I remember the oppressive feeling around my heart when the first news came about the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Japan coast, including several nuclear power plants, on 11 March 2011.
Half a day later it was clear that this was serious; three days later I arrived in Amsterdam to join the Greenpeace team coordinating our response; two weeks later I arrived in Japan to help explore the environmental damage done by the radioactive releases from Fukushima.
I remember the surreal experience of driving into the high radiation areas around Fukushima City, 60km from the plant where the nuclear disaster had occurred. The winter landscape looked beautiful and untouched, but in the car we could see the radiation levels going up on our monitoring equipment.
I remember my first tweet: "Driving through the hills towards Iitate, 40 km from the Fukushima reactors - radiation is rising."
I remember our meeting with the mayor of Minamisoma, a coastal town hit hard by both the tsunami and the radiation. He had only been contacted by the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), 11 days after the nuclear accident started, to inform him about the radioactivity that had spread over his town.
I remember the uncertainty and unawareness of the people we spoke with. They didn’t know the risks they were exposed to.
I remember the emotional discussions of our team as we were trying to figure out what we could do to best help these people. Terrible discussions, as we realised that hundreds of thousands of people were being exposed to what in our eyes were unacceptable levels of radiation. We realised our worst fear, another Chernobyl, was happening ...
My heart goes out to all Japanese people who are still suffering the consequences of this terrible accident.
My heart also goes out to colleagues in Greenpeace Japan, who have had to suffer the uncertainties about their own families, but were brave enough to support our radiation monitoring work. Some got a crash course in radiation protection and went into the field with us.
It makes me angry every time someone downplays the Fukushima impacts; every time someone thinks 'two years later Fukushima' is not worth remembering.
Imagine you lost everything you had, and will never be able to return home. Imagine that your children cannot play outside because of the radiation in your garden. Imagine the stigma people in Fukushima are feeling, similar to the Hibakusha after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings.
We have to remember.
In support of the people in Japan. In support of the worldwide fight to end nuclear power. Because this time we can win that fight. Help win it: sign our petition.
Image above: Dr. Rianne Teule is a radiation expert and Greenpeace nuclear campaigner. She has conducted several radiation monitoring field trips around the Fukushima nuclear power plant since the disaster, to help keep the public informed of the risks.
You can see the results of Greenpeace radiation monitoring in Fukushima here.
See more images from Greenpeace radiation monitoring work in Fukushima:
April 7, 2011 - Greenpeace radiation expert Rianne Teule monitors contamination levels on the outskirts of Fukushima City, 60 km from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. She was part of a Greenpeace field team sent to monitor radioactive contamination of food and soil after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in order to estimate the health and safety risks for the local population.
April 6, 2011 - Greenpeace radiation team experts Rianne Teule (left) and Nikki Westwood check crops for contamination in a garden at Fukushima City, 60 km from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The vegetables showed radiation levels 50-60 times more then the limits for food.
May 4, 2011 - Crew from the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, including radiation safety advisor Jacob Namminga (right), collect sea water and seaweed samples to monitor radiation contamination levels in the waters near the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
August 18, 2011 - Greenpeace radiation expert Iryna Labunska checks radiation levels at the Minami Fukushima kindergarten. The kindergarten had been decontaminated with support from authorities, community groups and NGOs, and while it exhibited significantly decreased dose rates overall, a few spots with elevated contamination levels persisted.
Many areas surrounding the school had not been decontaminated, so the risk of re-contamination was also high. Greenpeace had been monitoring radioactive contamination of food, sea life and the environment in the region surrounding the crisis-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant since the disaster. During this time Greenpeace continually called for comprehensive screening and decontamination measures to be put in place, and that vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and children, still living in highly contaminated areas outside the mandatory 30km exclusion zone be relocated.
October 17, 2012 - A Greenpeace radiation team monitors the contamination levels near an empty sports field in Fukushima city, 60km from the site of the March 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Greenpeace will continue to conduct regular radiation monitoring field trips to the Fukushima area and keep the public informed of the risks.