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Image: picture alliance/dpa

Living with radiation

March 10, 2012

Contaminated food remains a worry for many Japanese a year after the March 11 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami with up to 40-meter (130-ft.) waves which triggered the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl.


One year ago, on March 11, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake shook Japan and brought about a tsunami with up to 40-meter (130-ft.) waves. It triggered the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl. Prefectures Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima were hardest hit. Over 20,000 people died or went missing in the disasters and around half a million people were made homeless. Over 80,000 people still live in temporary emergency shelters. And nuclear radiation remains a great problem.

NHK, a public radio broadcaster, still reports radiation levels for the Kanto region on a daily basis, even though levels have returned to just about normal. Almost a year after the disaster, people in Japan remain cautious of the nuclear radiation. 

The predicament has led many to take precautionary measures into their own hands.

“I feel bad, but I try to avoid eating vegetables from the Fukushima region. I also use homeopathic remedies and dried food such as seaweed to prevent toxins from building up in my body,” one woman said.

Reports of contaminated meat and rice have put consumers on their toes. But people remain wary despite the fact that no case has been reported for months. The Japanese government has expanded testing for nuclear contamination and large supermarket chains also conduct random testing on their products, according to Akiko Yoshida of Friends of the Earth.

An 83-year old farmer weeds a spinach field
Nuclear radiation damaged crops and livestockImage: AP

“Some supermarkets make the results of their testing known to the public. I think that is great but also important because it allows people to make their own informed decisions."

Nuclear radiation contamination

In Fukushima and even in Tokyo and Yokohama there are special shops where one can test food for radiation contamination. Last year, the government implemented stricter limits with regard to radiation levels which are now even lower than those in the EU. Limits for evacuations, however, have remained the same: 20 millisieverts (mSv) per year. That is why environmental associations are demanding at least a partial evacuation of children.

“There are areas in Fukushima that are highly contaminated. That is why we have started working with the Poka-Poka project for children in Fukushima. We are demanding that some of these people are evacuated,” says Yoshia.

While some think stricter regulation should be implemented, others are more relaxed about the situation. Hiromi Sato, who had to evacuate his village of Iitate, has moved to Fukushima.

A man shops for Asian food
People outside of Japan are wary of Japanese exportsImage: picture alliance/dpa

“We evacuees and the residents of Fukushima City buy products from the region. Some stores mark some of their products with tags giving information about their radiation levels. We just keep informed and stay calm.”

Decontamination work has not yet started in Iitate, but it is underway in Minami-Soma and Kawauchi, which are located on the margin of the evacuation zone. Decontamination is very effective and can drastically reduce contamination, but it is time consuming. Nonetheless, the governor of Kawauchi has already made efforts to encourage residents to return to their homes.

Families with children are not likely to heed his words of encouragement. Nonetheless, elderly residents have already started returning. Those, however, who do return to their decontaminated homes, they are not recommended to step onto the fields or enter into the forest.

Author: Peter Kujath / sb
Editor: Shamil Shams