Fukushima moms don lab coats to measure radiation in food, sand and soil — The Japan Times

At a laboratory an hour’s drive from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, a woman wearing 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 Tohoku coast triggered tsunami that knocked out the plant’s cooling system, causing three reactor-core meltdowns, 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-colored 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 (are) handled by 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 nonprofit organization that houses the mothers’ radiation lab.

“If (university professors) saw this I think they would be completely shocked by what they see.”

Tarachine was set up 60 km down the coast from the Fukushima plant, in the city of Iwaki. After the magnitude-9 quake struck on March 11, 2011, triggering mountainous 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.

“As ordinary citizens we had no knowledge about radiation. 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 central government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., which 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 cesium-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 leukemia.

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 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 had 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 said it was an important process and especially reassuring for 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, and there is, say, 15 or 16 becquerels of cesium, 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.”

Since official screenings began following the meltdowns, 174 children in Fukushima Prefecture have been diagnosed with — or are suspected of having — thyroid cancer, according to figures from the prefecture.

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 melted nuclear fuel below the damaged reactor 2 — one of three affected by the 2011 disaster.

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

However, she said “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,” she said.

Ai Kimura, another mother, agreed. “My parents think I’m a bit paranoid. They keep saying, ‘It’s OK 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 minimize the risks. My children are mine and I want to do whatever I can to protect them.” ”

by Mari Shibata, The Japan Times

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Futaba daruma a symbol of hope, nostalgia for Fukushima — The Asahi Shimbun

” Daruma dolls, traditional round-shaped representations of the Indian priest Bodhidharma used as charms for the fulfillment of special wishes, are typically painted red, the color of his religious vestment, and have black eyebrows and a wispy beard painted on a white face.

But Futaba daruma, produced in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, feature blue-rimmed faces. The blue represents the Pacific Ocean, which stretches to the east of the town.

On the New Year’s Day, many of the townsfolk would go to the seaside to watch the first sunrise of the year turning the vast expanse of water into a sea of shiny gold.

But the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which generated massive tsunami and the catastrophic accident at the nuclear power plant partly located in the town, drastically changed the fate of Futaba.

All of the residents were evacuated. Even now, 6,000 or so townsfolk live in 38 prefectures across the nation.

When I asked evacuees what they missed about life in the town before the nuclear disaster, they cited tea they would drink together with other members of the community after farm work, the local Bon Festival dance and local “kagura,” or sacred Shinto music and dancing. They also talked nostalgically about the rice and vegetable fields which they took great care of, the croaking of frogs, flying fireflies and the sweet taste of freshly picked tomatoes.

What was lost is the richness of life that cannot be bought.

Kaori Araki, who has just celebrated reaching adulthood, cited the smell of the sea. “But what I miss most is my relationships with people,” she added.

After leaving Futaba, Araki lived in Tokyo and Fukui, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures before settling down in the city of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. Her current residence is her seventh since she left an evacuation center.

On that day in March 2011, Araki, then a second-year junior high school student, escaped the tsunami with a friend. At a Coming-of-Age ceremony on Jan. 3, she met the friend, who also ended up living in a remote community, for the first time in about six years.

The government plans to ensure that some areas in Futaba will be inhabitable in five years. The municipal government has estimated that the town’s population a decade from now will be between 2,000 and 3,000.

In a survey of heads of families from Futaba conducted last fall, however, only 13 percent of the respondents said they wanted to return to the town.

A daruma fair to sell Futaba daruma started in front of temporary housing in Iwaki on Jan. 7.

The fair has been organized by volunteers since 2012 to keep this local New Year tradition alive. On Jan. 8, special buses brought people to the event from various locations both inside and outside the prefecture. There must have been many emotional reunions at the fair.

There were some green-colored daruma dolls sold at the fair as well. Green is the color of the school emblem of Futaba High School, which is to be closed at the end of March.

I hope that the daruma sold at the fair will help the purchasers fulfill their respective wishes. ”

Vox Populi daily column, The Asahi Shimbun

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For 6,000, the daily bus ride takes them to Fukushima plant — The Asahi Shimbun

” NARAHA, Fukushima Prefecture–Despite the predawn hour, few people are sleeping on a bus that steadily makes its way north on National Route 6.

Some passengers are planning for the work ahead. One is looking forward to chatting with his colleagues. And a few wonder if today will be the day when their annual radiation doses reach the safety limit.

Every day, buses like this take 6,000 workers to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. And every day, the same buses take the exhausted and mostly sleeping workers back to their base at the Japan Football Village (J-Village) in Naraha.

Although the Fukushima plant is still decades away from being decommissioned, without this daily routine of the workers who toil amid an invisible danger, the situation at the site would be much more difficult.

407 Daily Bus Rides

One of them, the 49-year-old leader of a group of metal workers from Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, has been working at nuclear plants, including the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station in Niigata Prefecture, for nearly 20 years.

He was at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the triple meltdown there in March 2011.

“Nobody can get close to the area where the melted nuclear fuel remains due to high radiation doses,” the man said. “Even if we could approach the area, we would have no way out if something happens. The situation is harsh.”

Those metal workers install tanks for the contaminated water that keeps accumulating at the plant.

Although there are plenty of empty seats, the young workers sit in front and the older workers take the back seats.

Thousands of workers are staying at temporary dormitories set up in J-Village, a soccer training complex.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., operator of the nuclear plant, hired a local bus company to transport the workers to the plant because securing parking areas near the site has been difficult since the 2011 disaster.

The company provides 407 services a day to and from the plant. Each trip takes about 30 minutes.

The first shuttle bus departs from J-Village at 3:30 a.m., while the last bus leaves the Fukushima plant at 9:45 p.m.

In mid-November amid torrential rain, one bus picked up a man taking shelter under the eaves of a bus stop.

He said he is in charge of managing data related to radiation doses of fittings and other equipment at the plant.

“We have many different types of work here,” the man proudly said.

Also on the way to the nuclear plant, a 53-year-old employee of a security company was thinking about personnel distribution.

Like other workers there, security guards must be replaced when their annual radiation doses reach a certain level set by the government.

He said he has difficulties making ends meet with a limited number of guards who have knowledge about radiation.

Suddenly, the man’s cellphone rings, and the caller orders the deployment of additional security guards to the plant.

A 52-year-old TEPCO employee was on the way to the nearby Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant to provide a safety training program for workers, many of whom are victims of the triple disaster.

“I want to convey to workers how precious their lives are and how important safety is in a way that doesn’t make me sound hypocritical,” the employee said.

The triple meltdown has been called a “man-made disaster” caused by the failure of both TEPCO’s management and the government’s regulatory authorities.

The TEPCO employee will use props, such as a ladder, and pretend to be a worker to explain dangerous cases at the No. 1 plant.

Premium Seats

On the trip back to J-Village, a different atmosphere exists on the bus.

Although dazzling sunlight shines through the windows and stunning views of the ocean are available, most of the workers are fast asleep in their wrinkled uniforms.

“Few people stay awake. I don’t even switch on the radio. They must be tired after their work,” said Nobuyuki Kimura, 52, who has driven the shuttle bus for one-and-a-half years.

In Kimura’s bus that departed the plant at 2:30 p.m., all 50 seats and some of the auxiliary seats were filled. The few passengers who stayed awake remained quiet.

By early evening, fewer workers boarded the bus at the plant.

Window seats at the back of the bus are desirable on all rides because they have an enough room for the seats to recline, allowing passengers to cross their legs.

A 21-year-old worker from Iwaki went for a window seat at the back after standing at the front of a line waiting for the bus.

“I can relax sitting here. This is the premium seat,” said the man who collects waste materials, such as boots and socks, at the site.

Although he works in protective gear in an area with high radiation levels, he said he has never thought about quitting his job.

He said he became fed up with school as a junior high school student, and did not bother going to senior high school.

At the age of 18, he joined his current company, and his first assignment was at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

“I became acquaintances with more and more people. It’s fun to speak with people at work,” he said.

Through his work at the nuclear plant, his weight has dropped from 115 kilograms to 93 kg.

Thirty to 40 years are needed to decommission the Fukushima No. 1 plant, according to the mid- and-long-term roadmap compiled by the government and TEPCO.

To reduce the groundwater flowing into the buildings housing the No. 1 to No. 4 reactors, TEPCO installed coolant pipes this year to create an underground frozen soil wall to divert the water into the ocean.

TEPCO announced in October that the ice wall on the sea side was nearly frozen, but groundwater is believed to be seeping through it.

The utility plans to start removing spent fuel from the No. 3 reactor building in fiscal 2017. It also has plans to begin the daunting task of removing the melted fuel from the No. 1 to No. 3 reactor containment vessels in 2021.

However, extremely high radiation levels have prevented workers from approaching and understanding the condition of the melted fuel. The removal method has yet to be decided.

The estimated cost of work for decommissioning and dealing with the contaminated water has ballooned to 8 trillion yen ($68.1 billion). ”

by Aya Nagatani

source

Fukushima fish still contaminated — SimplyInfo

Here is another excellent article by SimplyInfo that digs for the truth of how contaminated fish caught off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture really are.

The reporting site for Fukushima prefecture’s fish testing

 

Citizen science takes on Japan’s nuclear establishment — Los Angeles Times

” As other Tokyo office workers poured into restaurants and bars at quitting time one recent evening, Kohei Matsushita went to the eighth floor of a high-rise for an unusual after-hours activity: learning how to assemble his own Geiger counter from a kit.

Hunched over a circuit board, the 37-year-old practiced his soldering technique as Joe Moross, a former L.A. resident with a background in radiation detection, explained how to fit together about $500 worth of components – including a sensor, circuit board, digital display, GPS module, battery and case.

“My family has a house near a nuclear power plant,” Matsushita said, explaining his motivation. “I want to take this there and collect data, and contribute to this pool of information.”

“This pool” is a stunning set of data – 50 million readings and counting, all logged and mapped on a website anyone can see – collected by volunteers with self-built equipment. Known as Safecast, the group was founded just days after the massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that shocked Japan in March 2011.

Though the immediate threat of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has waned, interest in Safecast’s data has not. The organization, which takes no position on nuclear power, is supported by foundations, grants and individual donations.

Part of the growing movement known as citizen science, the idea is to give people the knowledge and the tools to better understand their environment, and make more informed decisions based on accurate information.

Trust in both nuclear power plant operators and the government has not fully recovered since the disaster. As authorities push ahead with the contentious process of restarting dozens of nuclear reactors taken off-line in wake of the disaster, Japanese like Matsushita say a network of monitors controlled by ordinary people could serve as an early warning system in the event of another disaster.

Meanwhile, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration continues with its extensive effort to decontaminate areas around Fukushima Daiichi and reopen evacuated towns and villages, potential returnees say they want a way to verify official numbers that indicate radiation really has dropped to safe levels.

“They want people to come back, but there’s no decontamination in the forest areas and those cover 75% of this village,” says retired engineer Nobuyoshi Ito, 72, who in 2010 opened an eco-farm retreat in Iitate, about 20 miles northwest of the nuclear power plant. Recently, he had Safecast install a radiation monitor at the retreat, which is still in a restricted zone.  “We have to check ourselves.”

++

Joe Moross straps a GPS-enabled Geiger counter the size of a small brick to the back window of his red station wagon on the outskirts of Tokyo and begins a 16-hour day driving north through the most contaminated areas around the Fukushima nuclear plant. In the last five years, he calculates he’s driven 90,000 miles gathering data for Safecast.

Through a Bluetooth connection, he can monitor the Geiger counter’s readings on his cellphone as he goes. But he also keeps a mental log of more qualitative signs of the region’s transformation.

“That 7-Eleven reopened in 2014,” he notes as he nears the town of Tomioka. “That Family Mart came back in 2015.” In the town of Naraha, he gasps. “That’s the first rice growing in the fields here in five years!”

Along the way, he passes several dozen fixed-point radiation monitors installed by the government along the roadsides. Their solar-powered, digital displays provide readouts in microsieverts per hour (μSv/hr); today’s show relatively low readings from 0.1 to 3.8 between the towns of Hirono and Minamisoma. That is less than what one would be exposed to on a long flight, although that exposure lasts only as long as the flight.

Moross’ much more granular, mobile data, recorded every five seconds and uploaded to the Web the next day, generally matches the government signs, though when passing near the Fukushima plant, Moross’ counter produces readings above 4 μSv/hr. (Not long after the disaster, Safecast found readings higher than 30 in the region).

In the town of Iwaki, Moross drops in on Brett Waterman, a 51-year-old Australian who’s been teaching English in the area for 11 years and was having some technical issues with a Safecast monitor.

“Like most people, I knew nothing about radiation” when the disaster hit, says Waterman, who acquired an early Safecast Geiger counter through Kickstarter and has since upgraded to more sophisticated models as the group has refined its designs. Waterman says the data indicate Iwaki is now safe, but it’s important to keep generating frequent readings to provide a reference of what’s “normal” in case circumstances change.

Safecast holds regular sessions for adults to teach them to assemble their own devices and is planning a kids’ workshop as well. Plans and directions for building the devices are also available online for free. Organizers say that people who build their own monitors are much more motivated to use them.

“If they just buy one, they may use it once, throw it in a drawer and never upload any data,” says Moross. “If they make it themselves, they’re more invested.”

++

Safecast’s tiny Tokyo office feels like a combination tech start-up, old-school shop class, and comedy club for middle-aged expats. As Moross inspects Matsushita’s soldering progress, English teacher Jonathan Wilder, 59, is busy gathering switches, resistors, batteries, and sensors and parceling them out into plastic bags that will become kits for Safecast’s current workhorse Geiger counter, known as the bGeigie Nano.  

Moross and Wilder trade jokes as Azby Brown, 60, an expert on traditional Japanese architecture, sits at another table typing up news for the group’s blog; he has just led Safecast’s efforts to publish its first scientific paper, in the Journal of Radiological Protection. Pieter Franken, a Dutch expatriate and chief technology officer for a large securities firm, looks over some materials for the group’s upcoming kids’ workshop.

“Safecast is an interesting social experiment, in a fairly anarchistic kind of way,” says Franken, one of the group’s founders. “It taps into trends including maker-spaces, the Internet of things and even artists. We attract people who want to break out of the traditional way of solving problems.”

Safecast grew out of an email conversation among Franken, L.A.-based tech entrepreneur Sean Bonner and MIT Media Lab director Joichi “Joi” Ito immediately after the March 11, 2011, disaster. As the Fukushima crisis unfolded, Safecast’s effort to produce and distribute Geiger counters and collect data snowballed, drawing in more expertise and volunteers. The group has successively iterated smaller and smaller Geiger counters with more functionality for data collection.

In the last five years, Safecast volunteers have taken radiation readings all over the world, from Brisbane, Australia, to Santa Monica. The group is also working on monitoring air quality in Los Angeles and elsewhere; recently, volunteers took methane readings around Porter Ranch during the gas leak there. Now, Safecast is trying to figure out how to depict that kind of data meaningfully online.

Moross says the potential applications for citizen-based environmental monitoring are vast, pointing to incidents such as the recent scandal over the lead-tainted water supply in Flint, Mich., as an example of where deeper community-based scientific knowledge could have improved debate and policymaking.

“Flint and Fukushima have parallels,” says Moross. “Democracy should start from facts, and we need to give citizens facts to understand what’s happening.”

Safecast has taken heat from both pro- and anti-nuclear activists, Brown says. “But if people spend some time with us, they find we are valuable.” Even Japan’s postal service has cooperated with Safecast, putting its monitors on carriers’ motorbikes in some towns and gathering data.

Safecast’s goal now is, essentially, “base-lining the world,” says Franken, crowdsourcing environmental data from every corner of the Earth.

“We should start with measuring our environments,” he says. “Then we can talk about things like global warming and air pollution; from there, activism can start. Once you know, for example, that your street is polluted, you can start to make a change. That’s where we can make a difference.” ”

by Julie Makinen

source with video

Struggling Fukushima fishermen hold 1st New Year’s ceremony in 5 years — The Asahi Shimbun

” IWAKI, Fukushima Prefecture–Fishermen held a traditional New Year’s ceremony here on Jan. 8 for the first time since the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster killed their colleagues and ruined their livelihoods.

With their vessels flying colorful banners, the fishermen gathered at Hisanohama fishing port in the northern part of Iwaki in the morning to pray for a safe and bountiful harvest.

After traditional Shinto rituals were performed, the fishermen set off from the port to cleanse their 30 or so boats with seawater and sake. From their boats, they offered prayers to the Shinto shrines and “torii” gates located along the coast.

“Today is our New Year’s Day 2016,” said Akira Egawa, the 68-year-old head of the Hisanohama branch of the Iwaki city fishery association. “All the fishermen looked happy.”

Although the ceremony is an annual event, the fishermen had refrained from holding it until now in light of the misery that the March 2011 disaster brought to the area.

The tsunami spawned by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, slammed into the Hisanohama district around the port, killing about 60 people.

One of the biggest hurdles they continue to face is the spread of negative publicity about food safety in the area in light of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant north of Iwaki.

Leaks of contaminated water from the nuclear plant are another reason why the fishermen are unable to resume large-scale operations.

But with 2016 being the hallmark fifth year since the disaster, the fishermen decided to resume the ceremony.

Fishermen on the Fukushima Prefecture coast are currently operating on a trial basis, targeting 71 species of marine animals deemed safe by authorities.

The fish catch in the region in 2014 was about 740 tons, a mere 3 percent of the annual haul before the 2011 disaster.

Prefectural authorities in 2015 tested 8,577 marine specimens for radioactive substances. Only four of the specimens exceeded government standards for contamination. ”

by Takuro Negishi

source