Radioactive waste at the Fukushima accident site has been disposed of in
an unsafe manner. Contaminated soil and leaves have been dumped into
rivers. Water sprayed on contaminated buildings has been allowed to
Workers in the area told Asahi Shimbun reporters that their deadlines
could never be met if they followed the rules set by the Environment
Ministry of Japan.
Their job is to maintain the fragile health in the area. And it’s
important to remember that healthy lives are still being led less than
50km away from the Daiichi nuclear plant. The mandatory evacuation
radius around the plant is set at 20 kilometres. Japan’s Nuclear
Regulation Agency announced in October that the standard radius in the
future will be 30 kilometres.
This means that for the near 2 million people that live in the remainder
of Fukushima Prefecture’s over 13,700 square kilometres, life goes on.
But that’s not good enough. It shouldn’t be good enough. Radiation from
the accident has yet to claim anyone’s life, but complacency is the
mistake that would change that.
That is why Fukushima residents have been uncompromising in their
opposition to Japan’s continued use of nuclear power. When central
government officials visited the prefecture last August for a public
hearing on the issue, all but one of the 30 citizen speakers argued for a
complete phase out of nuclear power by 2030.
These public hearings were held in 10 other Japanese cities last year,
and according to the Asahi Shimbun, 70% of attendees shared the
Fukushima’s speakers’ staunch views.
But it appears that the rest of Japan had an easier time returning to
familiarity. The Liberal Democratic Party returned to power in
December’s election, and its plans for a stronger Japanese economy
include the return of nuclear power.
Every part of the country is however, vulnerable to the consequences of
contractors’ sloppy cleanup efforts in Fukushima. Allowing potentially
radioactive water to drain freely can be done nonchalantly, but the
effect of excessive radiation on our bodies can be equally as
unnoticeable, until there is no help possible.
US Environmental Protection Agency warns that low-level, short-term
exposure allows radioactive elements to damage cells in the body and
eventually cause cancer. Radiation also affects DNA, causing genetic mutations that can endanger the victim’s offspring.
Radiation levels at Fukushima cleanup sites are required be measured after decontamination. But
facilities to carry out these measurements have been limited since the
March 11th tsunami disabled 23 out of the 24 monitoring stations on the
The difficulty in obtaining official readings has led to the
establishment of independent sensory networks such as the one run by
Safecast. Safecast’s website hosts maps that records radiation levels
recorded by volunteers in specific areas.
Detectors used for the purpose of identifying radiation levels are known as Geiger counters.
Among the areas that Safecast operates in, Tamazutsumi in Setagaya Ward,
Tokyo was found to contain the highest level of radiation in the
atmosphere. Safecast estimates that people in Tamazutsumi are exposed to
0.214 microsieverts (µSv) of radiation every hour, adding up to 1,874
microsieverts of exposure in a single year.
The International Commission on Radiological Protection sets an exposure limit of 1,000 microsieverts per year. This figure of 1,000 microsieverts can be converted into 1 millisievert (mSv).
The commission advises that if a person’s exposure reaches 10,000
microsieverts in total, their chance of dying from cancer increases by
findings, recorded last September, are in contrast to a survey
conducted in Tokyo by the Japan Tourism Agency two months before. The
agency gave a Geiger counter to a foreign tourist that began his day in
Tsukiji, Chuo Ward and finished in Roppongi Hills, Minato Ward 12 hours
The tourist calculated that he was exposed to 0.06 microsieverts per
hour, which would amount to 526 microsieverts of exposure in one year.
The tourism agency also sent samples of the three meals the tourist had
eaten that day for inspection, and no radioactive materials were
reported to have been detected.
Radiation is a natural element of the earth, and a part of many everyday
activities. We undergo chest X-rays and step through airport security
with little concern. This is a privileged feeling that will only be
disturbed if radioactive materials become unmanageable.
One 50-year-old man who contacted the Asahi Shimbun after the sloppy
cleanup revelations were printed said that many workers on the site no
longer cared about the risks of handling radioactive substances.
Faced with the massive scale of the cleanup operation and demands that
they finish quickly, these workers are losing their sensitivity. It’s a
predicament that might warrant more sympathy than scorn. But they also
have the ability to ensure that their plight will not be shared with any
new victims. That can be the most powerful motivator to raise cleanup
standards in Fukushima.