clean up
March 15, 2012

Japan Cleanup

A year later, Japan is dealing with cleaning up radiation.

Jessica: As we drove into the town of Minamisoma, we passed an abandoned McDonalds, boarded up gas station, vacant lots and businesses. The streets were empty. This town is just twelve-and-a-half miles from the Fukushima Diachi plant. We were following a group trying to clean up the radiation.

The decontamination team had just received a call from this building’s owners who were suspicious of black dust they had found in the parking lot. The geiger counter, which measures radiation, confirmed their fears.

“Our geiger counter measured this at 17 micro-seiverts, which is the highest we’ve encountered by far.”

Jessica: That amount of radiation is still considered low — less than you would receive from a chest x-ray. In fact, we are exposed to radiation all the time, from airplanes to microwaves to cell phones. But exposure to radiation is linked to cancer, and the question here is, what are the long term effects of low doses of radiation? No one really knows.

Using a broom and dust pan, the scientists collected the radioactive dust in this one spot. But just on the other side of the lot…

“We keep on finding our own hot spots. And it shows that these radioactive particles are spread unevenly, and to me it just seems like this is impossible to clean up.”

Jessica: On this day, high winds forced the team back to the office. They brought the black dust here since there is no other place to put it.

Japan is one of the most high-tech countries in the world. It seems to me this clean-up method is basic with brush and pan. Why isn’t there something more effective?

“Better technology exists but we can’t afford it. If we had more money, we would. But we are an anti-nuclear organization. The government people said don’t make this a big deal. It’s because the government wants to forget the accident and convince people this area is safe.”

Jessica: The central government has handed out billion-dollar decontamination contracts to big corporations. But big companies and private organizations like this one face the same questions — how do you clean up radiation? Where do you store contaminiated materials? And is the effort working?

Even if you clean up an area, isn’t there the possibility on another windy or rainy day that it will once again become contaminated?

“Yes, there is that risk. Our goal is to evacuate everyone because decontamination isn’t enough.”

Jessica: Tsuneo Shiga can’t evacuate. He and his family have farmed the land for six generations.

“I was always worried about contamination.”

Jessica: Shiga was so against nuclear energy, he used solar panels so he wouldn’t have to rely on the power plant for energy.

“This whole area was against building a nuclear power plant. They were the enemy of farmers.”

Jessica: Fukushima farmers used to be famous for their rice. Now, no one will buy anything with the label “grown in Fukushima.”

“I have no confidence, no pride as a farmer, and no idea when the consumers will start to believe in the Fukushima brand again.”

Jessica: Fukushima was Japan’s 4th largest producer of rice. But the disaster has dealt a huge blow to this area’s farming industry, which used to generate $3.3 billion.

The government says Shiga can grow. But he decided not to because of the radiation he has detected on his own. The only profits this year will come from the beef cows. But he discovered a new problem.

“This is the hay the cows eat. Because it was grown on this farm it’s contaminated.”

Jessica: The farmer says his only option is to import hay from the U.S., but right now he doesn’t have the money.

He built this house for his daughter and son-in-law so they could take over the farm. But they refuse to live here because of the radiation.

Are you afraid that you will have to close the farm?

“Yes. A lot.”

Jessica: Shiga’s story is not unique.

Shiga hopes his fields — now barren — will bloom and that Japan will flourish again economically, environmenetally and emotionally.

It has been one year, but the road to recovery is just beginning for the people of Japan.


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