Radiation Team

Jacob Namminga, one of our radiation safety advisors, spoke to me via Skype about today's sampling trip in a rural area of Japan, to the north west of the Fukushima nuclear plant. We'll be reporting the details of our findings once they are compiled and have been checked, but I asked Jacob to provide some reflections on what today's trip was like. This is what he had told me.


We are staying in a place in Yonezawa, 45 km from Fukushima city called the Smile hotel. It has a giant yellow smiley on it, which under the circumstances is a bit surreal. We have Internet, the electricity is working. We have it rather easy compared to some of the people here who are refugees, having had to leave their homes and who are living just a few kilometers away. We brought a lot of food in from Osaka and try to eat that and avoid local foods and especially milk. No tap water, no ice cubes.

We went to a community center the other day, a sports hall where 500 refugees were staying. There were mattresses and cardboard boxes that the people were arranging to try to make their own space. But they have no privacy; they all sleep in one common area. Of the 500 people there, I was told about 200 were refugees from the tsunami, and 300 were refugees from the radioactivity.

One woman heard we were from Greenpeace and approached asking if we had any information about how safe Fukushima city was. She said she did not trust the information from the authorities. We had not done our own mesurements yet, and I wasn't able to give her any definite information, but it was very clear she was scared. It's not the Japanese way to be angry, everyone is quite calm, almost passive: but they are afraid.

As we found out today, the radiation levels are high in Fukushima city -- our measurements confirmed levels that have been reported in newspapers and by the government -- in some places so high that you would get your "maximum annual dose" (if you believe in such things) in about 8 days. It's a bit strange to see people biking and going about their business.

There is food available in the supermarkets but many empty shelves. This morning before we left we were in a little shop and they were taking away all the milk and replacing it.

At 9am we set out from Yonezawa, and drove for one and a half hours toward the region we wanted to make our measurements.

We do not stay in the high radiation areas longer than necessary in order to minimize our own dosages.

It was a beautiful day today with lots of sun. My face is actually a little red -- though that's from solar radiation, and not the radioactivity from the plant.

We kept our measurement gear on, but we had to turn off the audio bleeps on the Geiger counter, its constant sound was driving us nuts. The alarms of the devices can't be turned off, and in particularly high radiation areas they'd all go off. There was one place we hit such a high reading that we didn't even stop there. It was windy and dry, and the dust and snow can carry radioactive particles. So if you step out of the car and get dust or snow on you, you might bring radioactive particles into the car and you don't want that. We moved on quickly.

We met the police at a blockade about 35 km out from the Fukushima nuclear plant, and they let us do measurements. Cars were still going in and out that didn't appear to be relief workers or firemen -- it may be people are getting permission to go in and get their belongings, but I'm speculating. It was not busy, but it wasn't deserted: there were still people going in and out.

My biggest impression of the day was that this is a truly beautiful place – the mountains are breathtaking, and if you don't look at the Geiger counters, it's quite a nice place to be. But you look at the Geiger counters and you realise there's a danger, and that you can't see it with your eyes.

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