Awakening to the Secrets of a Nuclear Society and Building a Citizen’s Radiation Monitoring System

Katsuhide Sakurai and Yoichi Ozawa

Katsuhide Sakurai and Yoichi Ozawa were residents of the Odaka ward of the city of Minami Soma. Although there were at first forced to evacuate, they have since returned to the area to support the revival of the community.  

Katsuhide Sakurai

7 Odaka elder
Mr. Katsuhide Sakurai

I turn eighty years old in two months time and have been a farmer all my life here in Minami Soma in an area just 20 km from the nuclear complex. After I evacuated, it took me seven months to get myself a room in a temporary housing unit. During that time, I went to other areas, but didn’t have anywhere to work. Fortunately, I was able to live in an abandoned school for one month and then at an inn for a while. In that period, I had all the time in the world, so I bought books on nuclear energy and read them. The more I read, the more I understood how horrifying nuclear power is and wondered why our country and our scientists didn’t tell us about this in detail. From the viewpoint of those living near the power plants, I really felt this from deep down in my heart.

My personal reflection is that before the nuclear power plant accident, I wasn’t well informed or prepared for the kind of effect I would experience. One thing I could have studied was not just the effect on our community, but the effect on the entire nation from the debt created by building one nuclear power plant after another. Furthermore, we never knew in detail how horrifying the radiation of cesium 135 and 137 is. The fact that they hid the severity of this incident is also really horrifying.

In this way, the problem here is also in the education system. We heard about the Chernobyl incident in the news, but we didn’t realize it was such a terrifying thing until it happened to us. It was said that the accident in Chernobyl was due to a break down and so on and so forth. I have also heard that nuclear power plants are being built in India. I wonder if the people in India have been warned and educated about the horrifying accidents that can happen. The Japanese mass media could have, for a long time, told us that such dangerous things can happen. That should have naturally happened. The mass media also helped to make up this scenario that created the present Japanese nuclear power system.

Since this incident happened, I have no prospect of restarting farming again due to the radiation. This is a sign of the kind of burden the government’s plan has put on the areas around nuclear power plants. I’ve been forced to think about these things during this year and a half and have come to feel frustrated. The elderly and weak who have been evacuating are one by one getting severely sick and dying. I have directly seen this myself. While I feel frustrated, I also regret that we didn’t know earlier about such a scenario and how severe the effect was going to be if an accident occurred, as well as the fact that the people responsible didn’t share any research about such a scenario. Staying here after the incident made me realize for the first time how terrifying the radiation really is. So of course at this stage we have become anti-nuclear, but the problem is whether there is any possibility of things ever becoming safe again.

Yoichi Ozawa

My house is about 23 km away from the nuclear power plants, situated closer to the mountains than Ganoku-ji temple. On March 12 when there was an explosion in the outer structure of the Unit 1 reactor, I didn’t take it too seriously and decided to stay. Then the Unit 3 reactor building exploded on March 14 at about 11:00 a.m, and from the high hill where my house is located you could hear the huge explosion. The sound was like the sky breaking apart into two. It was the same as a nuclear bomb. It was then that I decided there was no other choice but to leave. I fled to the city of Sendai in nearby Miyagi prefecture. On our way out, we weren’t notified at all by the government about the dangers of the radiation, even though they were keeping track of it—that in itself is something horrifying. It was painful enough to come to the conclusion that the government could really act like that.

The situation now is that I think we must test the kind of environment we are living in as much as possible. Although it seems like a science fiction movie, I live with the notion that this is an area where a nuclear war has happened. It’s like the world after the nuclear war in the Terminator movies, and I am concerned about how our lives, and health especially, will be affected in the long run. It would be nice to assume that there will be no negative impact, but in Chernobyl, even after five years, the 30 km area was still a restricted uninhabitable area. In Japan’s case, even though the amount of radiation that spread is said to be less than Chernobyl, the reactors at Chernobyl only burned for ten days, while the critical situation in Japan still continues after one year and eight months.

Since the government has not been reporting the correct information, we thought we would carry out more detailed investigations on radiation levels at official monitoring posts, but we found the equipment there could not give us any proper data. To deal with this problem, we held a press conference and went to Tokyo to participate in demonstrations in front of the courts and the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). However, the situation is that, of course, we have not really been listened to.

The government of Fukushima conducted radiation measurements four times in this area using radio transmitters to set up a communications mesh and map of radiation across areas of 2 kms. A communications mesh detection system shows the differences in how the radiation level is spread out. Out of these four times, once was in snowy weather, and so our area didn’t even show up on the subsequent radiation contamination map. For the other three times, we were able to make maps from the data.

Just this past month, we had twenty people come from Tokyo, who were from universities and also volunteers, to measure the radiation in the environment all around these mountains and rivers in this area. They stayed here at Ganoku-ji temple. While the Fukushima Prefectural government measured radiation in a 2km mesh span, we measured in a more precise 50m mesh span. We also have plans to measure closer to the mountain side, in the areas around Ganoku-ji, and in an area called Oshigama. In all, 300 points have been chosen, and the data from them indicates a number of high radiation density zones. The results were presented in November 2012, but we have continued our research to acquire more concrete results.

We have also gotten hold of a machine that measures radiation not in microsieverts but in counts-per-minutes (CPM).[1] This standard does not just concern the effect of radiation on the body, as with microsieverts, but concerns, for example, the level of radiation in equipment they bring out of the reactor buildings. Anything that comes out of the nuclear power plants has to be under 1,300 CPM. If the level goes over that, the workers have to take their clothes off and get their bodies decontaminated before coming out of the building. However, a new law was passed to make the maximum standard 13,000 CPM, which is ten times the previous amount. This has meant that the workers doing decontamination in the villages and forests in this area can bring the things they were using directly back from the areas where they were working. For example, the clothes they were wearing are now being washed at regular coin laundromats, even though normal citizens are also using these places. This is the only such machine in Minami Soma to measure CPM, so even though there is a standard such as this, people generally have no means to monitor it.

At first, we could not see how radiation measurements were deeply connected with our daily life. We evacuated without understanding anything, but when we came to researching what it really is about and measuring the numbers, I started to feel more and more scared. To tell the truth, I am feeling even more scared as the research goes on, but I feel at the same time that I want to let more people know the results of the measurements. Right now, everyone is supposed to be evacuated, but some have been prevented from evacuating due to various reasons. So we want to tell these people what they at least must be careful of. We aim to tell as many people as possible so that the same thing as Chernobyl will not happen. Our goal is to see what is going to happen to us later.

[1] CPM refers to the number of atoms in a given quantity of radioactive material that are detected to have decayed in one minute.

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