February 08, 2015
On a recent day in late January, a minicar departed from the Iitate village office in Fukushima Prefecture with stickers attached that said, "We are driving slowly because we are measuring radiation levels."
The vehicle, operated by Fukushima Saisei no Kai (Resurrection of Fukushima), a local residents' nonprofit organization, is equipped with GPS and radiation measurement equipment, allowing it to record locations and airborne radiation levels.
"Although the level has decreased considerably from immediately after the Fukushima nuclear accident, it is still high," said Mitsukazu Sugiura, 65, the driver of the vehicle, on Jan. 28.
Distrust of the central government, a need to know to make future plans and a desire to maintain ties with neighbors have led to groups of residents around Fukushima Prefecture taking the initiative to monitor radiation levels on their own.
All of Iitate village, which is divided into 20 districts, has been designated as an evacuation zone.
While the village government measures radiation levels at two locations in each district, it has also commissioned Fukushima Saisei no Kai to conduct more detailed measurements.
The organization's vehicle is driven by village residents who commute from where they have evacuated to, such as Minami-Soma or Fukushima cities.
Twice a month in each district, group members conduct measurements along almost all areas along roads where residents lived.
Average radiation levels for each 100-meter-square area have been posted on the group's website.
The near-term goal of the Iitate village government is to encourage residents to return with the planned lifting in March 2016 of the evacuation order. However, residents cannot erase concerns about radiation effects on their health as well as questions about the possibility of resuming agriculture.
Local farmer Muneo Kanno, 64, established Fukushima Saisei no Kai three months after the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant along with scientists and friends. Kanno felt that scientific data would be needed to decide whether to return to Iitate and resume farming.
"In order to tie it with the resurrection of the community, it will be important to have local residents directly involved," he said.
Residents of the Okubo-Yosouchi district in central Iitate began measuring radiation levels near their homes and in the farm fields from 2013. The catalyst was the monthly meetings that were held for the 14 households in the hamlet that had gone their separate ways after the evacuation order was issued.
At those meetings, residents were curious about the radiation levels. However, some said the central government could not be trusted, so they decided they had to check for themselves what the radiation levels were.
Immediately after the nuclear accident, the residents were slow to evacuate because they were not informed by the central government about the estimated spread of radioactive materials.
Masuo Nagasho, 67, a former village government employee, suggested residents conduct their own measurements.
"The attraction of the village was the people," he said. "What I most regretted was the destruction of ties between people and the life of the community that had led before to working together for festivals and rice planting."
In 2014, the monitoring effort spread to the entire district, which has about 70 households. The measurement has provided the perfect opportunity for residents to maintain their neighborly ties by having lunch together. The meals are provided by a local women's group.
TARGETING WATERS OFF NUCLEAR PLANT
Another citizens' group, Umilabo, has been monitoring radiation levels off the coast of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant since November 2013.
One member, Riken Komatsu, 35, works at a fishcake manufacturing plant in Iwaki. He was born and grew up in the area, but when customers asked about the safety of the fish being used, he could only pass along data collected by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima No. 1 plant operator, and the Fukushima prefectural government.
"I wanted to go out into the ocean and pass along data I was certain about," Komatsu said.
He and other fishing enthusiasts began the project to collect soil from the seabed and fish, which were taken to the local aquarium for measurement of the amount of radioactive materials they contained.
In November 2014, 10 flatfish were caught about 1.5 kilometers off the coast from the nuclear power plant. Radioactive materials tend to accumulate in flatfish because it lives near the seabed. Although radioactive cesium was detected in five of the 10 flatfish, the concentration was less than half of the standard in the Food Sanitation Law of 100 becquerels or less per kilogram.
There has been no detection of radioactive materials for almost all of the fish born after the nuclear accident.
In the Oguni neighborhood of Date city's Ryozenmachi district, a resident's group began taking airborne radiation level measurements from six months after the nuclear accident. Data for each 100-meter-square area were listed on a map, and the information has been updated annually since.
"The radiation has no color or smell, but the map has enabled us to see it," said Soyo Sato, 66, who heads the group.
The neighborhood has a mix of households that were designated for evacuation because of high radiation levels as well as those that were not so designated. Residents who were exempt from the designation used the data on the map to argue that there was very little difference in radiation levels with areas designated for evacuation.
That led to a settlement with TEPCO for compensation levels that were close to those offered to residents living in the designated areas.
Hideki Ishii, a project associate professor of landscape architecture at Fukushima University, has provided support for self-monitoring efforts.
"When residents see the actual data for their community that they collected, they will think more seriously about whether people can live there and if the compensation levels offered are appropriate," Ishii said. "It also fosters the ability to not only think about the current situation, but also the future."
Source: Asahi Shimbun