Residents of Iwaki, near the troubled Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant – damaged in the massive earthquake of March 2011, are taking matters into their own hands by taking radiation readings and cleaning the soil around local schools.
Government officials insist that the region is safe, even as it is located within the 30km zone officials established soon after the earthquake that damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Local residents became suspicious of officials’ claims in light of the fact that they had not seen anyone taking radiation readings near their home, since the March 2011 earthquake. So local residents saved up and bought their own dosimeters and took their own readings, despite the fact that commercially available dosimeters are considered crude. A reading taken near a sewage ditch read a potentially harmful level of 67 microsieverts per hour, plus other high readings gave residents the courage to confront local officials, whom did not respond.
Residents and local officials stepped in and started cleansing the soil in schoolyards without government help, and secured the help if a radiation expert, who was with the Health Ministry until he quit his job in protest of his superiors’ slow response to the nuclear accident.
“They don’t riot and they don’t even demonstrate very much, but they are not just sitting on their hands either” according to an expert on Japanese political science.
The government has a poor track record: the government recently had to backtrack on acceptable exposure levels for schoolchildren after a senior government official quit after saying he did not want to see children exposed to such high levels. In addition, it was recently discovered that radioactive beef was being sold in stores.
The issue began to see a shift in response with the arrival of officials who had long opposed the nuclear industry. The area is now monitored using more monitoring stations, with many located in rural areas, and so far they confirm readings taken by residents.
Radiation monitoring is being carried out for the presence of cesium 134 and cesium 137 in the soil and in the air where as, previously, soil sample readings were only taken at ten stations located in the town’s more urban areas. Radioactive materials spread following wind direction and vary with the landscape, resulting in broad variations over relatively small areas.