamining the relationships between science, art and philosophy before and after the modernity. The 6th CSRP of this year, held in the city of Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Pref., will collaborate with the Institute of Regional Creation by Arts, the University of Fukushima, to cosponsor the Fukushima Biennale 2016. We hope this new attempt will bring new visions to the participants.
As a place to learn and make full use of new findings exploring the effects of low-dose radiation exposure accumulating day by day, and to think together about the rights of people facing the consequences of the nuclear accident and about what epidemiology and public health should do in order to minimize the damage, we open the 6th Citizen-Scientist International Symposium on Radiation Protection.
“They never came back because the radiation levels were too high. The animal rescue teams knew the animals were abandoned and left there, so they had three weeks to go in there to find them,” said O’Connor, who added that farm animals usually had to be euthanized.
Shortly after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 in Japan, nearby residents were immediately evacuated from their homes because of the risk of radiation exposure. They were forced to leave their animals behind.
Akira Honda, nicknamed Taicho, immediately raced to the disaster area from his hometown six hours away to help, and realized the need for an animal shelter near the radiation-contaminated exclusion zone.
A month later, Taicho established the Nyander Guard Animal Rescue about 25 miles away.
Photos of the animal rescue operation in Japan are being exhibited until Tuesday at the Ventura County Animal Services shelter in Camarillo. A fundraiser is also being held for the continued care of animals at Nyander Guard.
Taicho toured the no-kill Camarillo shelter, met with Camarillo Mayor Mike Morgan and shared his story with visitors to the shelter on Saturday.
Visitors to the exhibit have an opportunity to donate to Nyander Guard, which has rescued 740 dogs and cats and currently cares for more than 200 animals.
Kerry O’Connor, a Nyander Guard volunteer from Camarillo who now lives in Japan, helped bring the photo exhibit to the Camarillo shelter. Some of the photos of animals with severe injuries are too graphic and are kept in a separate notebook that can still be viewed.
O’Connor went to Japan to volunteer after the nuclear disaster that followed an earthquake and tsunami. She said residents in Fukushima were assured they’d be back at home after a day or so, so they left their animals.
“They never came back because the radiation levels were too high. The animal rescue teams knew the animals were abandoned and left there, so they had three weeks to go in there to find them,” said O’Connor, who added that farm animals usually had to be euthanized.
“A lot of people were scared but realized saving the animals was the right thing to do,” said O’Connor, who translated for the Japanese-speaking Taicho.
She said the rescued dogs and cats had been exposed to radiation.
“But unless you had a really high dosage in a short amount of time, it really does not affect them until about 30 years later, and they don’t live that long,” O’Connor said.
Taicho had a cat rescue operation before he started Nyander Guard.
At Nyander Guard, cats are able to roam in cat rooms, while bigger dogs have spacious kennels and smaller dogs are kept indoors. The dogs are walked twice a day and sometimes taken on trips to parks.
Although five years have passed since the disaster, the shelter still rescues and feeds abandoned animals in the restricted areas, which are becoming extremely hard to enter.
In addition to Nyander Guard, Taicho recently acquired another shelter that aided in rescuing the Fukushima animals, which tripling the staff’s work.
His goal is to make Japan a place where animals shelters are no-kill and to start a national protection organization.
Study on the impact of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident On Animals:
(Adobe. 64pg. PDF.)
This video is from April 9, 2016, 6 months ago.
Two evacuated women from Fukushima talk about their experiences. One of them gives information about malformations of fetus and abortions.
With English subtitles which are not great but you can follow the story.
TOMIOKA, Fukushima — Long-term stays (see below) for residents of Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, started on Saturday. Evacuation orders for the town limits issued after the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant still stand.
The success of the project will hinge on how many residents the town can get back, with a view to having the evacuation orders lifted in April next year.
Shizuo Suzuki, 63, who resumed business 2½ years ago on a shopping street in the town’s Chuo district, which is part of a zone people are allowed to enter during the daytime, is hoping for some of the bustle of the town to return.
Suzuki’s hardware shop is on Chuo shopping street, which is on the west side of the JR Joban Line’s Tomioka Station. Suzuki took over the shop, which was established in 1952, after his father died in 1998. Before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the shop mainly dealt with materials such as cement, gravel and reinforced steel, supplying local building companies.
Although the earthquake didn’t do much damage to the shop, the nuclear plant accident which followed forced Suzuki and his 58-year-old wife to move out. After they drifted around various places in Fukushima Prefecture, including a gymnasium in Kawauchi, a neighboring village to the west of Tomioka, and a home of their relatives in Aizuwakamatsu, they finally settled in Iwaki.
Entering Tomioka became easier when the government eased regulations in 2013. The area around Suzuki’s shop was designated a residence restriction zone, making it possible for him to resume business there.
Suzuki, who was then working part-time at a construction company in Iwaki, decided to go back to his shop in January 2014. Although he did not know how many customers would come, he was looking forward to working in his hometown again.
“I wanted to stay positive and uphold my sense of purpose in life,” he said. Commuting from Iwaki, he cleaned up the shop and resumed business in March 2014, after decontamination of the area was complete.
Suzuki still commutes to Tomioka from Iwaki, which takes about an hour each way by car. The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Five or six workers involved in decontamination work or building demolition in the neighborhood visit the shop daily and purchase items such as shovels, crowbars and ropes. As Suzuki’s shop is the only one to have resumed business in the area, the bustle of the shopping street has not yet returned.
According to the municipal government, shops that have reopened other than Suzuki’s are limited to convenience stores and gas stations. The town plans to open a commercial facility, publicly funded and privately operated, that includes a home-improvement center and restaurants at the end of November, for long-term-stay residents and in preparation for the lifting of evacuation orders.
“Streets will come back to life as people start returning for long stays. I hope other shops will resume business too,” Suzuki said. He had his home next to the shop demolished as it had decayed while he was away. He intends to rebuild his house and live in the town when other residents start to return.
■ Long-term stay
In anticipation of the lifting of evacuation orders, registered residents are allowed to stay in their houses to find out what problems they may face when they return to the town. The number of registered residents in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, as of July 12 was 9,679 from 3,860 households. According to the central government, 119 residents from 56 households have applied for long-term stays as of Thursday.
Local government officials, rather than objectively scientifically determine whether it was safe or not for the people just accepted the central government political decision to have debris from Fukushima brought and burned in many municipalities and prefectures throughout Japan.
As a result not only the Fukushima people have inhaled radioactive nanoparticles, but also many other people in other locations.
The map below, from year 2012, shows locations where Fukushima debris was burned then, it was really spread all over Japan during the first 3 years, 2011, 2012, 2013.
Today incineration of Fukushima debris continues in 19 locations in Fukushima prefecture…
… and some of the Eastern Japan prefectures.
“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” — Jacques Cousteau
“When drinking water, remember its source.” — Chinese proverb
“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” — Matthew 7:16-20, Holy Bible
Japan has an amazing food culture thanks in part to the rich volcanic soil and ample rainfall, despite the lack of spacious farms. As it stands, Japan can feed approximately one third of its population from domestic production.
If you watch Japanese TV from time to time, you will see a bizarre and disturbing fetishization of food that borders on the insane. The media and in turn consumers are obsessed with food as not only a source of nutrition and social cohesion (all for the good), but as art, fashion and status symbol, a celebration of gluttony and greed; an infantile obsession with eating for self satisfaction.
I love good and healthy food and appreciate Asian cuisine, but we eat to live, not live to eat. This social pathology affects other cultures as well as seen by increasing rates of extreme obesity especially in Western countries due to the proliferation of shopping malls, junk food and high fructose corn syrup.
How ironic then that a “high food” society like Japan would have to suffer the insult of radioactive contamination. This is not a tuna melt sandwich but a nuclear melt-down sundae.
The long-term consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster continue to linger years after the event. Anyone who studies Chernobyl will know that even after three decades radioactive contamination persists. Although a different type of accident occurred there, in the case of Fukushima it was three reactors that had meltdowns instead of one, and even possibly “melt throughs” referring to corium penetrating the reactor buildings in lateral and vertical outward paths.
In the days and months that followed the Fukushima disaster in March of 2011, many people became very worried about radioactive contamination of the food and water supply, especially from short-lived iodine isotopes, followed by the more persistent and harmful cesium, strontium and plutonium. There was much testing by both the government and independent researchers and organizations. Despite the best efforts of the Japanese government, nuclear industry and mainstream media to downplay the crisis, social media proved helpful in educating the public about how to reduce consumer risks.
The worst contamination occurred nearest the disaster site of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station (Dai-ichi) which is located about half way up the east coast in Fukushima prefecture.
When I visited Hirano town with my colleague Yoichi Shimatsu in 2013, we traveled on foot within a few kilometers of the site. We observed abnormally high levels of radiation making it unfit for long-term habitation. Decontamination has taken place there but it is not a thorough removal method and basically shifts radiation from one spot to another in the environment.
Today, if you visit the Japanese government website of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (1) you can find a variety reports on radiation levels with most reports citing very low levels of radiation. How the government arrives at such measurements is not clearly explained at the website. Are their measurements reliable or being taken in a selective manner?
The government hopes to normalize the former evacuation zone by allowing and encouraging residents to move back as soon as possible, despite their reluctance to do so.
Only 28% of Fukushima children returning to former schools….
The majority of schoolboys and girls are opting to stay out of their hometowns due to anxiety over radiation exposure and resettlement at evacuation sites (2).
The problem of radioactive contamination is not unique to Fukushima but to the entire region including Tokyo, home of millions. Recall that 60 million people were originally exposed to radioactive fallout from the accident. Japan was actually lucky because the majority of radiation blew out to sea away from Honshu, not back over the population.
While the government moves to allow wide-scale fishing off the coast of Fukushima (3), and the NRA reports minimal levels of radiation leaking from the plant into the ocean, this confidence in a safe environment is undermined by a report from Greenpeace which found “[r]adiation along Fukushima rivers up to 200 times higher than Pacific Ocean seabed.”
Riverbank sediment samples taken along the Niida River in Minami Soma, measured as high as 29,800 Bq/kg for radiocaesium (Cs-134 and 137). The Niida samples were taken where there are no restrictions on people living, as were other river samples. At the estuary of the Abukuma River in Miyagi prefecture, which lies more than 90km north of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, levels measured in sediment samples were as high as 6,500 Bq/kg (4).
The rivers and ocean are connected and one wonders why the media does not report on these worrying hotspots. These dangerously high levels are indicative of the widely scattered hotspots in the region. In contrast, I could find no reports on the radiation levels at river banks and lake beds at the NRA website, only some reports on radiation found in dust, seawater and so on.
For example, one 2014 report states:
Air dose rates in both “Road and its adjacent area” and “Vacant land lot” have decreased more rapidly than we expected considering the physical half-life of radionuclide in 32 months after the accident. Air dose rates in “Road and its adjacent area” have decreased more rapidly than “Vacant land lot” in 32 months after the accident (5).
The Culture Of Cover Up: Spiked!
A few months ago I was shopping at my health food store in central Tokyo when I was asked by the clerk if I would like to be interviewed by a TV reporter from the Asahi News. I said “sure why not.” Japanese TV often has “man on the street” types of interviews and if you put the shop in a good light, you might appear in a news “infomercial.”
The reporter asked me various questions about why I buy organic food and I spoke proficiently in Japanese about the positive benefits of eating organic food including its superior nutrition and flavor, and because it contributes to the local farm economy.
But I shocked the guy at this point when I bluntly stated that due to the radioactive contamination from Fukushima nuclear disaster, I prefer to buy food produced from as far away as possible, never from the northeast or Tokyo regions of Japan. Food from the west and far southwest of Japan has substantially less radioactive contamination.
I’m not sure if the reporter was even aware of the issue, being a “news reporter” you think he might have been. But it was clear from his reaction that this was a one hundred percent taboo topic. Perhaps because I was a foreigner I was perceived as rude and barbaric for raising it, and I knew ahead of time that by mentioning this my interviewed would not be aired, and it wasn’t.
In fact, after the 3/11 accident my regular health food shop very noticeably shifted the origin of their produce away from the northeast and Tokyo and toward the west, southwest of Japan due to consumer concerns. As for the Asahi News who are an arm of the Abe Propaganda Establishment (APE), Fukushima must only be presented to the public as a pristine location whose products are reliable and safe. A recent study reported:
According to the agriculture ministry, 260,538 food items were inspected in fiscal 2015, and 99 percent of farm products had cesium of less than 25 becquerels per kilogram. The tests showed that 264 items, or 0.1 percent of the total, had cesium exceeding the upper limit. Of these, 259 — or 98 percent — were wild mushrooms, game meat, freshwater fish and other so-called “hard-to-control items” (6).
According to this official data, small numbers of becquerels could be – probably are – routinely entering the general food supply, not to mention the issue of Tokyo’s persistently contaminated water supply which contains minute amounts of cesium.
Radiation is the new normal.
Although the majority of food is under 25 bq per kg of contamination, we don’t know the exact amount. If you multiply that small amount by the number of items consumed daily the danger to health grows exponentially over time.
It is good that Japan has strict standards on radioactive food products — the US allows 1,500 becquerels per kilogram versus Japan’s 100 — but the ubiquitous and long-term aspect of the problem is an ongoing concern.
Richard Wilcox is a contributing editor and writer for the book: Fukushima: Dispossession or Denuclearization? (2014) and a Tokyo-based teacher and writer who holds a PhD in environmental studies. He is gratefully a periodic contributor to Activist Post.
1 – Nuclear Regulation Authority
2 – Only 28% of Fukushima children returning to former schools
3 – 83 species now eligible for test fishing off coast of Fukushima
4 – Radiation along Fukushima rivers up to 200 times higher than Pacific Ocean seabed – Greenpeace
5 – Monitoring air dose rates in road/its adjacent area and vacant land lot from a series of surveys by car-borne radiation detectors and survey meters after the Fukushima Daiichi NPS accident
6 – 0.1% of food items exceed radiation limit 5 1/2 years after nuke disaster
Nearly 5½ years after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, a fan club was launched last week with an ambitious membership goal: gain 200,000 members by 2020 and boost the region’s products in the process.
Called Team Fukushima Pride, the project’s fans aren’t devoted to a pop idol group, but instead the local specialties of Fukushima Prefecture.
Already it has the support of organizations such as Yahoo Japan Corp. and Synergy Marketing Inc., which runs the fan club for professional baseball team Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
“Many people want to support Fukushima products but don’t know how to purchase them. I would like to organize a community for them and increase fans,” reconstruction minister Hiroaki Nagasawa, whose ministry spearheads the project, said.
At the heart of the project is a website that sells local products.
Hayato Ogasawara, spokesman for Fukushima Challenge Hajimeppe, an organization tasked with running the fan club and website, said the time of begging people to buy Fukushima products is over. Instead, the focus is to make Fukushima a brand of high-quality farm and marine produce.
“Rather than stressing the safety of the products, we want to inform people simply how great producers and products” in Fukushima are, said Ogasawara.
He said since the disaster the prefecture has been working to assure the safety of its local produce.
“We don’t conduct our own (radiation) checks on the products, but if asked we would explain the efforts of the prefecture,” he said.
Although many people supported Fukushima products in 2011 in the wake of the quake and tsunami, and subsequent radiation crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Ogasawara said sales figures have declined as a result of what he describes as the spread of misinformation about food safety, and due to diminished public focus on the area.
The Fukushima Prefectural Government continues to monitor radiation levels of the prefecture’s food products, ranging from vegetables and fruit to seafood. Among the 9,445 samples of 374 food items checked between April 1 and Aug. 31, just three samples were found to contain radioactive cesium exceeding the government limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram, according to the prefecture. The items that exceeded the limit were banned from distribution.
“The market value of peaches grown in Fukushima is roughly 80 percent of the price levels before the disaster,” Ogasawara said.
“It’s easy to beat the price down if the product is made in Fukushima. Our mission is to bring the price up and eventually develop fan bases for each producer there.”
Available for purchase are fruit, vegetables, sake and traditional crafts produced in the prefecture.
While the website allows anyone to make purchases, fan club members also have access to exclusive items.
Admission is free, and members are also offered opportunities to interact with Fukushima farmers through a special Facebook group and harvesting tours.
“After the disaster, I felt what we farmers could do by ourselves (was) very limited,” said Emi Kato, 35, a rice farmer in the city of Fukushima, who is involved in the project.
“But now there is a platform, which connects farmers and consumers. I’d like to keep on promoting the charm of Fukushima products.”
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