Beyond Japan's Fukushima exclusion zone, shuttered shops speak to radiation doubts
As Japan's Tokyo Electric and Power Company tries to recycle the highly contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, people just outside the exclusion zone won't let children play outside and worry about food contamination.
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International studies have found that extended 20 mSv-per-year exposure may cause between 20 and 40 instances of cancer per 10,000 people.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Nuclear Japan: from meltdown to shutdown
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Food and soil contamination
Air quality is not the only worry, however. Food grown in soil contaminated by radiation leaks when the reactors exploded, and when engineers vented the reactors to reduce pressure, is another threat.
Safety inspectors have rejected 266 of 2,000 food samples they have tested since March. Inspectors cite dangerously high levels of radiation, according to Ichiro Arakawa, head of environmental safety at Fukushima prefecture’s agriculture department.
His department opened a new food testing center earlier this month, to expand and speed up the inspection process, but the move does not reassure everyone.
“I don’t think the legal ceilings are acceptable,” says Dr. Sakiyama, who points out that in some cases they are 20 times higher than similar standards imposed by the Ukrainian and Belarussian authorities after the Chernobyl disaster. “They were set by the Nuclear Safety Agency, which is a pro-nuclear organization,” Sakiyama complains.
Fukushima officials, however, say they have regained public trust in their agricultural produce by publishing the results of their food inspections every day. Though the prefecture’s agricultural sales in April plummeted by nearly half from those a year earlier, sales were nearly back to normal in May, according to Hideyuki Nikaido, an agriculture department spokesman.
Moto Okubo, a dairy and beef farmer who lives 20 miles from the nuclear plant, is grateful for that. For three months, he was unable to sell any of his milk, even though nobody ever tested it to see whether it was safe. The government imposed a blanket ban on all milk produced within 20 miles of Fukushima Daiichi, so he had to pour it down the drain.
Nor did delivery men dare to drive so close to the plant, which meant that for two months Mr. Okubo received no animal feed. He put his cattle on half rations, but it was not enough: Three of his dairy cows died of starvation.
As he buried them himself, digging their graves with a shovel, “I felt like giving up,” he recalls.
Now that he can sell his milk again after it passed radioactivity tests, he has turned his mind to seeking compensation for his losses during the radiation scare.
“I wrote a letter to Tepco [the nuclear plant operator] setting out our losses and claiming 4.5 million yen [$56,250] from them,” he says. “So far all I’ve had back is a letter from their lawyers apologizing for what happened.”
Tepco is working to resolve the problem of what to do with heavily contaminated water used to cool reactors at Fukushima. Today, its latest attempt at recycling the water was suspended temporarily due to problems with the system.
IN PICTURES: Japan nuclear fallout