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In The Wake Of Disaster

It has been one year since the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck north-eastern Japan. The Debris from the giant wave has mostly cleared. But there remains a looming fear of the invisible dangers of radiation, following the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The government has closed a twelve mile zone around the plant and the boarder is guarded by police. Still, for miles outside of that exclusion zone, people are actively questioning what is safe.

We had no ideal if our vegetables and food for sale were safe or not.

Hideiku Ishimorihas farmed vegetables to support his family for nearly thirty years. After the disaster, a French company discovered high levels of radiation in food grown just two miles away. And when Mr.Ishimori asked the government to test his produce, he says he did not get any response.

H: So what was I supposed to do?  The Federal government won’t measure food for us the Prefecture and city governments won’t either. So are we supposed to continue ahead like this, not doing anything?  I can’t do that. Or should I just ignore it and continue to deliver food? If I did that, then I’d be at fault.

And so Mr.Ishimori decided to act on his own. This device measures iodine and cesium and potassium as well, but is mainly used for cesium and iodine. His spent his life-savings to buy a fifty thousand dollar device, which measures radiation in everything from rice to drinking water.

Mr. H: I wanted just to know, and at any rate, if I didn’t check the food then I wouldn’t be able to begin again. If I didn’t check then it’s impossible to recover my farm and grow vegetables and so I didn’t have any choice but to buy it.

Although his local government is now offering radiation detection, Mr. Ishimori’s house has become a popular community center and people from miles around pay a small donation to have their food tested here. His results are concerning. He says his own produce exceeds safe radiation limits set by the Japanese government.

H: My tea was 579,  my mushrooms too were 577, that exceeds the country’s temporary legal limit. And dairy products like milk show the most radiation overall. Mother’s with small children who live nearby or ones who are pregnant are the ones who have been happiest to have the food tested.

They say to me, “Ishimori San, thank you for testing this. I didn’t know what food on the market I could eat. I really had no idea what to buy. But you’ve really helped me, because now I know I can eat this or that I shouldn’t drink that.”

Make no mistake. Radiation is scary. We can’t ignore it. We have to properly understand it and confront it.

Yoshiki Kondo Teaches at a daycare center just three miles away from the mandatory evacuation zone, nearly half the residents of this city have left but forty thousand still remain. And I want to lead the families who have decided to stay here and live for the future.

Sources in the environment expose everyone in the world to some radiation. The levels around Fukushima Daiichi vary from mile to mile.
Some areas are deemed safe, others exceed U.S. safety levels. Here in Minami Soma they are double Japan’s national average but they still fall below the annual exposure of many Americans.

Mr. Kondo includes lessons about radiation in daily activities, children learn about hotspots on fieldtrips and help log daily radiation levels. Kondo also consults specialist so he can provide basic counseling for parents.

K: It’s said that the lower levels of external radiation here don’t pose a significant threat to human health but being exposed internally is a concern. Everyone says that. And so I’m trying to reduce the chance of internal exposure here at the preschool by using only food from outside Fukushima. We also don’t use any tap water.

Mr. Kondo hopes that this school can serve as a message of hope amidst all the uncertainty.

K: So many people who live outside of Fukushima believe this is one single contaminated area but that’s not true. There are so many places where people can live and where people are fighting for their future. There are people you have evacuated and there are people who have decided not to evacuate and have stayed behind. And so I don’t want people to view this as a single contaminated place.

Sendai City

In the month’s after the nuclear incident Mikiko Sato became increasingly convinced that the Japanese government wasn’t providing the people with accurate information.

S: I have no trust in the information the Japanese government releases.
Because I had felt like there was a big problem the country’s nuclear energy polices before, when the government reacted so slowly after the nuclear accident happened I really wasn’t that surprised when the released false information.

Ms. Sato created Chisan staff in Japan a group which helps parents from towns near the nuclear plant find places to stay here in Sendai, a bustling city fifty-nine miles away.

S: Mother’s from places just a little ways from the nuclear plant like Fukushima city and Koyama City don’t receive compensation if they evacuate. Their husbands have work there, if the family sends the mother and child away to evacuate, it’s not only on family but it’s hard financially.

The Japanese government has said it will take at least three decades before it is safe for people to move back into the most contaminated areas. In the meantime, people nearby the nuclear plant are making difficult choices and learning to live with uncertainty.

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