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放射能が降っています。静かな夜です。
October 12, 2011 9:23 PM   Subscribe

It's raining radiation. It's a quiet night. We are well into autumn. And despite the growing sense in the Tokyo metropolitan area that things are now all right -- with train services back to pre-disaster schedules and the regret we once felt over our wasteful consumption of electricity dissipating -- Fukushima remains a war zone.

It was reported on Oct. 7 that the Watari district of Fukushima City was not designated by the government as a "specific evacuation recommendation spot."

Once a week, the couple, who run a cafe in the district, put on long-sleeved work clothes and 3M-Sumitomo dust masks to scan their property for high levels of radiation, using a U.S.-made Geiger counter and a Chinese-made radiation dosimeter.

The Tanjis often find high radiation levels under the gutters, and scrape off any accumulated dirt and dust. They climb onto the roof, which they sweep with a broom, and remove the trash and leaves that have collected in the gutters. They also diligently trim the greenery in their yard that prior to the nuclear disaster, they'd allowed to grow freely.


I'd worked in Fukushima in the past, which was when I came into contact with the Tanjis. But that was already 17 years ago, and it was only through the newly released book, "Chronicle Fukushima," that I learned about what happened to them after the triple disasters of March 11.

Also appearing in the book is award-winning poet and Fukushima resident Ryoichi Wago, 43, whose Tweet: "It's raining radiation. It's a quiet night," (放射能が降っています。静かな夜です。) received a massive response.

===
According to Aileen Mioko Smith of Green Action Japan 75% of Fukushima’s 300,000 children are going to schools that are so contaminated they would be radiation control areas in nuclear plants where individuals under 18 are not legally allowed. The Japanese government won’t evacuate people unless radiation levels are four times what triggered evacuation in Chernobyl. [KokuRyu: I can't find a source for this]

Smith, who at one time was married to Eugene W. Smith, the American photographer who exposed industrial dumping as the culprit behind Minamata disease, has addressed the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the United Nations Human Rights Commission about the problem.

Stunning also is the tongue of light green extending from the Miyagi border to the border of Tochigi, engulfing the major cities of Fukushima and Koriyama -- the prefecture's agricultural and industrial corridor.

Sankei Shimbun confirmed there was an hydrogen explosion with 63% concentration in August - which may explain the plutonium and strontium detected in Tokyo and Yokohama, and also the cesium peak in all Kanto and eastern Japan.

So far, the government decontamination plans cover 8 prefectures.
posted by KokuRyu (41 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks so much, KokuRyu.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:31 PM on October 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


That made me cry.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:36 PM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


We were just talking about the NHK news last night. Out in Setagaya (western Tokyo, more residential), some volunteers discovered a radiation level of over 2 microseiverts an hour at a local park. Meanwhile, Yokohama has largely turned off all of its public fountains because readings near sewers in the city have been around .91/hour. Kashiwa, in northern Chiba, just closed one of its incinerators due to the high levels of radioactivity in the ashes. Teachers at my school who live around here have told me that Kashiwa city is no longer accepting waste soil for garbage pickup. And here, from the published map from the Stunning link shows that the large blue area in northwest Chiba (where I work) just suddenly, and conveniently ends at the border of northern Toyko?

I'm not one to believe in conspiracies, but the outright failure of the government to be remotely honest in the opening days (telling people to evacuate to the northwest of Fukushima when weather patterns were showing that the radiation would likely be landing exactly there?), I wouldn't put it past them to fudge the data to prevent a panic in Tokyo. As time goes on, I'm less and less confident in my decision to stay.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:40 PM on October 12, 2011 [11 favorites]




KokuRyu: "75% of Fukushima’s 300,000 children are going to schools that are so contaminated they would be radiation control areas in nuclear plants where individuals under 18 are not legally allowed."

This isn't a useful metric for comparison. A radiation control area in a nuclear plant is supposed to have absurdly low levels of radiation. That's why plant workers can work there and not suffer any ill health effects, provided that they take proper precautions to avoid radioactive sources that may be present in the room (which is presumably why we don't let kids in there).

As a point of comparison, I once worked in a facility that handles [very mildly] radioactive materials, and we were frequently warned that we'd expose our dosimeters if we wore them outside on a sunny day.

There may be high concentrations of radiation in parts of those schools, and that is indeed something to be concerned about. However, that sentence doesn't tell me any useful information. We might need to be concerned, or we might not.
posted by schmod at 9:45 PM on October 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


I'm not one to believe in conspiracies, but the outright failure of the government to be remotely honest in the opening days (telling people to evacuate to the northwest of Fukushima when weather patterns were showing that the radiation would likely be landing exactly there?), I wouldn't put it past them to fudge the data to prevent a panic in Tokyo.

Japan feared evacuation of 30 million in nuclear crisis, ex-PM says

(The source for the report comes from Kyodo...)
posted by KokuRyu at 9:46 PM on October 12, 2011


There may be high concentrations of radiation in parts of those schools, and that is indeed something to be concerned about. However, that sentence doesn't tell me any useful information. We might need to be concerned, or we might not.

Yeah, I've looked around to find a definitive source for the "75%" statistic, and haven't been able to find anything.

I think what Smith is trying to say (but maybe chose a soundbite she hoped would be picked up by overseas news outlets) is that 75% of students in Fukushima are exposed to unreasonably high levels of radioactivity on their school grounds.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:48 PM on October 12, 2011


Again, thanks for these links, KokuRyu. We just had a little pow-wow around that map, and we were taking turns pointing out the areas in the neutral brown (safe) where we've read reports of contamination. In Chiba, well south of where I live, grass for cattle feed was contaminated. In Kanagawa (aside from the Yokohama stuff) tea leaves were considered unsafe. And of course, the news from Setagaya last night, also perfectly safe.

Even better, another teacher pointed out that evidently, the government has deemed rice harvested in Fukushima is perfectly safe for consumption.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:50 PM on October 12, 2011




That's why plant workers can work there and not suffer any ill health effects, provided that they take proper precautions to avoid radioactive sources that may be present in the room (which is presumably why we don't let kids in there).

No, radiation limits are stricter for kids because it requires less dose to create a higher chance of cancer, because of the exponential nature of cell division over our lifetimes.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:49 PM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some of the comments on that Setagaya article are eye-opening if they're to be believed:
Look some of us have been alluding to this for months now. The government takes air radiation samples from helicopters!

As I wrote the other day, 51,000 Bq / metre of combined cesium in the soil (yes,count that again) in Shinjuku ward. This was from tests conducted by the government of Tokyo itself. Tokyo has been inundated with cesium and Iodine isotopes since July at least.

They have been burning radioactive sludge and it was suggested that a lot of the isotopes were 'disappearing' in the combustion process. Isotopes don't just disappear. Some of this could be a byproduct of the burning of sludge...wait til they really start burning all that debris.

A lot of this is probably cesium that stuck to buildings and was dislodged by the typhoons and has become concentrated. Oh and as I said yesterday, they found Strontium in Yokohama...you know, the heavy stuff that isn't supposed to be even 70km away from the plant? Guess what.
posted by crayz at 10:52 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Out in Setagaya (western Tokyo, more residential), some volunteers discovered a radiation level of over 2 microseiverts an hour at a local park. Meanwhile, Yokohama has largely turned off all of its public fountains because readings near sewers in the city have been around .91/hour.

I was surprised by this, too. In Tokyo, the coverage on Fukushima has dropped to a trickle, and we're gradually going back to The Way Things Were Before, but this was kind of amazing. Why in hell is western Tokyo having such high readings all of a sudden? It's very worrying, and I feel doubly wrong about defending my staying here. "Tokyo is fine!" is the mantra everyone in Tokyo has been saying, even if we have no real idea what's going on. But even here it seems like it's time to get a Geiger counter.

The sad, sad truth is that we won't see the true cost of this tragedy for many years to come, and those responsible (TEPCO, the Japanese govt) will probably be out of the picture, and there will be no one to point fingers at.

I'm not terribly concerned about myself, but I'm downright terrified for my two-year-old. I've half a mind already to leave Tokyo/eastern Japan, if only because the next Tokyo quake is bound to happen soon as well; western Japan and Kyushu tend to have more volcanoes than earthquakes; I'll choose a volcano anyday. If the news about radioactivity gets worse, we may in the end actually leave Japan, or at least eastern Japan.
posted by zardoz at 10:58 PM on October 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Thank you for this KokuRyu. There is nothing else I can say. When things like this happen, all I can say is thank you to anything that is shared and smile as best I can while trying not to cry.
posted by chemoboy at 11:00 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this. I'm (still) a nuclear apologist, but Japan really makes me question that stance. I'm glad people still care about what's going on there.

It's raining radiation. It's a quiet night.

A phrase so beautifully, simply sad that only a poet could have come up with it.
posted by auto-correct at 11:12 PM on October 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Zardoz, when I saw this post, I started showing it to my co-workers. I asked one of my younger colleagues to read the Japanese article about the steam leak. They kind of laughed it off. One guy said, 'it's just hydrogen, it's not that bad, right?' The foreign teachers, we're still paying attention, trying to find information in the ever dwindling trickle from major news sources. Most Japanese people have tuned it out. Ms. Ghidorah doesn't want to watch the news anymore, and requests that I change the channel if NHK is talking about it.

I stand by my prediction, in the end of year specials about 2011, the women's soccer team will get more coverage than Fukushima.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:41 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I stand by my prediction, in the end of year specials about 2011, the women's soccer team will get more coverage than Fukushima."

Ugh...I don't doubt it. I'm glad that information like this is getting out in Japan and internationally, but it's difficult to keep reading. I left Tohoku at the end of July and I feel just as defeated and powerless to help as I did living there.
Aside from the presence of the JSDF and the "Ganbare Nihon!" posters there's been little outside help from the government even 6 months afterward, and tens of thousands are still living in damaged, unsafe buildings with blue tarps over the roofs - all you have to do is look out the window of the Shinkansen to see them, and that's not even counting the devastated coast and the mess in Fukushima.
I mean...here in Seattle, it's disheartening but understandable when people react to the disaster as if its already fixed and over with, but it's gut-wrenching to see so many people do the same in Japan. Every day another official resigns over another trivial scandal while the media moves on and nothing gets done. People are forgetting and tuning out when Tohoku needs support more than ever, and the people living there, and people who want to help, to freaking DO something, are left out in the cold.
I struggle a lot with guilt for leaving behind Japanese friends and colleagues who didn't have the option of going home, and I've spent time both there and here looking for ways to contribute aside from writing more checks, but I haven't found much. If anyone in the thread has ideas for stuff to do, please let me know.
posted by azuresunday at 1:23 AM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ghidorah, for you the issue is "Should I stay or should I go?" It's natural that you're still after info to help you with that. For most Japanese people, leaving Japan isn't even an option. For people in Kanto/Tohoku who aren't already gone or on the move, heading west isn't realistic either. Add to that the fact that no-one completely trusts any news or information source any more on this topic and it's not hard to hypothesize a reason for the difference in attitude.

(Put another way, I hypothesize that it's for the same reason that you don't spend all your time reading blogs about Peak Oil and learning to use a gun and skin game: a rational lifestyle choice based on the options currently open to you and your personal estimation of the probability of the worst-case scenario which would override all other priorities.)

I would bet a beer against your prediction, by the way, if you want to propose an objective metric for deciding who wins!
posted by No-sword at 1:35 AM on October 13, 2011


I stand by my prediction, in the end of year specials about 2011, the women's soccer team will get more coverage than Fukushima.

Definitely. The women's soccer team is inspiring, Fukushima, not so much. Honestly, I worry more about being hit on the head during an earthquake than about the radiation. Inspectors keep coming out and marking the cracks in the walls, but they haven't fixed anything. Oh, they did put up a sign saying not to stand next to the wall. Very helpful.
posted by betweenthebars at 1:42 AM on October 13, 2011


No-sword, the stay or go thing for me is pretty much already decided. I've got a house here. My wife has a family here. After this long living and teaching here, it's exceedingly unlikely I could just walk into a job back home, or that my wife would adjust well to life in the States. Sometimes I'd like to go, especially on days like today, but the cold reality of it is that, financially, it's pretty much impossible for me.

As for the beer metric, NHK, year end special and a stop watch. Fukushima gets more air time, I'll buy you a beer. Nadeshiko and that goddamn song? Beer's on you.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:51 AM on October 13, 2011


You're on! (If we remember and at least one of us actually watches the damn thing.)
posted by No-sword at 2:01 AM on October 13, 2011


When Chemoboy and Ghidorah weigh in on a thread about the dangers of radiation, I think we all should listen.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:55 AM on October 13, 2011


How eponypropriate.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:04 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bread and circuses.... The wheat is radioactive, the clowns psychopaths.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:13 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


A couple of weeks after the disaster, a friend of mine who lived in Tsukiji (a neighborhood of Tokyo where the huge fish market is) pulled up and moved to Miyazaki, which is like 500 miles southwest. At that moment a volcano 50 miles from Miyazaki was spewing ash, and dropping it on Miyazaki. The decision to move was still a no-brainer for them.

I'm still boggling at my friend having to face a choice between a nuclear disaster and a spewing volcano.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 4:20 AM on October 13, 2011


At the end of the day, one of the very biggest stories on the world stage is a... non-story. Those of us who just have to live with it and hope for the best (an ever-widening circle) can really only sigh and rue the greed and corruption and bad decisions and bad judgement that got us into this mess. Here at Mefi, a couple of people (the usual suspects, appearing in this thread within minutes) chime in with a couple of positive-spin news items to prop up their increasingly absurd and reality-defying pronuclear stances. And the microsieverts and becquerels and iodine and cesium and strontium and plutonium make their merry way into the gutters and playgrounds and lungs and bone marrow and thyroid glands of those in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the world turns again.

God damn it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:22 AM on October 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


Setagaya hotspot unrelated to Fukushima


High levels of radioactivity observed in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward have been found to have nothing to do with the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

Experts commissioned by the ward reported a level of 3.35 microsieverts per hour at a 1-by-10-meter area at a sidewalk near a residential fence on Thursday. A maximum of 2.707 microsieverts per hour had been detected in the location a week before.

Later on Thursday, the experts found what seemed to be the source of the radiation -- 3 or 4 old jars in a wooden box left in a storage space under the floor of a vacant house facing the sidewalk.

The jars were reportedly dirty and black, and measured about 8 centimeters long and about 6 centimeters wide.

The radiation level of the bottles reportedly exceeded 30 microsieverts per hour -- higher than the maximum that could be measured with the experts' devices.

After obtaining permission from the house's owner, the experts measured radiation levels on the premises.

The ward says it will take steps to eliminate the radiation while consulting the science ministry and other authorities.
posted by shii at 5:38 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I asked Japan Focus about the 75% figure:

Aileen Mioko Smith responds:

The 75% is based on Fukushima prefecture's survey of the 1,638 Fukushima schools on April 5-7. For a full report, see

"Violation of the Human Rights of the Children of Fukushima"
http://www.greenaction-japan.org/internal/110817_Fukushima_human_rights_UN_submission.pdf

Quote from page 2:
Fukushima Prefecture did answer the parents’ demand that school grounds be measured for radioactive contamination, undertaking a survey on 5th~7th April which covered the 1,638 schools in the prefecture. The result showed that 76% of Fukushima prefecture schools had levels of contamination exceeding what triggers designation of a workplace as
“radiation-controlled” (0.6 microsievert per hour) where individuals under 18 are not legally permitted to enter. At over 20% of the schools even higher radiation levels were recorded, levels warranting “individual exposure control” if occurring in a workplace.

Footnotes 2 through 5 give more details.

posted by KokuRyu at 6:52 AM on October 13, 2011


Update: Isotope analysis has confirmed that the jars contain radium-226, the stuff they used to paint clocks with.
posted by shii at 6:52 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Several of my friends are involved with Safecast, an effort to measure and map radiation in Japan, in and around Fukushima. Using volunteers, they place sensors and take mobile readings to draw maps of radiation levels for use by anyone, creating a alternative source of data.
posted by Argyle at 7:20 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Setagaya hotspot unrelated to Fukushima

Glad to hear that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:36 AM on October 13, 2011


When there's nowhere to go and hide I suppose stoicism and getting on with your daily life is a valid response.

But how can you quell the hidden internal anger people feel about the situation? It's scary to watch from half a world away. It seems that governments are not concerned about citizens and folks do little or nothing since they feel powerless. We're all in the same lifeboat but only a few will survive? And that's OK?
posted by mightshould at 8:51 AM on October 13, 2011


Can I just say that "Expert Senior Writer" is an awesome tagline?
posted by gottabefunky at 11:05 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pardon my ignorance, but if the half life of radioactive anything is in the thousands of years to decay, it seems to me the stuff is here to stay - at least in several generations' lifetimes. Not to diminish the sadness & ill effects now playing out in people's lives there, but is that not one of the shittiest aspects of the whole situation?
posted by yoga at 11:31 AM on October 13, 2011


yoga: "Pardon my ignorance, but if the half life of radioactive anything is in the thousands of years to decay"

This is, quite simply, untrue. There are many isotopes with half-lifes measures in seconds, minutes and hours. There are also isotopes with half-lifes so long that they are effectively stable.

Check out this table.
posted by Bonzai at 11:54 AM on October 13, 2011


Pardon my ignorance, but if the half life of radioactive anything is in the thousands of years to decay, it seems to me the stuff is here to stay - at least in several generations' lifetimes. Not to diminish the sadness & ill effects now playing out in people's lives there, but is that not one of the shittiest aspects of the whole situation?

There's a much deeper connection with the land in rural Japan, where some families have lived in the same community for hundreds of years, and that's the most tragic part of this story. Rural Japan is so beautiful, and human activity is often so integrated with the natural surroundings that it is very painful to think of no-go zones.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:06 PM on October 13, 2011


Thanks for the link, Bonzai. I appreciate the enlightenment.
posted by yoga at 2:00 PM on October 13, 2011




WSJ: Nuclear Agency Urges Japan to Fix Cleanup Plan
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:26 AM on October 15, 2011




The WSJ article is behind a paywall. However, the IAEA report released on Friday can be accessed here:

IAEA Mission on remediation of large contaminated areas off-site the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP

There's also an overview of the report here.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:24 PM on October 15, 2011


Fallout levels twice estimate: study

The Fukushima nuclear accident released double the amount of cesium-137 into the atmosphere than the government initially estimated, reaching 40 percent of the total emitted during the Chernobyl disaster, a preliminary report said.


The journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics posted the report online for comment, but the study has not yet completed a formal review by experts in the field or been accepted for publication.

The plume was also dispersed quickly over the entire Northern Hemisphere, first reaching North America on 15 March and Europe on 22 March. In general, simulated and observed concentrations of 133Xe and 137Cs both at Japanese as well as at remote sites were in good quantitative agreement with each other. Altogether, we estimate that 6.4 TBq of 137Cs, or 19% of the total fallout until 20 April, were deposited over Japanese land areas, while most of the rest fell over the North Pacific Ocean. Only 0.7 TBq, or 2% of the total fallout were deposited on land areas other than Japan.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:07 AM on October 29, 2011


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