Radiation Concerns in Fukushima

By Dr. Cormac G. Ryan

Hello everyone and welcome to our page on Fukushima and Radiation. There is a lot of information out there – both good and bad – about the current situation in Fukushima and it can be very difficult to make sense of it all or know what to believe. So we have made this page to show you plainly why Fukushima is safe! The following four sections will briefly cover all you need to know on Fukushima, the environment, food and radiation. We hope the information contained here will help put your fears to rest.

Fukushima
First off, let’s take a look at the wonderful place that is Fukushima prefecture. Home to almost 2 million people and roughly in the shape of Australia, Fukushima is the third largest prefecture in Japan and boasts scenic nature, bountiful agriculture and a friendly local populace. Major urban centres include Fukushima city in the north, Koriyama city in the centre and Aizuwakamatsu city in the west. Many other smaller cities and towns are scattered throughout the prefecture.

On the eastern edge of Fukushima prefecture, directly on the Pacific coast lies the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Infamous for being the location of the 2011 nuclear disaster following the Great East Japan Earthquake, the plant is now in a state of cold shutdown and provides employment for thousands of workers who are involved in containment and decommissioning activities (see TEPCO website for details).

Figure 1: Map of Fukushima Prefecture showing major urban centres, the Daiichi NPP and the Difficult to return zone.

Extending north-west from Daiichi is a thin sliver of land known as the “difficult to return zone”. In this area, radiation levels are higher than what is considered safe for long-term exposure. As a result, former residents are not permitted to return to their homes, access is severely restricted and decontamination efforts are ongoing. This is the “Fukushima Ghost Town” area you will mostly read about online. However, at 248 km2 it occupies less than 2% of the total area of the prefecture. Everywhere else is clean and safe a full of people going about their daily business.

The Environment

Figure 2: Solar-powered radiation detector in an elementary school playground, showing a (perfectly safe) dose rate of 0.16 μSv/hour.

While a large area was affected by fallout after the 2011 nuclear disaster, in typical Japanese style an extensive clean-up operation was launched to collect the offensive material and decontaminate the prefecture. As a result, radiation levels in the majority of Fukushima are now the same or lower than the rest of the world [1]. This can clearly be seen all over the prefecture where solar powered radiation detectors have been installed in schools, parks and other public areas to inform people of the hourly radiation dose in the area. Additionally, continued monitoring is ongoing by the government, experts and public interest groups to ensure the safety of Fukushima’s citizens. It is now a well-known fact (within the prefecture at least) that Fukushima is a perfectly safe place for people to live and work.

Food

Figure 3: Comparison of the allowable limits of radioactive Cesium in food of different countries (in Bq/kg) [2].

While living and working here you will, of course, want to eat and you may reasonably wonder if it is safe to do so. All countries in the world have set standards of food safety where they will permit a certain amount of radiation to be found before they consider it unsafe. In response to the nuclear disaster in 2011 Japan set its food safety standards to be the strictest in the world! In addition, Fukushima is the only prefecture in Japan that tests all of its commercially produced food to these rigorous standards. Should anything be found to be over this limit, it is not permitted for sale and is destroyed instead.

Radiation
Radiation comes from many different places: from space, from rocks in the ground, it is in the air and even naturally occurs in food. No matter where you are in the world or what you do, every year you will get 2-4 mSv (milli-Sieverts) of radiation in a year – and this is ok! The International Atomic Energy Agency says that on top of this, normal people should get an additional 1 mSv – and this is still ok! This number will be higher if you travel a lot by plane, and will be much higher if you have to get medical X-rays or CT scans, but it still won’t be dangerous.

Tens of thousands of Fukushima citizens have been measuring their radiation exposure since the accident in 2011 and it has been found that the average annual radiation dose in Fukushima is just below 1 mSv [1]! This means that living in Fukushima will give you no more radiation than anywhere else in the world. The levels you will be exposed to fall within the limits set by international expert bodies and pose no risk to your health and safety.

While newspapers and the internet love to kick-up a fuss about the dangers of Fukushima and the imminent threat is poses to the Earth, it simply isn’t true. The unfortunate events of 3.11 still do continue to have an impact on some people’s lives, but for the majority of Fukushima prefecture its business as usual. Most importantly, there have been no deaths or cases of radiation sickness from the nuclear accident, and according to the World Health Organisation “the health risks directly related to radiation exposure are low in Japan and extremely low in neighbouring countries and the rest of the world.”

Of course this article is by no means a definitive guide to the current situation in Fukushima and I encourage you to maintain some skepticism! If you seek some more reliable information, then consider following up on these links:

Japanese Ministry of the Environment: http://josen.env.go.jp/en/
Japan Atomic Energy Agency: https://emdb.jaea.go.jp/emdb/en/
Fukushima Revitalisation Station: http://www.pref.fukushima.lg.jp/site/portal-english/
Interactive Food Safety Map: http://www.foodradiation.org/map/index_e.html
Real-time Worldwide Radiation Monitoring: http://realtime.safecast.org/map/

Further Reading-A Second Opinion
Regarding Fukushima Radiation and Living in Fukushima (a more numbers intense editorial regarding Fukushima radiation and safety from former FuJET president who lived in Fukushima from 2011-2016)

Sources:
[1] N Adachi et al 2016 J. Radiol. Prot. 36 49
[2] “Radioactive Substances in Food” issued by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare

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