This is a more numbers-intense editorial regarding radiation in Fukushima from former FuJET president, Steven Thompson, who lived and worked in Fukushima for 5 years from 2011-2016. Steven has been able to see and experience the prefecture bounce back first hand from the year of the disaster.
Hey, soon-to-be FuJETs! We know that when some of you received your placement for Fukushima, you couldn’t help but be a little concerned.
You have questions, your parents have questions, your friends have questions, anyone you tell you’re coming to Fukushima has questions. We’re hoping that we can answer some of those for you. This way, both you and the people in your life back home can put some worries to bed.
Every town in Fukushima measures their background radiation levels. Radiation is also measured in water, soil, and and all crops like rice. First, let’s have a look at background radiation, and some numbers. For example, in Izumizaki village in Kennan, the middle-south area of Fuku, the radiation levels are quite low, as they are in most of the areas south or west of the plant. Realistically, there are few areas around the plant that still have dangerous levels of radiation, and those places that do are long since evacuated. We’re talking about a very small area of around 15-20 kilometers. You won’t be living in a dangerous area. The average reading in Izumizaki village is around 0.29 microsieverts/hour. Every town monitors these levels closely via solar-powered meters, located in every school yard and public park.
They are very aware, so if things ever were dangerous, they would take the steps they needed to immediately. If you’re placed in an area that takes extra steps (such as providing residents with iodine tablets to keep on hand in case of emergency), you will be informed. This is in extremely rare cases.
So, 0.29 microsieverts/hour translates to approximately 2,540 microsieverts a year. The actual number depends on several variables, but that’s a ballpark figure, and close enough. 2,540 sounds like a lot, except, that’s only 2.54 millisieverts a year (1000 microsieverts = 1 millisievert, yay metric system!) You may also see people talk about radiation in mrem (millirems). For information’s sake, 1 mrem = 10 microsieverts or 0.01 millisieverts. Japan typically measures in sieverts. Still with me?
Normal background radiation for a year (depending on where you live in the wide, wide world) is between 2 and 4 millisieverts (2,000 and 4,000 microsieverts, for those of you playing at home). You read that correctly, Fukushima is at normal levels of radiation for the world. For comparison, people living in New York City get more radiation than you would in Fukushima (NYC gets around 3.4 millisieverts/year, and the average for the U.S. overall is 3.6/year.) A CT scan is around 2 millisieverts of radiation per procedure, nearly the same as Fukushima in the course of an entire year.
Depending on your Japanese level, you can get up-to-the-hour information on the radiation levels in your area here: http://radioactivity.mext.go.jp/map/ja/, and for English information, try here: http://radioactivity.mext.go.jp/en/. This is provided by MEXT, the Japanese ministry of energy and technology. Another site monitoring radiation levels that is available in both English and Japanese is http://www.fukushima-radioactivity.jp/, run by the prefectural Fukushima website. It has up-to-date information from hundreds of locations around the prefecture, and also provides the radiation levels found in major world cities for the sake of comparison. You can also check out how Fukushima measures the radiation in all food produced in Fukushima (and the most recent radiation reports) here: http://www.pref.fukushima.lg.jp/site/portal-english/en01-02.html
TEPCO, the company in charge of most of the plants in Fukushima, also updates the condition of the reactors daily in English (it basically always says they’re shut down, which they are.) TEPCO is also required to outline their plans for cleaning up the area and monitoring the state of the reactors in the future. http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/index-e.html
Another helpful link is actually from xkcd, an online webcomic. The guy behind it is a PhD mathematician, among other things, and likes to make good, clear charts. Here’s his infographic on radiation that he made specifically after the disaster in Fukushima in 2011: http://xkcd.com/radiation/ (Note the bottom left of the green section, which lists normal background radiation as about 4 millisieverts/year: a high estimate, since he’s a math guy.)
Of course, this is speaking just for background radiation. This is the radiation that, were it a problem, would impact your daily life. Since background radiation in Fukushima was at normal levels one year after the disasters, there is little to worry about in that regard. You may also see talk about three things: radioactive cesium, iodine (in soil and water), and the danger presented by the damaged power plants. Iodine has a half-life of 8 days, so that threat is gone. Both radioactive cesium, as well as any ongoing danger from the plant, while legitimately dangerous, are limited to the immediate area around the plant and are carefully monitored for spread. Alarmist warnings of imminent explosions at the slightest earthquake tremor are also patently false. To put it bluntly, comparisons made between Fukushima and Chernobyl are not only inaccurate and unfair, but blatant sensationalism.
Lastly, if you ever have concerns about radiation in your area, feel free to speak to your consulate, embassy, or any of your sempai in Fukushima. Anyone will be happy to answer your questions, and won’t be annoyed/upset by them. Even if you feel like it’s silly, if you’re worried, please talk to us. We understand that there is a lot of talk about Fukushima, mainly about the disaster, and we all would like to get real, true information out there. In short, don’t worry too much about it. Fukushima, apart from being safe, is also very large, with only a very small area immediately around the shut down plants deemed unlivable. All the attention from the media has only made the people of Fukushima’s resolve to make sure everything is safe everyday all the stronger. It’s perfectly understandable to have questions, but trust us when we say that you have nothing to be worried about in coming to Fukushima.