” A teenager is selling cans of “Fukushima air” to shock the public into reviving debate over the 2011 nuclear disaster.
“I want to try to surprise people and renew interest in the nuclear accident,” said Atsu, a 17-year-old high school student in the Tokyo city of Machida who also works as a painter.
During his summer vacation, Atsu headed to Fukushima Prefecture’s coastal area to collect air for his “Tohoku Cans.” Before injecting the air, he measures the radiation levels in the air with two dosimeters to verify its safety.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011, Atsu joined the reconstruction assistance effort. An avid painter since the fifth grade in elementary school, he gave donations to the Japanese Red Cross using proceeds from sales of wristbands and other goods he made and his paintings.
He has continued to solicit donations but recently heard some negative remarks about his endeavor. Some said the Fukushima evacuees no longer needed assistance. Others suggested that Atsu was just seeking publicity for himself.
Atsu said he came up with the idea to sell canned Fukushima air to shed new light on the continuing crisis at the nuclear plant and providing assistance for reconstruction of the Tohoku region.
“I’ll try selling Fukushima air,” he said he thought at the time. “I’m sure it’ll attract both support and criticism and spur debate. And debate will generate interest.”
The Japanese government has set a long-term decontamination target of 1 millisievert or lower for radiation exposure per year in areas around the nuclear plant, apart from the natural background radiation dose. This amounts to 0.23 microsievert per hour.
The air Atsu collected in Fukushima Prefecture has shown readings between 0.05 and 0.09 microsievert per hour, below the limit. In comparison, radiation levels in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district are around 0.03 microsievert per hour.
Atsu says the Tohoku Cans have another meaning.
“While the public seems to think that the nuclear accident is in the past, people tend to shun vegetables produced in Fukushima Prefecture,” he said. “So, the Fukushima disaster is not really over. I wanted to express something that words cannot convey.”
When Atsu started his project in Fukushima Prefecture, local residents approached him. When he explained the purpose of the cans, the residents were pleased and thanked him.
“I want people to know that radiation levels here are not that different from Tokyo’s,” one resident said.
Atsu had sold around 50 Tohoku Cans as of Nov. 11, mainly at art events around the country that he attended as a painter. He also takes orders through his blog.
Most of the buyers praise Atsu’s efforts. Bovgatei, a gallery in the Tateshina district in Chino, Nagano Prefecture, sold 24 Tohoku Cans when Atsu held a solo exhibition there in September.
The gallery’s owner, painter Yumiko Takayama, said, “Many people were impressed by Atsu’s passion to remind us of the nuclear issue we seemed to have forgotten about.”
Still, Atsu said, “I thought there would be more criticism.”
Some buyers are apparently reluctant to open the cans.
The Tohoku Cans, which contain a short message inside, sell for 600 yen ($5) each. All proceeds are donated to the Japanese Red Cross. Orders can be made via e-mail (email@example.com). ”