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Fukushima mothers record radiation for future generations

np_file_4946-870x580A member of Mothers’ Radiation Lab Fukushima cuts green tops off of turnips to measure their radiation level in a lab in Iwaki

 

April 10, 2020

Iwaki, Fukushima Pref. – A group of more than 10 mothers set up a citizen-led laboratory to monitor radiation levels in Fukushima communities only months after a massive earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at a nuclear power plant in the prefecture nine years ago.

Since the foundation of the institute on Nov. 13, 2011, it has been recording and disclosing radiation data on foodstuffs and soil it collected or were brought in by people from different parts of the prefecture, as well as seawater off the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

If the risks of nuclear power had been thoroughly verified by the previous generations, I think the disaster would not have happened,” Kaori Suzuki, 54, an executive of Mothers’ Radiation Lab Fukushima, based in Iwaki, said in a recent interview.

But since it did occur, what we must do now is record our measurements and changes in the environment so we won’t make the same mistake,” said Suzuki, one of the founding members. “Passing down something that will be useful when major decisions must be made is the only thing we can do.”

The laboratory of 18 staff members, many of them mothers who mostly had no prior experience in measuring radiation, have trained themselves with support from scientists, and they now gauge levels of cesium 134, cesium 137, tritium and strontium 90 with five types of machines.

Samples they have measured include dust in vacuum cleaners, vegetables grown in home gardens, seasonal mushrooms picked in mountains and soil gathered in parks.

They have occasionally detected radiation above safety levels, and reports the lab releases every month on its website have specified which machine is used and other details for each outcome to make their activities as transparent as possible.

Their efforts have made academic contributions as well, with their measuring methods and results published in scientific journals such as Applied Radiation and Isotopes in 2016.

Suzuki said they started the initiative out of desperation to protect their children.

We had to measure and eat. It was a matter of life and death,” the mother of two said.

As of April 6, 468 people in Iwaki, about 50 kilometers south of the crippled Fukushima plant, had died as a result of the events of March 2011, while more than 20,000 remained evacuated in and outside the city.

Noriko Tanaka, 40, who joined the group in May 2018, said studying radiation levels has changed how she perceives the environment around her.

You don’t need to fear everything, randomly. Rather than worrying about everything and being stressed out by that, measuring and seeing the data make you relieved to find that some things are safer than you presumed,” Tanaka said.

On the other hand, if you find a highly contaminated spot, for example, in a park where you thought it was safe to play, you can take precautionary measures,” she said.

Tanaka, who after the disaster temporarily fled from Iwaki to her husband’s home in Saitama Prefecture, found out during the evacuation that the couple were expecting their first child.

She had hoped to stay there or relocate elsewhere for safety, but with some family members not recognizing risks, her family eventually returned to Iwaki. Her husband was working at her family’s electrical construction firm, expecting orders for reconstruction in areas devastated by the March 11, 2011, triple disaster.

At that time, the common atmosphere was like, ‘Do we need to go that far?’ I was pregnant and couldn’t live on my own. I couldn’t choose that. I had no choice but to be in Iwaki,” she said.

As time goes by, Tanaka has found that fewer people are discussing radiation effects.

The number of samples brought in by citizens last year was 1,573, up 131 from the year before, but it is showing a decreasing trend overall compared to years before, according to the lab.

The Olympic Games are coming, and there are fewer media reports on radiation levels than before,” she said.

Officials have dubbed the Tokyo Summer Games the “Reconstruction Olympics,” with the hope of showcasing the country’s recovery from the 2011 catastrophe.

Because of that concept, the starting point of the Japan leg of the torch relay for the Olympics, which were recently put off for a year to the summer of 2021 due to the global coronavirus pandemic, was a soccer training center in Fukushima Prefecture that served as a front-line base in the battle against the nuclear disaster.

Tanaka said logging accurate data and keeping them publicly available are all the more important. “To protect children, having information is essential in deciding what to eat or where to go,” she said, adding that judgments based on correct data will also prevent any discrimination.

Recalling that she lined up outside a supermarket for an hour with her children on March 13, 2011, Ai Kimura, who has two daughters, said, “Even now, sometimes I’m hit by remorse about my ignorance on radiation at that time.”

A couple of years later, Kimura, a member of the lab since March 2014, said she became even more insensitive to possible health risks after seeing her neighbors begin drying clothes and blankets outside, or having their children not wear masks.

But when I joined the lab and started taking measurements, I was stunned that some showed high levels of radioactive contamination,” the 40-year-old said. “I was depressed. What have I done to my children because of my ignorance? … I think there are many mothers (who blame themselves) like me.”

Kimura said she feels that the fears people have toward the new coronavirus are similar to those toward radiation, as they are both invisible.

Everyone forgets about (radiation) because its effects in 10 or 20 years are uncertain, unlike the new coronavirus that shows pneumonia-like symptoms in a couple of weeks,” she said. “I realized again that people in affected areas like us have been living every day with the same feelings toward the coronavirus pandemic.”

It’s exhausting,” she said, adding her daughters must have had a hard time as she made them do things differently from their friends, such as wearing masks. “But I felt I was not wrong when my daughter said to me recently, ‘I was being protected by you, mom.’”

In addition to conducting surveys on radiation readings in the environment and food items, the lab in May 2017 opened a clinic with a full-time doctor to provide free medical checkups on internal exposure.

I think it’s necessary to keep checking children’s health as they grow up, rather than drawing a conclusion saying there won’t be any problem with this level of radiation exposure,” said Misao Fujita, 58, a doctor who is a native of Tochigi Prefecture.

Fujita said the amount of radiation exposure dosage and risks of health damage differ among children even if they live in the same area, depending on such factors as their location and behavior in the days after the nuclear disaster, whether they evacuated and what they eat now.

Those who underwent Fujita’s medical checkups when they were children include a woman who now takes her own child to the clinic, in addition to a number of young decontamination workers.

The nuclear disaster is something that’s carried on to coming generations. That’s what we have left,” Fujita said. “We must also not forget that about 30,000 people are still unable to return to their hometowns in the prefecture. The disaster isn’t over yet.”

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/04/10/national/social-issues/fukushima-mothers-record-radiation/#.XpCN1ZngqUk

April 24, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Mothers Find High Levels of Radiation in Food Post-Fukushima Disaster

The “Mothers’ Radiation Lab” in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture is staffed by local mothers who test foods, water, soil and other local materials for nuclear radiation.
In the aftermath of the 9.1-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that caused the nuclear power plant in Fukushima to leak radioactive materials, a group of Japanese mothers work to ensure local food is safe to eat. Despite lacking a scientific background or university education, they are passionate about informing keeping the public informed. 
Although levels of radiation have declined since the 2011 incident, these mothers know the struggle for safe food and water is not over. “Mothers’ Radiation Lab” staff has found Shitake mushrooms, which are often included in Japanese cuisine, have the highest noticeable levels of radiation.
“How do you fight these invisible threats? The best way is to measure them,” says Kaori Suzuki, director at Mothers’ Radiation Lab.

July 16, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima’s mothers became radiation experts to protect their children after nuclear meltdown

 

1The mothers test everyday items including rice, vacuum cleaner dust, seafood, moss and soil for radiation

May 12, 2019
Inside a laboratory in Fukushima, Japan, the whirr of sophisticated equipment clicks, beeps and buzzes as women in lab coats move from station to station.
They are testing everything — rice, vacuum cleaner dust, seafood, moss and soil — for toxic levels of radiation.
But these lab workers are not typical scientists.
They are ordinary mums who have built an extraordinary clinic.
“Our purpose is to protect children’s health and future,” says lab director Kaori Suzuki.
In March 2011, nuclear reactors catastrophically melted down at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, following an earthquake and tsunami.
Driven by a desperate need to keep their children safe, a group of mothers began testing food and water in the prefecture.
The women, who had no scientific background, built the lab from the ground up, learning everything on the job.
The lab is named Tarachine, a Japanese word which means “beautiful mother”.
“As mothers, we had to find out what we can feed our children and if the water was safe,” Ms Suzuki says.

2“We had no choice but to measure the radiation and that’s why we started Tarachine.”

The director of the mothers’ lab in Fukushima said the aftermath of the disaster was “chaos.”
After the nuclear accident, Fukushima residents waited for radiation experts to arrive to help.
“No experts who knew about measuring radiation came to us. It was chaos,” she says.
In the days following the meltdown, a single decision by the Japanese Government triggered major distrust in official information which persists to this day.
The Government failed to quickly disclose the direction in which radioactive materials was drifting from the power plant.

3The mothers lost faith in government officials after they didn’t quickly communicate information about radiation levels.

Poor internal communications caused the delay, but the result was that thousands fled in the direction that radioactive materials were flying.
Former trade minister Banri Kaieda, who oversaw energy policy at the time, has said that he felt a “sense of shame” about the lack of disclosure.
But Kaori Suzuki said she still finds it difficult to trust the government.
“They lied and looked down on us, and a result, deceived the people,” Ms Suzuki says.
“So it’s hard for the people who experienced that to trust them.”
She and the other mothers who work part-time at the clinic feel great responsibility to protect the children of Fukushima.
But it hasn’t always been easy.
When they set up the lab, they relied on donated equipment, and none of them had experience in radiation testing.

4The women had to teach themselves how to use the equipment for their lab.

“There was nobody who could teach us and just the machines arrived,” Ms Suzuki says.
“At the time, the analysing software and the software with the machine was in English, so that made it even harder to understand.
“In the initial stage we struggled with English and started by listening to the explanation from the manufacturer. We finally got some Japanese software once we got started with using the machines.”
Radiation experts from top universities gave the mothers’ training, and their equipment is now among the most sophisticated in the country.

5The women were eventually taught more about testing radiation by world class experts.

 

Food safety is still an issue

The Fukushima plant has now been stabilised and radiation has come down to levels considered safe in most areas.
But contamination of food from Japan remains a hotly contested issue.
Australia was one of the first countries to lift import restrictions on Japanese food imports after the disaster.
But more than 20 countries and trading blocs have kept their import ban or restrictions on Japanese fisheries and agricultural products.
At the clinic in Fukushima, Kaori Suzuki said she accepted that decision.
“It doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. I feel that’s just the decision they have made for now,” she says.
Most results in their lab are comparatively low, but the mothers say it is important there is transparency so that people know what their children are consuming.

Fukushima’s children closely monitored after meltdown

6Noriko Tanaka was three months pregnant when the Fukushima nuclear plant melted down.

Noriko Tanaka is one of many mothers in the region who felt that government officials were completely unprepared for the unfolding disaster.
She was three months pregnant with her son Haru when the disaster struck.
Ms Tanaka lived in Iwaki City, about 50 kilometres south of the power plant.

7The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant melted down after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Amid an unfolding nuclear crisis, she panicked that the radioactive iodine released from the meltdown would harm her unborn child.
She fled on the night of the disaster.
When she returned home 10 days later, the fear of contamination from the invisible, odourless radioactive material weighed deeply on her mind.
“I wish I was able to breastfeed the baby,” she says.
“[Radioactive] caesium was detected in domestic powdered milk, so I had to buy powdered milk made overseas to feed him.”
Ms Tanaka now has two children —seven-year-old Haru and three-year-old Megu.
She regularly takes them in for thyroid checks which are arranged free-of-charge by the mothers’ clinic.
Radiation exposure is a proven risk factor for thyroid cancer, but experts say it’s too early to tell what impact the nuclear meltdown will have on the children of Fukushima.
Noriko Tanaka is nervous as Haru’s thyroid is checked.
“In the last examination, the doctor said Haru had a lot of cysts, so I was very worried,” she says.
However this time, Haru’s results are better and he earns a high-five from Dr Yoshihiro Noso.
Doctors found that Haru had several cysts during his last thyroid check, but things look better this time.
“He said there was nothing to worry about, so I feel relieved after taking the test,” Ms Tanaka says.
“The doctor told me that the number of cysts will increase and decrease as he grows up.”
Dr Noso says his biggest concern is for children who were under five years old when the accident happened.
The risk is particularly high for girls.
Girls like Megu could be at greater risk than boys from radiation exposure.
“Even if I say there is nothing to worry medically, each mother is still worried,” he says.
“They feel this sense of responsibility because they let them play outside and drink the water. If they had proper knowledge of radiation, they would not have done that,” he said.

Mums and doctors fear for future of Fukushima’s children

After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, the incidence of thyroid cancers increased suddenly after five years.
Dr Noso travels across the country to check up on the children of Fukushima.
Doctor Noso has operated on only one child from Fukushima, but it is too early to tell if the number of thyroid cancers is increasing because of the meltdown.
“There isn’t a way to distinguish between cancers that were caused naturally and those by the accident,” he says.
“In the case of Chernobyl, the thyroid cancer rate increased for about 10 years. It’s been eight years since the disaster and I would like to continue examinations for another two years.”
As each year passes, the mothers’ attention gradually turns to how their children will be treated in the future.

Noriko Tanaka’s biggest fear now is the potential discrimination her children may face.
Noriko Tanaka has a seven-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter.
Some children, whose families fled Fukushima to other parts of Japan have faced relentless bullying.
“Some children who evacuated from Fukushima living in other prefectures are being bullied [so badly that they] can’t go to school,” Noriko Tanaka said.
“The radiation level is low in the area we live in and it’s about the same as Tokyo, but we will be treated the same as the people who live in high-level radiation areas.”
Noriko is particularly worried for little Megu because of prejudice against the children of Fukushima.
“For girls, there are concerns about marriage and having children because of the possibility of genetic issues.”
Noriko fears her daughter Megu will face discrimination because she was born in the fallout zone
Source:
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-12/fukushima-mums-teach-themselves-how-to-be-radiation-experts/11082520

May 15, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Mothers Testing for Radiation in Food Post-Fukushima Disaster

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The “Mothers’ Radiation Lab” in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture is staffed by local mothers who test foods, water, soil and other local materials for nuclear radiation.

In the aftermath of the 9.1-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that caused the nuclear power plant in Fukushima to leak radioactive materials, a group of Japanese mothers work to ensure local food is safe to eat. Despite lacking a scientific background or university education, they are passionate about informing keeping the public informed.

Although levels of radiation have declined since the 2011 incident, these mothers know the struggle for safe food and water is not over. “Mothers’ Radiation Lab” staff has found Shitake mushrooms, which are often included in Japanese cuisine, have the highest noticeable levels of radiation.

“How do you fight these invisible threats? The best way is to measure them,” says Kaori Suzuki, director at Mothers’ Radiation Lab.

https://www.linktv.org/shows/trust-docs/japanese-mothers-find-high-levels-of-radiation-in-food-post-fukushima-disaster

November 18, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

After Fukushima disaster, Japanese mothers don lab coats to measure radiation

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IWAKI, Japan, March 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – At a laboratory an hour’s drive from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, a woman with a white mask over her mouth presses bright red strawberries into a pot, ready to be measured for radiation contamination.

Six years after a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered meltdowns at three of Fukushima’s reactors, local mothers with no scientific background staff a laboratory that keeps track of radiation levels in food, water and soil.

As some women divide the samples between different bowls and handmade paper containers, others are logging onto computers to keep an eye on data – findings that will be published for the public to access.

The women on duty, wearing pastel-coloured overalls, are paid a small salary to come in for a few hours each day, leaving them free to care for their children after school.

“In universities, data is handled by qualified students, who have taken exams qualifying them to measure radiation. Here, it’s done by mothers working part-time. It’s a crazy situation,” laughed Kaori Suzuki, director of Tarachine, the non-profit organisation that houses the mothers’ radiation lab.

“If a university professor saw this I think they would be completely shocked by what they see.”

Tarachine was set up 60 km (40 miles) down the coast from the Fukushima plant, in the city of Iwaki. After the magnitude 9 quake struck on March 11, 2011, triggering a tsunami, authorities declared a no-go zone around the plant.

Iwaki lay outside its 30 km radius, with lower radiation levels compared to the rest of Fukushima prefecture.

But with public announcements advising locals to stay indoors in the aftermath of the worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl, the “invisible enemy” of radiation has continued to worry the mothers working at the lab.

NOTHING TO SEE, SMELL OR FEEL

“As ordinary citizens we had no knowledge about radiation at all. All we knew was that it is frightening,” said Suzuki.

“We can’t see, smell or feel radiation levels. Given this invisibility, it was extremely difficult for us. How do we fight it? The only way is to measure it.”

To supplement readings by the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that manages the nuclear plant, Tarachine publishes its own findings every month.

With donations from the public that helped them buy equipment designed to measure food contamination, the mothers measure radioactive isotopes caesium 134 and 137, and collect data on gamma radiation, strontium 90 and tritium, all of which were released during the Fukushima disaster.

Strontium-90 gravitates toward the bones when absorbed by breathing it, drinking it in water, or eating it in food. It can remain for years, potentially causing bone cancer or leukaemia.

Tritium goes directly into the soft tissues and organs of the human body. Although it is less harmful to humans who are exposed to small amounts of tritium every day, it could still be a hazard for children, scientists say.

The mothers say other parents trust the lab’s radioactivity readings in local food more than those from the government.

“This issue is part of everyday life for these mothers, so they have the capability to spot certain trends and various problems rather than just accumulating expert knowledge,” said Suzuki.

To handle potentially dangerous materials, the mothers have to study for exams related to radiation and organic chemistry.

“At the beginning I was just completely clueless. It gave me so much of a headache, it was a completely different world to me!” said Fumiko Funemoto, a mother of two, who measures strontium 90 at the lab.

“But you start to get the hang of it as you’re in this environment every day.”

As the lab only accepts items for testing from outside the exclusion zone, most results show comparatively low radiation levels.

But Suzuki says this is an important process and is especially reassuring to the parents of young children. The women also measure radiation levels in sand from the beach, which has been out of bounds to their children.

“If the base is zero becquerels (unit of radiation), and there is, say, 15 or 16 becquerels of caesium, that’s still higher than zero. That means there is slightly more risk,” Suzuki said.

“There are also times when you’re like, ‘Oh, I thought levels were going to be high there – but it’s actually ok’. The importance lies in knowing what’s accurate, whether it’s high or low … unless you know the levels, you can’t implement the appropriate measures.”

MINIMISING THE RISKS

Since official screenings began following the nuclear accident, 174 children in Fukushima prefecture have been diagnosed with – or are suspected of having – thyroid cancer, according to figures from Fukushima’s local government.

Despite the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)reporting in 2015 that an increase in thyroid cancer is unlikely, the mothers insist there is value in their work.

The first pictures from inside the nuclear plant were released by TEPCO in January, announcing it may have found nuclear fuel debris below the damaged No. 2 reactor – one of three affected by the 2011 disaster.

“In general, the issue of nuclear power is not really talked about much these days. It was talked about after the accident for about a year or so, but today, conversations mentioning words like ‘radiation’ don’t happen anymore,” Funemoto said.

“But I think the reality is different. The radiation isn’t going to go away. That’s why I’m doing this. So many places are still damaged. This idea that it’s safe and that we shouldn’t be anxious doesn’t really add up.”

Ai Kimura, another mother agrees. “My parents think I’m a bit paranoid. They keep saying, ‘it’s okay isn’t it?” she said.

“But what if there’s a chance that in 10 or 20 years time, my own child gets thyroid cancer? And I could have done my bit to minimise the risks. My children are mine and I want to do whatever I can to protect them.”

http://uk.reuters.com/article/japan-women-radiation-idUKL8N1G66K0

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | 5 Comments

Men Over 30 Whole-Body Counter Examination increasing at Iwaki city Mothers Radiation Lab

Since 2014 the number of men over 30 years old having whole body counter examination(Radioactivity measurement of the whole body) is increasing at the Tarachine Mothers Radiation Lab in Iwaki city, Fukushima,. Most of them are decontamination workers.

14650717_1194151407322951_4000768455736368049_n.jpg

Whole-body counter men examinees breakdown by age.

 

Source :https://www.facebook.com/tarachineiwaki/photos/a.484265838311515.1073741828.475326345872131/1194151407322951/?type=3&theater

 

October 27, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment