After a week of sailing and conducting radiation sampling along the Fukushima coast, the Rainbow Warrior is now at anchor in Yokohama and our team is preparing to start detailed analysis on what we collected.
As the government blocked us from researching within Japan’s 12 mile territorial waters – where the largest part of our planned research was to take place – there was only a limited amount of radiation sampling we could do, but this did not make us any less busy.
Sailing in the Fukushima area requires extra planning and caution. We had to constantly check the wind direction and strength from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and avoid going down-wind in case radioactive substances blew towards us.
On one particularly calm day we were 50km off the coast of the Fukushima, and after a few rounds of water sampling from the ship we sailed up north, towards the offshore area that saw the March 11th earthquake and tsunami devastation. We launched our inflatable boat and I worked as a sampling assistant wearing the full-body chemical suit, mask, goggles and hood we all wear to protect us from coming into contact with any potentially-contaminated seawater.
We had a few planned places to do water sampling, and during the transit from one to the next way point, we looked for floating seaweed. I was concentrating on doing my job properly - passing the right equipment, holding the sample containers outside the boat and washing equipment using bottled clean water every time we did sampling.
We had to be extra careful when we dealt with seaweed because it accumulates iodine, so its possible radiation levels are much higher than seawater. After I became more comfortable with this role I had a chance to look around and I realized that the ocean was very quiet. I could see the Rainbow Warrior and Coast Guard patrol boat (which had been following us since we began our research) on the horizon but otherwise there weren't any fishing or other boats around.
We were close to a coastal fishing town, that must have been a busy fishing area before, but at this time it was only a familiar-looking bleak Japanese sea and our small boat in the middle.
All of a sudden we ran into a stream of debris floating in the water: blankets, rugs and parts of houses. Jacob, one of the radiation experts, picked up a beautifully patterned Japanese blanket and checked it for contamination. While he was pointing the gamma spectrometer at it, I couldn’t take my eyes off that blanket. How could it be that it has ended up here in the middle of the ocean? What horrible things have happened to the owner of this blanket? It was shocking to see people’s belongings floating in the middle of quiet ocean, and it brought home the reality of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
On our way back to the Rainbow Warrior, we encountered a school of seals. Mothers and calves were jumping and ducking continuously. They were so cute and it was so beautiful to watch, that we stopped and relaxed for a moment.
Back on the ship, we knew that we had some highly contaminated seaweed samples, but the full analysis would have to wait until we were back ashore in Tokyo.
While we have been restricted to doing research only outside of Japanese territorial waters, TEPCO has started monitoring and publishing data from sampling they have finally been conducting in the sea 3km from shore. This sampling is showing worryingly high levels of radiation, but it is good that TEPCO is finally doing it.
However, this is no substitute for independent research. Studies by Greenpeace and other independent third parties are desperately needed in Japan. Not only is the information needed to improve decision making and clean up operations, but it is crucial that the public has clear information from a range of sources so they can make informed decisions to protect themselves, their families and their communities.
Take action right now and tell the President that taxpayers should not take on the risk of building new nuclear plants.
Sakyo Noda is a campaigner for the field radiation team onboard the Rainbow Warrior.