In for the long-term: seeking clarity on Fukushima’s radiation nightmare
The nuclear power plant accident radically changed the lives of many people in Fukushima.
Towards reducing radiation levels in agriculture and fishing
Farmers’ and fishermen’ lives and businesses are still severely affected. Shipments of many types of food products from some prefectures have been restricted since last year, because there were some cases in which the radioactivity concentration measured in vegetables, fruits, rice and other products was high.
In August 2012, the media reported that a record-high level of 25,800 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram of fish was detected samples within 12 miles of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
But many agricultural products from Fukushima are denied market access due to rumors concerning their safety, regardless of whether the products are contaminated or not. Such rumors seriously affected the sales of agricultural products from Fukushima.
As a result, farmers especially in Fukushima have got economically impoverished and mentally exhausted. For many of the people of Fukushima, the crisis is far from over.
Mr. Koichi Nemoto, an organic farmer from Fukushima, shares his experiences and challenges for CWS’s upcoming documentary on Fukushima. Photo: CWS-Asia/Pacific.
Yet a group of researchers from Fukushima University found out that in spite of the soil highly contaminated by radioactive materials, agricultural products can grow without serious contamination. Researchers at the university found that specimens of many vegetables, fruits and rice produced in Fukushima were often free of any contamination above the detection threshold for radioactive materials (10Bq/kg).
Scientifically clarifying the mechanism of the contamination of crops will help farmers to plan strategically on planting. It will also regenerate the agriculture in Fukushima as a result. To this end, CWS-Asia/Pacific is still raising funds to support the program of the Institute for Cooperative Networks, Fukushima University (ICN, FU).
ICN is planning to make radioactive material distribution maps in cooperation with local farmer organizations and cooperatives to help farmers reduce the radioactive levels of their agricultural products. 7,000 farm plots will be measured and 2,000 farmers benefit from this program. The map will also be used for planning the decontamination of farm plots.
Temporary evacuation: a respite for children
About 160,000 people still remain displaced inside or outside of Fukushima prefecture. Many children still live in areas affected by low level radiation. Since scientists can’t even agree on the long-term health risks associated with exposure to low levels radiation, children are restricted by cautious parents from playing outside in order to minimize their exposure to radiation.
There are even many people who live outside the evacuation zone who are anxious about what they should do for their children, who have been subject to higher than normal levels of radiation.
One of the mothers who sent her child to the retreat program organized by Shalom wrote her feelings in her letter.
Every day, we were looking for a place where we could send our children for the retreat during the summer vacation. Even in the same Fukushima prefecture, some people say everything is all right now, and others say they have already given up. The situation has changed since last year. Even though people say to me I am too nervous, I have to find solutions for children in the future with the help from all of you. Although I didn’t tell him so strictly, as I thought he was going to worry about his health too much if I did so, I have to watch over my son and accept the reality … I appreciate this kind of program very much.
CWS-Asia/Pacific is supporting a local NGO, Shalom, to organize retreat programs for children from Fukushima, to provide them with some respite from the radiation that has become part of their everyday lives. This summer, around 50 children from elementary schools and high schools participated in a retreat to Hiroshima.
It is uncommon for children in Japan to stay away from their parents for such a long time. And although Shalom has been organizing two to three-day-retreat programs for children since last year, it was first time for them to organize such a long retreat program.
Children watched baseball games, and visited some historical sites, such as the Hiroshima Peace Park and the Itsukushima Shrine and enjoyed their stay a lot.
The organizers faced so many challenges, but in the end the smiles of the children convinced the of the success of the program.
Children from Fukushima enjoy a retreat to Hiroshima organized by CWS’s partner organization, Shalom. Photo: CWS-Asia/Pacific..
In June, a law to support the survivors of nuclear power plant accident was passed in Japan’s parliament and it is promised that a concrete support scheme will be devised. Shalom, together with other partner agencies, are hoping to capitalize on the momentum of the publicity surrounding this law and are lobbying for a bill to make retreat programs an official part of the school curriculum.
CWS-Asia/Pacific – in cooperation with the Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation (JANIC) and the National Christian Council – Japan Ecumenical Disaster Response Office (NCC-JEDRO) – are organizing a ‘lessons ‘ workshop in September for agencies that have organized retreat programs. This will be useful given that retreat programs are likely to be needed for decades in Japan.
Sharing knowledge for better decision-making
In June 2012, CWS and the Citizen-Scientist (network) for Radiation Protection (CSRP) organized the Citizen-Scientist International Symposium on Radiation Protection in Fukushima. About 400 people attended and a further 10,000 watched a live video stream on the Internet.
The purpose of this symposium was to share and disseminate emerging knowledge relating to radiation risks resulting from the nuclear power plant accident. It was also to keep in the public’s mind the importance of facing the serious long-term problems of radiation, deemed especially important due to the media’s lack of adequate attention on these matters.
It seems that the government is downplaying the real situation and not disclosing enough information for local residents to make important decisions affecting their lives and livelihoods, for example, whether to evacuate or to remain in the affected area and take counter-measures against the exposure to radiation.
The residents of the radiation-affected area need more accurate and reliable information about the health risks of exposure to radiation, ideally from different sources, so that they can make their own decisions independently from the information provided by the government.
At the CWS/CSRP symposium, results were shared from scientific and medical research on the effects of radiation exposure on health. To prevent or minimize the suffering of children in the future, it was recommended that systematic health examinations and continuous follow-ups be conducted. Counter-measures to minimize internal and external exposure were also suggested.
CWS will shortly be releasing a documentary on Fukushima to show the challenges people are facing as well as their hopes and strengths despite the ongoing reality of living with radiation.