- Declaring that the Situation is Safe with No Clear Explanation Led to Anxiety
The explosions at the nuclear power plant right after 3.11 were a great shock to all of my family. The earthquake affected phone connectivity, but my father who lives away from us due to his work managed to contact us by phone. He told me, “Get your wife and child and run, right away!” I did not understand what he meant. I thought, “Why do we need to run, when the government is saying that it’s safe?”
We had a heated argument on the phone – It’s the only time I have been yelled at by my father since I became an adult. He said to me, “Look at the map!” Then I realized that the nuclear power plant was much closer to our home than I had thought. I realized how close it is to our home, although it felt so far away when I went there with my family in my childhood.
However, I could not convince myself to leave my mother and my grandparents behind. It is a natural thought because they are my family. But in reality, it was impossible — both of my grandparents are over 85 and they require nursing care. Evacuating could have made them ill, so we had to make a sad decision. They had to stay with my mother. When we were having this discussion, I saw my grandmother cry for the first time. Facing the reality that they could not evacuate, although they wanted to, left me feeling powerless. We packed our things with tears in our eyes.
My mother saw us off with a smile, telling me, “We have no regrets because we have lived long enough. We want you young people to stay healthy and live long. That will make us happy. You should do everything you can to protect your wife and child!” I have not forgotten how sad it was to see my mother shedding tears in the rear view mirror as we drove off.
After we arrived at our new apartment in a different town, we opened the boot of the car to find the food that I had originally brought to my parents’ house to give to my mother and grandparents after the earthquake, as well as the food from my parents’ house. My mother must have packed them for us.
I decided to write this blog article because I wanted people to know that even people who lived outside the evacuation zones found themselves in this surreal situation.
- Our Health Problems / Neighboring People’s Reaction to the Contamination
My family members experienced health problems around three weeks after the nuclear disaster. My grandmother suffered a cerebral infarction caused by high blood pressure although she used to have low blood pressure. My grandfather, who insisted on eating budded leaf vegetables harvested from his contaminated kitchen garden, suffered from very bad diarrhea and lost weight rapidly. My mother’s voice became raspy just like a boy at puberty. I am not an expert and cannot tell if exposure to radiation directly caused these changes, but I was surprised to see my family members suddenly fall ill because before then they had not had any major diseases. I also felt weary and I felt light-headed for about a month after the explosions at the nuclear power plant.
After moving, it took me a while to get better and start thinking about what was going on. I started being concerned about radiation levels where we live.
I measured radiation levels around my parents’ house with a radiation counter that I managed to purchase. It measured between 1.2 and 45.0 μSv/hour outdoors depending on the area. The counter made a continuous noise from the speaker as radiation hit the detector tube. Despite the elevated radiation levels, the neighboring areas looked peaceful and life was going on as usual.
Food shortages, which were the main concern, gradually decreased while the aftershocks continued. However, the general public had no idea that enormous amounts of radiation were continuously hitting their bodies.
Individual people started “declaring that everything was safe” by themselves one after another without having any detailed knowledge of what was going on. My father was one of them.
When I was wondering what I (who evacuated leaving some of my family members behind) could do, I saw Safecast on the TV by chance. I wanted to help with their measurement activities.
- Totally Changed Lifestyle
Our lifestyle completely changed while our family ties strengthened after the explosions at the nuclear power plant on March 12.
My family used to grow various vegetables in our kitchen garden and all the family members joined the “harvest festival” in the harvest season. We would hold various annual events using the harvested vegetables such as barbecues and a “pork miso soup party.” It was my father’s delight to send freshly harvested vegetables to his friends and acquaintances every year who would then call to thank him. However, after gardening for many years he had to stop this year. This is because a Geiger counter we borrowed from Safecast made a continuous noise, just like the snow on an analog TV, when we held the counter close to the garden soil. This told us that a lot of radioactive material fell on the garden. After hearing this sound, my father silently pulled up the vegetables that he had planted.
I later asked my father why he was not growing vegetables in the garden this year. He said that he could not have his garden vegetables checked for radioactivity because his vegetables are not for commercial use and it is unbearable to let his grandchild and other family members eat vegetables which have not been confirmed safe. He also told me that stopping growing vegetables all together is the best way to protect everyone because once he grows the vegetables, it would be very hard for him not to give them to people or eat them himself.
We used to take my child to my parents’ house often so that they can see how fast their grandchild is growing, but such chances decreased after the accident. My child began walking but we cannot let him walk around the garden of my parents’ home any more.
My father and I have just completed a large wooden deck and a sandbox which we were working on since last year. Sadly, they became hotspots (9600 cpm). My family has completely lost the outdoor part of our own home.
- Sad Safecast Measurement
I was able to learn how to take measurements using a bGeigie (a Geiger counter in a bento-box) after receiving a brief explanation when I borrowed the device. Taking measurements is very easy. You attach the bGeigie to the side of your car, switch it on and then drive around. You then attach the data to an email and send it.
At first, I did not notice the situation in the areas I was driving around because I was more interested in this new measurement system. As I got used to using the device, I started to feel uncomfortable with what I was seeing.
While I had the radiation counter (that I bought) inside the car, the alarm kept going off, but children in front of me were sitting on the ground and enjoying fishing, elementary school students were running in the water in a roadside ditch as they played tag and a little child and mother were enjoying strolling around.
I did not know if that particular place was dangerous at the time, but the place was marked with red and brown when I later saw the Safecast measurement map (colors closer to red and brown indicate higher radiation levels). I realized that the general public does not know that a large amount of fallout came down on the area. It made me very sad and at the same time, I felt angry at myself because I could not solve any of these problems.
Although it is not glamorous work, I believe that our measurement efforts will contribute to a better future for our children.