INTERVIEW SERIES "AFTER FUKUSHIMA" VOL.03 Citizens' Radioactivity Measuring Station

vol.03 Citizens' Radioactivity Measuring Station, DirectorHidetake Ishimaru

>> Japanese here

Q. How have you been? The last time I talked to you was in December 2011....

From the summer of 2011, I was engaged in an organization called National Network of Parents to Protect Children from Radiation. A lot of the parents from that group was very concerned about food contamination, so we've decided to form a Citizens' Radioactivity Measuring Station. That was December 2011.


The first 6 months was very busy. Many concerned mothers and local people brought food samples to be checked. Now the phase has changed. We get much more examination requests from the producers, distributors, and restaurant owners. Now we have about 5 to 6 core members, and about 10 volunteer mothers. We are starting to get support from the grants too.

Q. After 3 years, what are the trends now regarding food contamination?

We've done research over 2000 food and soil samples so far, and I can say the most noted ones on land are mushrooms and edible wild plants. These things suck the cesium from the top soil, resulting to high contamination. Also bean families such as soy beans, since the rhizobia attached to the roots can suck Cesium, causing bad effects. Also be careful of lotus roots. People who are conscious are avoiding lotus roots grown in places like Kasumigaura, Ibraki.

On the other hand, data reading of beef is going down. This is because the farmers have switched food for livestock from domestic to import. But from a holistic view point, now they are feeding overseas food like GMO (genetically modified), so no wonder radioactivity is not measured. This is a very difficult issue.

Q. Hmmm..... I've heard citrus fruits can show higher results. Is that true?

From my experience, small citrus fruits (yuzu) picked around here in west Tokyo, has shown high rates, but it is now going down. Every year the same people bring samples from the same tree - the first year it was 20Bq/kg, but now it has dropped to around 1-2Bq/kg.

Last year, I brought back a chestnut from Fukushima, and it measured 200Bq/kg! The air radiation level there was 0.7-8Sv/h. So it is obvious that when the air is contaminated, the food is contaminated.

Other than yuzu, kiwi fruits have tendency to show higher results since the leaves easily suck the radiation. Also chestnut and persimmon are to be considered. Peaches and apples were first contaminated, but not as citrus fruits.

Green tea leaves showed some results from various areas too. But year after year, it's getting much calmer. No high results can be seen from the vegetables grown in Tokyo area. This is because the soil sucks the Cesium and holds it tight.

Q. How about fish?

Freshwater fish showed results at the beginning, such as trout and black bass. From the ocean, in 2011, they found 4-5Bq/kg of Cesium from a tuna fish in California. Tuna travel the ocean in fast speed, so it's not a surprise they have crossed the Pacific. The same year, results had been seen from tuna near the ocean in Japan, but now the data has dropped drastically, or none.

Highest results from the fish from the ocean near Japan is shown from migratory fish, like cod. Some shows over 100Bq/kg. This is because cod on the Pacific side goes up north from Ibraki to Hokkaido, and while they are passing through Fukushima, they can go deep under the sea and eat something that has accumulated radiation. But the data is also dropping down year after year.

The amount of contaminated water that was released at the beginning was tremendous. Compared to that, the amount is very small now. That is why the level of contamination is rather calm. But having said that, it's still there, even it's relatively smaller.

Q. When I talked to you in Dec. 2011, you said that the soil and fallen leaves shows considerable amount of contamination. What's the level now?

The first fiscal year, various fallen leaves around here showed result of 200-400Bq/kg. Some leaves such as Zelkova trees (keyaki) showed even 1000Bq/kg. Last year it dropped down to 50Bq/kg. Also pine needles show high results. This is because pine needles are sticky, and this is why pine needles are used when measuring dioxin. First year, pine needles showed 1000Bq/kg, but the young green pine leaves in the year 2013, showed 100Bq/kg. This means the level of contamination has dropped to 1/10.

Now about the soil; actually the data of soil does not change so much. Most of the contamination we face now is from the explosion on March 11th, 2011. For example, in Kanto area, on March 21st, when the first drop of rain fell in Tokyo after the accident, that's when the radiation fall. People tend to think that the radiation is still continuously leaking now, but relatively speaking, the amount is incomparably low. So most of the contamination you get now can be traced to around March and April of 2011. Once the soil attaches Cesium, it doesn't let go. Compared to the soil of Chernobyl, the soil in Japan is more clay type, so more so, the Cesium stays in the soil.

Q. How about processed food, such as Miso?

From our experience, Miso hasn't showed much result. A little bit from production in Miyagi prefecture. First of all, soy beans produced in Japan are not that. But soy beans is something you need to be careful of. Especially when it comes from the affected area.

To rap up for food contamination, countermeasures can be taken for internal exposure if you avoid certain food types I've mentioned. This past 3 years has been a tremendous learning curve finding out trends. If you manage to study that, you can prevent great deal of contamination, and not be anxious about it. Having said that, food coming from where the air dose is high, is more or less contaminated. This is such a nuisance, I cannot even put it into words....

Q. You are also a mediator of Citizens' Radioactivity Measuring Station Network in Japan.

We have over 100 stations now in Japan. The data provided by the government is not trustworthy, so conscious people got together in local communities, and formed stations. We have communicated very well on Facebook and mailing lists, sharing useful information about which machines to obtain, how we do data analysis and so on.

3 years has past, and we are at the point of reassessing management and structure of the organization for long term activities. We are moving on from the panic stage. Nowadays many producers come to our places and request measurement. The tragedy was that the trust and linkage between the consumers and producers were cut after 3.11. Now the producers are making an effort to reassure consumers that their products are measured and safe. We would like to help this process so that the consumers can also be more educated about the food production. TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) is going to be set soon... so more so, people living in cities need to tap into where their food comes from, and how.

Anyway, we would like to continue measuring and putting the world out to the world.

Q. You've collected money by Crowd Funding Project and bought a "hotspot finder," a very high-end air dose radioactive measurement machine. By using that you are about to start "Radioactivity Visualize Project". Can you tell us about that?

I am very worried of the children in Fukushima. Although nothing can be related to 3.11, already 34 children had the removal of thyroid. There are still many "hotspots" where the kids go and play - home gardens, parks, school play grounds. To measure thoroughly the contamination level of these places, and to come up with countermeasures are urgent tasks. We cannot let kids exposed to radiation. The most dangerous was the initial exposer, but nobody knows about the consequences of the additional exposer either. The time the children gets to play outside is limited now. This is a serious issue invading children's human rights.

My wife is from Fukushima, and there are many friends and relatives still living there. I've measured some myself, and see high results. I've dug 5cm deep at my relative's garden, and the result was 2000Bq/kg. The contamination is a daily thing now, and the scale is so huge, I don't know what to do.... After 3 years, many people are starting to forget about it, but nothing has ended. And on top of that, local people cannot say it out loud, when there are still many things to be concerned of.

I'm becoming to think that the worst tragedy of nuclear power plant accidents lies in the secondary aftermath. Of course the direct health damage, but things like separation of families, disconnection of communities, and children not able to play outside, therefore influencing in body strength. The list goes on and on....

Q. So, your activities for the 4th year?

There are several pillars. Food and soil measurement will continue as we've done for the past 3 years. Also air dose measurement of not only Fukushima, but surrounding prefecture is necessary. Some people from the surrounded prefecture wants the same compensation as Fukushima. So we will make a visible map to make it obvious at a glance where the hotspots are.

We are also making pamphlets now to give away in Fukushima. It contains information of our findings from the 3 years experiences. The idea is to share this knowledge and also to create dialogue places where isolated mothers can come and connect with same minded people.

Q. It's been a crazy 3-year. How are you going to approach the coming year?

So many things come to my mind, but the network of friends kept me going. Nothing is over, it's just the beginning, so I cannot stop here. I have to keep on going. Honestly, management and usual life can be hard, and I thought sometimes I cannot keep on going. But many people have supported us through crowd funding, and other civil organization has also lend us hand, leading to new projects.

I really want to go to Fukushima more with the high-end measurement machine. I want to connect with the locals and use myself according to their needs. I don't care how small of an action it is, there is much to be done, and I will do my best.


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