“For the future and the children. I would like to sincerely face the effects of the nuclear power station’s accident through measuring radioactive contaminations in soil”.
Vast areas of East Japan were contaminated by the radiations due to the TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station’s accident. However, huge scaled investigation on soil contamination was not initiated by the government. One of the common types of radiation is cesium 134 and it has half-life of 2 years. It has become harder to measure them. Under this circumstance, creating a map that visualize soil contamination is a very important task to be completed. Thus, “Measuring Becquerel level in Soil Project in East Japan” is proceeding with the power of people. We interviewed Hidetake Ishimaru who has been working hard to develop the project.
To have better understanding of safe/risk, I would like to provide more objective data for the people and the future generation.
- You are the secretary general of “Minnna no Data Site” as well as a leader at one of the Citizens’ Radiation Measuring Station in Tokyo.
Ishimaru: Yes. There were many people in Tokyo who were concerned about the radiation after Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station’s accident. So I started “Kodomo Mirai Measurement Station (Children and Future Measurement Station) in Kokubunji, Tokyo in December, 2011. Many of the people who visit our station are mothers of young children. Most common subject to be brought in for measurement was rice. There were people who received crops from their relative’s farm in North-East Japan, but they were worried about their children eating them. It was huge dilemma because they had empathy towards their relatives but they were also worried about possible effects on their children’s health by eating them.
Both famers and consumers are the victims of the nuclear disaster. However, because of the concerns for health from consumers, and frustration towards the negative images casted on crops from the radioactively contaminated areas by the farmers, there have been division between those people. I think what can connect those people is the objective data. It is totally up to each individual of how they interpret the data. Citizen’s Radiation Measuring Station’s role is not to judge whether the food is safe or risky, but to provide data that can be useful to make objective judgment in the situation where people have to deal with the radiation. Around the same time when I started “Kodomo Mirai Measurement Station”, many measuring stations opened around Japan because there were many people were also concerned about the situation. Each of the station accumulated a lot of data. Thus, we created “Minna no Data Site” that allowed people to look up the data easily on the internet. Currently, 26 stations that passed our conditions are the members of the website.
We have already released more than 100,000 data on the website. People can look up by the type of food, where its harvested, when it was measured, and they can compare the data accordingly to the criteria. The search results are shown on a list. The columns are cesium 134, cesium 137, type of the detector machine, and minimum detection level. While we measured more than 100,000 data, we found tendency of foods and environments that shows high cesium contamination. We released a list of tendencies for high cesium contamination on the website.
To acquire the reality of the accident, this year is the important year.
- “Minna no Data Site” has begun “Measuring Becquerel level in Soil Project in East Japan” where you create soil contamination map.
Ishimaru: Yes. We started in the autumn of 2014. It involves 17 prefectures in East Japan. After 3.11, radioactive plume (radioactive clouds) passed on top of vast areas of East Japan. However, there is only air pollution map to show contamination levels in those areas. To acquire the reality of the contamination in the area, measuring soil is the essential.
Half-life for cesium 137 is 30 years, therefore measuring soil is one of the helpful means to reduce exposure to radiation in the long term. On the other hand, half-life for cesium 134 is 2 years, so expect for the highly contaminated areas, the detection has becoming harder gradually. Despite the accident being detrimental, there is a chance of not being able to keep the record of the contamination.
When more than 1000Bq/Kg of cesium (cesium 134 and 137 combined) is detected, it has to be safely controlled as “low level radioactive waste”. However, those levels of contaminations are detected in some soil in Tokyo. Even Tokyo is that contaminated, but the government are not doing any huge scaled investigation. Moreover, they are lifting the evacuation order in the areas that are still highly contaminated in Fukushima, that will lead to increase the numbers of “self-evacuees” who do not get compensated for their evacuation cost. It is so obvious that they want to hide the reality of contamination with the attitude that they are trying to re-start the nuclear stations.
We are going to investigate on radioactive contamination level of the land that will be passed on to our future generations. It is important to record the actual data of radioactive contamination due to the nuclear power station’s accident. To achieve this, we started to carry out this project.
- How is this project carried out?
Ishimaru: We are looking for people who can collect soil sample from 17 prefectures starting from Aomori prefecture to Sizuoka prefecture. We are looking to investigate around 100 regions in each prefecture, and collect five soil samples from each city/village. We ask them to send the sample to the designated measuring station.
It is usually up to the collector where and which soil to collect from the region, but to acquire as precise situation, we ask them to avoid places such as drainage that are usually highly contaminated by cesium or places that had been decontaminated. Also, we have standardized way of collecting the soil. The samples have to come from 5cm deep and more than 1 liter. Thus we can compare all the samples scientifically. They are measured in one of the stations from “Minna no Data Site”, and the results of the sample is told to the person who collected the soil, and it will be released on the website. After we have enough data, we will start making them into a map.
We are looking to measure 1700 samples within this year. For the second year of the project, we will increase investigation places to enrich the data for soil contamination map.
- How much does the project cost?
Ishimaru: To achieve our goal of measuring 1700 places within one year will cost us 4,500,000 yen. We will cover this expense by funding from companies and donations. We are doing crowdfunding now and getting supported by many people also.
We decided to fund raise and carry out our project both at the same time before it becomes to hard to measure cesium 134.
I would like to sincerely face the reality of the contamination though the data, and make 3.11 the trigger to bring about change in Japan.
- After the accident, you have been working hard to remain the data of radioactive contamination. What is the driving force for you to do this?
Ishimaru: There are people who do not have much choice but to live in the contaminated regions. I would like to feel safe about things that are actually safe by analyzing the reality carefully and find ways to reduce being exposed to radiation when its avoidable, rather than only moaning about the contamination. As one of means to avoid the exposure, “Kodomo Mirai Measurement Station” have released air pollution map using “hotspot finder” which is high-performance air pollution detector that precisely measure the dose of radio activities.
What we can see from measuring the contamination is only a small part of what the people who lives in the highly contaminated areas have gone through. People live in Tokyo takes part of the blame in the accident. Thus, it is hard for Tokyo people to see or imagine what affects are happening in the daily lives of people in the highly contaminated areas due to the radiation. For children in Fukushima, the word “radiation” is used in daily life. They say things such as “There is radiation here, so we cannot play here” or “Because there is radiation, we go on recreation camp every year”. Can we really say that the accident has ceased under this situation?
I would like to sincerely face the situation through providing objective data, and be able to deal with the situation. I would like to change the social system that force risks on children. That is my motivation to keep going with this work. I would like to ask as many people for their support on this “Measuring Becquerel level in Soil Project in East Japan” for the future and the children.