Living in Fukushima: The key words are: Learn, Measure and Avoid
A member of WNSCR living in Fukushima-city, a mother of four children ( two of them are living outside Fukushima prefecture for university), reports the scenes of decontamination in the backyard of her house and the daily life in Fukushima-city. The decontamination was donducted after a year of waiting time.
This is the sixth day of decontaminating our home of radiation. The workers have dug a big hole in our yard to bury the radioactive soil, which are placed into large bags made of special sheet that is supposed to hold the soil for up to three years.
The Fukushima City government says they will find a place to store the contaminated soil in another area within the city, and once they do they will dig up the bags and carry them to the storage area. I just wonder if they will really be able to find such a place in three years. Every time they name a place as a possibile candidate location for intermediate storage, concerned people, whether they live near or far from the place, will start opposing. So far, I do not believe there is a single municipality in Fukushima Prefecture that has even agreed on a temporary storage place for the contaminated wastes. When I look at situation like this, it makes me wonder how anybody is ever going to find a place to store all those spent nucler fuels that will continue to accumulate as long as they keep running the nucler power plants. The Japanese government seems to think that safe operation is our only concern when it comes to the question of restarting the nuclear plants, but I think they need to serioiusly address and try to solve the issue of where to put those spent fuels. If they do this, they should see that we need to stop using nuclear energy.
The hole in my yard is big enough to store three of the big bags, which will be placed into the hole and covered with about 30 cm of clean soil. They also washed the concrete floor and steps around the house using a hydrobrush and also washed off our roof. The wastewater from these procedures were also collected and taken away in a large plastic container, which according to regulations, is to be taken to s specified place for storage and treatment.
Four days after completion of decontamination. The levels of radioactivity have decreased considerably, but still not down to the levels before the accident. Many say that eventually the levels will start to rise again because radioactive substances still remain in the environment.
We received from a city officer in charge of decontamination the official monitoring results from before and after decontamination. At the height of 50 cm above ground (floor), the level(s) of radioactivity in our living room lowered from 0.14 to 0.09 μSv/h, and our yard lowered from 0.55~0.97 to 0.19~0.46 μSv/h. The average air dose rate in Fukushima city before the accident was about 0.04 μSv/h, so you can see that the levels of radioactivity in and around our house are not as low as they should be.
Fukushima city is about 60 km north of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and although some parts of the city are heavily contaminated and 3,234 people (as of March 15, 2011), mostly mothers with small children have evacuated voluntarily, the population is about 283,000.
Many people outside Fukushima seem to think that the entire prefecture is contaminated so badly that everywhere you go the water and food are highly radioactive and unsafe. That might be true in areas closer to the nuclear plant and some other areas where the radioactive bloom flew over after the explosion and people were ordered to evacuate, but if you look up Fukushima Prefecture on the map, you will find that it is a fairly large prefecture. And in cities like Fukushima most people, including me, have remained and live an ordinary everyday life.
It is probably true that most of us are still deeply concerned about the effects of radiation, especially on our children after five, ten, twenty years or even longer. Many of us went through a long period of agonizing over whether we should leave our home, relatives, friends, work, everything we had in Fukushima. But at the same time, we've learned to measure the radioactivity in our water and food, as well as in our body. We've learned how there are some kinds of food that seem to absorb radioactive substances better than other food so to keep a closer watch on them. We've learned to avoid places where the radioactivity level is particularly high. We've learned all these things plus many more so that we can be sure living in Fukushima city is just as safe as living in Tokyo, California, London, or Paris. So the key words here are: measure and avoid.
As a result of this, I drink tap water because I know it has been measured and is safe. I buy most of my food from coop that has imposed stricter limits for radioactive cesium in food compared to government standards. I also buy food from local supermarkets where I know the foods have been tested and are far below the government limit. Last year, we decided to eat rice grown here by my in-laws after measuring the radioactivity and found that it contained less than 5 becquerels per kilogram. The limit set by the Japanese government is 100 becquerels/kg for rice. In the U.S. the limit is 1,200 becquerels/kg for all foods, and in Europe it is 1,250/kg for food grain, meat, and vegetables.
I do not deny that Fukushima city is still in a difficult situation and as I wrote earlier, many of us still question ourselves every day whether we are making the right decisions. So when I heard some members of the Japanese delegate reiterate at the recent IOC meeting that "Tokyo is safe" for the 2020 Olympics because it is "250 kilometers away from Fukushima" and the "contaminated water issue is under control," it really made me furious. I just want people outside Fukushima to know that there are people here doing their best to protect themselves and families from radiation to live a normal and decent everyday life. And as far as I know from measuring radioactivity in our environment, I can say that not all of Fukushima Prefecture is as badly contaminated as the world thinks it is.
(Article & photos by Akiko Fukami, Fukushima-city)