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David Wagner

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Report From Tokyo: Living With Radiation

Posted: 06/29/11 01:28 PM ET

For those of us who reside anywhere near the Daiichi Fukushima nuclear facility, living with radiation has become an undesired way of life. It is the topic of daily conversation and for good reason.

In Tokyo, we continue to face not only the threat of a sudden spike in radiation due to the unstable nature of the Fukushima plant, but also the constant issue of food contamination.
For now, the water and air are largely at normal levels here. I say "largely" because there are clearly some exceptions to the rule. We also know that sewage treatment facilities continue to show above-normal releases of Iodine 131 and Cesium 134 and 137. Food contamination remains unclear as no centralized, large-scale, and consistent system for radiation measurement exists.

Up north, the situation is clearly more dire as residents are closer to the radiation released into the air which is growing in volume on the soil. There is also increasing evidence pointing to groundwater penetration. On June 27th, a report was released showing accumulated external exposure to radiation to nearby residents was between 4.9 and 13.5 millisieverts, putting the grand total between 4.9 to 14.2 millisieverts over about two months. While these figures are within the 20 millisieverts per year target, I am sure some people from the test region will now be thinking of a move somewhere farther south.

Indeed, the result of the accident for people who live in Japan is that they are now forced to accept the result of the disaster. The milk has already spilled... or continues to spill. Educating ourselves as to the types of radiation that are omitted, as best we can, is one important step toward controlling our livelihoods. But even that only goes so far. For the reality of what will surely become the single, worst nuclear accident in history is that many more individuals, families and communities will soon need to make life-changing decisions.

In the Fukushima region, the prefectural government has just initiated a testing of two million residents -- yes, two million people! It is an extraordinary effort that must be done for peace of mind as well as long-term decision-making. This effort to provide residents with valuable information also benefits the study of the effects of low-dose exposure to radiation on the body over time. I just hope qualified people with specialist knowledge are involved in the process. In any case, the prefectural government should be applauded for the effort. It builds trust through transparency.

There is a case to be made for all data related to the disaster, no matter how bad, being released to the people of Japan who are not looking for gatekeepers to decide what is in their best interests. If this does not happen on a large scale and soon, growing suspicion and distrust are sure to result.

Growing numbers of non-Japanese, concerned about their own long-term safety, as well as the health of their own children, are leaving Japan. Some of them have lived here for decades. I have been unable to find exact statistics, but I know it to be true from frequent and ongoing discussions with my own network here. It is the right solution for them. On the flip side, there are many Japanese I speak with who feel there is little choice but to stay. They have extended families, life-long commitments and careers, and property here. Staying is the correct path for them.

Later in the year, assuming there are no unexpected twists in gaining control of the melted reactor cores, it could be easier to envision life in future. But for now, it is just one day at a time.

 

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