Report from Abiko: “Eat, not eat. Go, not go. Escape, not escape. Do, not do. Stop, not stop. Decide for yourself”

Dirk Rösler, one of the ‘early’ Safecasters, found he was living in what is now known as the “Kashiwa Hotspot” in Chiba Prefecture, when Safecast provided him with a geiger counter in May 2011. Here is his report with his personal observations on what happened since.

Readings as of October 2012 in the common gardens with plain soil and no leaves.

As an update to from last year, I would like to provide a brief report on the situation in Abiko City. Even though the area is mostly referred to the Kashiwa hotspot, my impression from measurements has been that the consistently highest levels of radiation are found in Abiko City, not Kashiwa City. Personal and professional circumstances allowed me to move out of the area in October 2011. Now, one year later we are visiting our former home and meeting old friends and neighbours. Very sadly I have to say that the things I had predicted have become reality. The positive aspect is that radiation levels seem to have somewhat dropped. My average reading in 2011 was 0.6µSv/h (1.0 µSv max.), now 0.3-0.4µSv/h (0.7µSv/h max.), although this might be impacted by switching from Medcom Inspector to CRM 100 device, which traditionally gives me lower readings. The negative aspect is that, for me, these readings are still rather high considering permanent residence in the area. Whether this will result in any physical health impact is debatable and remains to be seen long term. Admittedly, the likelihood must be very low.

The city of Abiko has now committed to exchanging soil between the apartment blocks.

SInce the beginning of the accident, many sources have been quoted that the psychological impact is likely to be the most significant. Sadly, certain parties with a vested interest see this as inferior to physical impacts. To some observers, only the fatality count matters. I do believe it is inappropriate and possibly even unethical to measure disasters by comparing the number of casualties. I agree that, at least for now, the mental consequences for residents are likely to more significant than the physical ones. This does not make it any more acceptable. The situation in my former residential area illustrates this as the community is divided over the issue. A small group of concerned residents, usually parents, is seen as disturbing the harmony of the community by demanding action to be taken by the authorities. We now know that total decontamination is not trivial, perhaps impossible. We also know from the radiation readings that the substances are without a doubt deposited in the environment in easily detectable quantities. The underlying emotion is, that we are now living in a “poisoned” world. To what degree and with what level of consequences is actually secondary. One could argue that environmental pollution with other substances has been present for decades and nobody seemed to care. This is a reasonable counterargument, but ignores one major point: social or psychological issues are irrational and no amount of rational explanation, chest x-rays or road accident statistics will help.

In 2010 playing in the comon gardens was a carefree activity.

In that context the major challenge will remain to restore comfort in the community. In Nedo Elementary School, the largest of its kind in Japan, the soil in school grounds were finally fully exchanged at great effort. The effect is a dose rate of under 0.1µSv/h. This demonstrates to the community that effective measures can be taken if someone takes the matter seriously. Within the apartment complex there is an ongoing debate on whether the city or the residents themselves should cover the costs for a soil exchange. While playgrounds have been cleaned and sandpits in playgrounds replaced, the levels are surprisingly high in surrounding vegetation areas in the gardens, even when there are no leaves or vegetation. This week after repeated measurement of up to 0.9 µSv/h in 1 meter height in those areas, the city has finally committed itself to taking action. One mother confided to me the uncomfortable feeling of having to tell her child not to play in those bushes. This is equivalent to parents not wanting their children to eat the school lunch or swim in the school pools.

Schoolground of Nedo Elementary School

The head of the residents’ association told me his struggles around organising the annual summer festival held in a central square. He was particular bothered since this was the 25th year of the matsuri, an anniversary to be proud of. Yet he has no choice but to respect the calls of some to make sure the grounds are “safe”. A small army of 80 people were mobilised to change the soil of the complex park open space, however again the surrounding greens were ignored. Another mother tells us that numerous people are leaving the town and she is planning to do so too. She adds that she has adapted to deal with the radiation in air and food, but cannot see any strategy by city officials to do so, including school staff. People are ready to do the right thing, but are not educated accordingly. During the above mentioned soil change at the school, pupils could no longer perform sports classes on the grounds and thus swimming classes in the school pool were to be held. Parents pointed out that holding open air swimming classes while only meters away efforts to remove dry radioactive soil is not a good idea. The school saw the point and plans were changed, but a pattern of not doing the right thing right away has emerged.

I feel it would be wrong to accuse some people of being overly careful as well as seeing others as ignorant. As Professor Yukio Hayakawa has said “Eat, not eat. Go, not go. Escape, not escape. Do, not do. Stop, not stop. Decide for yourself. There is no right or wrong answer to measures against radiation contamination. How to cope with radiation depends on personal circumstances.” That heterogenous mix of many views is considered normal in the West, yet in Japan it is almost a new concept that communities like these must get used to. Above all is the inevitable truth that no matter what your view on the issues is, life in the affected areas will never be the same again as before March 2011. We have to adapt, most of all, mentally.

Dirk Rösler
October 2012
Reporting from Abiko, Chiba Prefecture.