Four years have passed since the triple disaster in the Fukushima region.
The recovery and rebuilding process continues, but there are still many problems to be solved and much to do. Nevertheless, progress is made and the situation is not quite as bad and desperate as reported in many Western and other media. The import of food products from Fukushima and surrounding prefectures is still banned by several Asian countries and negotiations to lift this ban are making little progress.
In March members of our GON team visited the Fukushima region and gathered
information and impressions.
Look, listen and experience / Tour Report part I
The tour – organized by NPO Environment and Science Club (see below) and Kinki Nippon Tourist Co. – started at 8 am from Tokyo station. The total number of participants were about 80 people including staff members. On our way to Konan, our first destination, one of the NPO representatives, Mr. Nakabayashi, explained about the goals of our tour and the attraction of the places scheduled for visiting.
After 4 hours we finally arrived in Konan.
▲Lake Inawashiro covered in snow.
The Ousamyaku mountain range and mount Abukuma are dividing Fukushima into three parts: Aizu, Nakadori and Hamadori. Konan are located in Nakadori, while the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is located on the eastern side of Hamadori.
▲We were heartily welcomed by the citizens of Fukushima.
The radiation level of Konan is not more than 1 mSv a year, which is almost the same level as Tokyo. On the day we visited it was also just around .04 mSv per hour.
▲A monitor for constant measurement of radioactivity.
A staff member of Fukushima picked us up and first took us to Konan, where we enjoyed making
and eating rice cakes for lunch.
▲Delicious Mochi fillings: bean paste, roasted beans powder and shredded radish.
Mr. Saito, an environmentally friendly farmer, explained to us that goods and fertilizers he is using are all organic as well as below the set standards for pesticides. Furthermore our staff member told us about the actual level of radiation
Mr. Saito (Minozen)
During our stay there was not even one contaminated agricultural product in Konan. Still I heard that, due to anxious consumers, there has to be a research institute doing regular inspections as well as safety reports for every commodity shipped.
Minozen’s activities and agricultural production.
We received 5kg Akitakomachi rice harvested by Minozen as a gift.
▲Radioactivity test result for inquiries
In the evening, we had a buffet-style dinner with food from Fukushima’s agricultural production, in the award winning Hotel Hana no Yu next to the Bandai Atami Onsen located north of Lake Inawashiro. This Hotel won the food event, “Eat and Support Japan” reward in 3 consecutive years.
Look, listen and experience / Tour Report part II
Great East Japan Earthquake, four years later. “Look, Listen and experience!” Fukushima Prefecture reconstruction tour, conducted March 14/15 2015.
Again we faced the nuclear disaster as we participated in our reconstruction tour. On the second day we left the hotel around 9:20 a.m. heading off for the Eisen Shuzou Co. Ltd., a Sake brewery, in Bandai. The city was covered in snow. Of course, we talked about Sake brewing as well as the rebuilding operations after the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent disasters.
After the earthquake, Eisen Shuzou supplied a hospital in the affected area Hamadori with Sake every day. At first it surprised me when I heard about hospitals and alcohol. But this alcohol in fact, comforted many patients of the hospital.
Originally located in Aizuwakamatsu, the Eisen Shuzou brewery was moved to the foot of the western side of Mount Bandai. This mountain’s water is rated for quality among the top 100 waters and is also quite famous in Japan. It is very rare and limited in quantity and therefore there are only few breweries in Japan who make their Sake from famous water like this. After visiting and inspecting the brewery, we were invited to taste the famous Sake. It was, without a doubt, very delicious.
▲Here you can taste the earlier mentioned water.
After spending about an hour in the brewery we took the bus and had lunch at Kurate Chaya, in Nakayamatoge: Local vegetables, handmade noodles and wheat tuna.
▲Kurate Chaya: Kenchin noodles and arargetofu
After finishing our meal, we went to the Koriyama Chamber of Commerce and industry
and attended a lecture about food safety.
▲ The newly built (December 1014) Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Our lecturer was Tomita Satoru from Tokyo’s Institute of Technology and Radiation Research Center. While helping the citizens of Minamisoma with their health care, Mr. Tomita is also assisting the Koriyama offices as an adviser for nuclear energy as well as contributing to the Great East Japan Earthquake restoration and reconstruction measures, together with ordinary citizens.
* Award ceremony and comments from Mr. Tomita
The first half of the lecture, titled “Radiation Fundamentals”, began with the Periodic Table of Elements. We learned about the origin of radiation, its measurement units, what influence it has on the human body as well as about the problems caused by the nuclear disaster.
Radioactive material and radiation is always present. But as it cannot be felt with our senses, most people are not aware about radioactive presences. But in fact, humans have always been in contact with radioactivity.
Rather than blindly fearing the contamination of Fukushima, I wondered whether we should not first try to understand the situation. I heard that nowadays the radiation level of Fukushima is too low to even harm the people already living there again.
▲ Material distributed during the lecture
The second half was about Fukushima’s current state. We were shown pictures related to Fukushima and especially the nuclear power plant and also pictures about the pollution of Hamadori and Nakadori. In November 2013 the current radiation dose distribution map was still showing a high pollution in a range of 20 km around the nuclear power plant. Another map of June – August 2014 showed the situation in Minamisoma. As data stated on the website of Minamisoma, the radiation level equaled 0.8 mSv/year. In some other areas the radiation level was 2.1 mSv up to 2.9 mSv per year.
We also talked about topics concerning the characteristics of radioactivity as well as countermeasures. Such as comparing the initial pollution of plants to the current state, the pollution of earth, half-life of radioactive material and its dangers and how regulations for food are established.
Because the cesium which was already in the earth stuck to clay particles, plants were unable to absorb water. Furthermore, as time passed more soil was contaminated that way. Therefore, it can be said that, due to cesium’s half-life, plants seem to be unable to grow for the next 30 years. This is indeed very bad and sad for the farmers in the region.
Finally there was an explanation about Fukushima’s attempts and efforts regarding the earlier mentioned problems. For example, how can the safety of food be assured and what kinds of measures are being carried out?
Fukushima has in fact a widely spread variety of safety inspections. The Prefecture itself inspects agricultural and marine products, processed food and other commodities, general household meals as well as school meals. Furthermore local companies such as JA or shipping companies and even citizens themselves are conducting checks and inspections. As a result there was no contamination detected in food and other commodities produced in Fukushima. We have learned that food coming from Fukushima is just as safe as food coming from anywhere else.
NPO representative Nakabayashi said that the key and most important challenge is to eradicate the damages caused by rumors concerning products from Fukushima. Even despite them being proven safe by several inspections, people seem to not buy them. Many consumers are still avoiding products from Fukushima when they go shopping.
At the end of the tour we visited Koriyama’s Aijoukan (market hall) where we could buy local products such as vegetables, all sorts of bread, cut flowers as well as pot flowers.
▲ Sign at the entrance door of Aijoukan
This tour introduced us to Fukushima’s simple and open hearted citizens and showed us the multiple efforts Fukushima is making towards solving all its problems since the nuclear disaster.
Notes and Information
Tokyo Institute of Technology RadiationResearch Center
Tour Organizer: NPO Environment and Science Club
http://www.enjoy-eco.or.jp/aboutus (Japanese only)
The Environment and Science Club with a variety of environmental conservation and environmental education activities in Tokyo Bay and rivers around Tokyo, followed by eco tours to lakes, rivers and canals and their surroundings. These activities contribute to a better understanding of nature and protection of the environment.
Eco tours are gaining popularity. Some of them also include visits to organic farms and stays at organic and LOHAS hotels (with basic guidelines and standards, but not fully equivalent to organic hotels in Europe and some other countries). In May the first 100% organic hotel was opened in Nagano prefecture. See related article on GON – Organic Lifestyle in Japan.