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Harvard report takes a look inside the Fukushima exclusion zone

Harvard report takes a look inside the Fukushima exclusion zone thumbnail

The real and continuing effects from Fukushima still loom large closest to the radiation zone and within Tokyo where it impacts food, trade and water. Much of the population has a skewed view of the safety since the meltdown of several reactors occurred in 2011, in part due to unreliable reports and reluctant confirmations about issues.

Rather than do their own testing, the Japanese media has by-and-large regurgitated the official numbers published by TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, who continues to insist that everything is safe.

K. Lee Lerner, a Harvard journalist and author who has been on the ground covering issues related to the fallout and its effect on Japanese life, spoke with several locals in the Fukushima area whose lives have been uprooted since the disaster.

Lerner spoke with Yoshitomo Shigihara, a local official from Nagadoro, a small subdistrict of the evacuated Iitate village some 40 km away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility. Shigihara regularly grants two-hour tours to journalists, scientists etc., who wish to visit the fallout zone – in defiance of the official orders – in order to keep a spotlight on a place that he says has been “‘forgotten.”

Shigihara has taken his own radiation readings from inside the exclusion zone and says the media underreports the numbers – repeatedly and consistently. Instead, Shigihara claims, the media simply echoes the data provided by TEPCO engineers uncritically and without question.

“The media is dependent on TEPCO, unable to verify the technical data,” Lerner reports Shigihara as saying, despite the obvious fact that there are other sets of numbers to consider – many of which are unsettling. Additionally, reports can vary considerably depending upon which ministry of the government is presenting them, Shigihara indicated.

The lack of consistent data about the extent of the fallout only amplifies the problems with transparency, making clear that the world has not been told the truth about Fukushima.

“I just want media to report the truth whether it’s good or bad. The problem is, they are vague about the information they give out,” Shighara told Lerner in an interview from April 2013.

K. Lee Lerner also interviewed a local taxi driver, Hisashi Shoji, who works in the area immediately surrounding the exclusion zone in Fukushima and was forced to relocate after his home – also some 40 km from the nuclear site – was evacuated.

Shoji was critical of the media reportage about the state of contamination, expressing distrust in the media, at both the local and national levels.

“They are all pretty much the same. It’s hard to trust anything in the media,” Shoji told an interpreter with Lerner in a regional Japanese accent. “They don’t report the truth.”

Shoji commented that he stopped believing the reassuring reports they issue some time ago.

He is among those eager to return to their homes, to where their memories and cultural legacy are tied, though many of the displaced – particularly younger people – are moving on to big cities, including Tokyo.

It is unclear when the government will clean up the outlying areas of the exclusion, particularly those in the least restricted zones, like the one Shoji lived in.

Evacuated residents expect this to take years at a minimum, while many recall the delayed official declaration for the evacuation to even begin in the wake of the meltdown – after most had already fled. Wherever they go – all hope for a return to normalcy, and a sense of safety.

Meanwhile, Nicolas Sternsdorff Cisterna, a Harvard doctoral candidate studying social anthropology while living in Japan, has been conducting an ongoing study of how food safety has been affected by the Fukushima disaster. For Cisterna, everything in relation to food, water and environment has been touched, not only in the districts immediately surrounding Fukushima, but in Tokyo where much of the produce grown in Fukushima – as well as fish and other foods – ends up.

The effects are not only the real and persistent occurrence of radiation in the food chain, but also the perception of contaminated food and its accompanying worries as well.

Cisterna describes how some shops in Tokyo have purchased radiation detectors in order to demonstrate to customers that foods and other products are safe. One example is the Catalog House, an upscale home goods store in downtown Tokyo, which brought testing into its establishment in the hopes of restoring confidence through transparency.

According to Cisterna, the store “began selling produce for the first time, trucking it in from Fukushima” shortly after the disaster, and subsequently “installed a radiation detector.” He added, “Assistant manager Toru Sato said in an interview that the detector isn’t just used by customers. Some store employees who grow their own vegetables bring them in for testing.”

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7 Comments on "Harvard report takes a look inside the Fukushima exclusion zone"

  1. SilentRunning on Thu, 30th Jan 2014 3:26 am 

    First I note that is **STILL** using the same outrageously false “Fallout” map for articles about Fukushima. You know, the one that shows a radiation plume reaching the western half off the USA in 10 days and dropping enough radiation to kill over 90% of the west coast. Since the western half of the US population didn’t die in 2011, we know this map is bogus.

    Second, the article says that radiation levels are “higher” in the exclusion zone in Japan, but not one actual measurement was mentioned. They didn’t even give a relative measurement like “measurements are 3.5 times higher than Tepco claims.

    Instead, we are given a whole bunch of chatter about how different people feel and about how a store installed a radiation meter for produce. Great! Also, the article could say what the meter readings look like!! Are they higher than officially allowed for human consumption? Apparently not, because that wouldn’t be very reassuring to customers..

    So we can assume – since the article DIDN’T mention the shockingly high radiation readings that the readings are pretty much what is expected: Higher than normal background for Japan, but not so high as to be unsafe.

  2. SilentRunning on Thu, 30th Jan 2014 3:34 am 

    One more thing: If Fukushima HAD released enough radiation to be a menace to the USA, then the situation in Japan itself would be a nuclear hell-scape. Nothing living would have survived.

  3. Northwest Resident on Thu, 30th Jan 2014 4:45 am tends to run a lot of articles with outrageous and completely false information. The way it looks to me, is that is just trying to give both sides of “the story”, and is not endorsing any article, the best I can tell. But SilentRunning, I agree with you, there has been a lot of hype about Fukushima, but no hard evidence as far as I can tell. Where do all these alarmist articles on Fukushima come from, and what’s the reasoning behind them? Do you know?

  4. PrestonSturges on Thu, 30th Jan 2014 5:21 am 

    Also, Fukushima is about as far from Tokyo as Philadelphia is from DC. It’s not far. Most of the radiation is going out to sea in the groundwater

  5. Kenz300 on Thu, 30th Jan 2014 3:59 pm 

    Quote — “The lack of consistent data about the extent of the fallout only amplifies the problems with transparency, making clear that the world has not been told the truth about Fukushima.

    “I just want media to report the truth whether it’s good or bad. The problem is, they are vague about the information they give out,” Shighara told Lerner in an interview from April 2013.


    TEPCO and the government of Japan were not open and honest about this disaster from the very first day.

    There needs to be more access to independent researchers and reporters.

  6. vitapect guru on Thu, 30th Jan 2014 10:17 pm 

    In 2013 Japan’s government tested over 300,000 samples of food for radiation, many were over the limit. The US and Canada’s governments tested 0.

    Japan has a very deep understanding of the impacts of this accident. North Americans, not so much.
    Read more: Fukushima Radiation-Where Does the Fear Come From?

  7. TemplarMyst on Thu, 30th Jan 2014 10:33 pm 

    I agree the info that has been disseminated has been less than useless. Real readings and real transparency I suspect would demonstrate what is echoed here – the levels are a little above background and not a threat at all.

    If that assessment is true those unfortunate Japanese who have lost access to their ancestral homelands would be safe in returning. If the levels are high enough to be truly dangerous that too should be info provided.

    It sounds, at least from this article, that the various shops in Tokyo which have used monitoring equipment are not finding anything alarming.

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