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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Making sure

May 10, 2014


Fukushima residents measuring seabed radiation themselves




Fukushima Prefecture residents are taking radiation measurements from the ocean floor near the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant to provide a second opinion to figures released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the plant's owner.

Riken Komatsu, 34, who works at a seafood processing firm in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, is a founding member of the "Iwaki Kaiyo Shirabetai Umilabo" (Iwaki ocean investigation squad sea lab). The organization receives aid from fishermen in the disaster-hit Fukushima town of Tomioka. Komatsu launched the group's radiation measurement project out of concern for his industry's future, as the nuclear disaster has affected not only the local fishing industry but also the seafood processing industry.

Residents quickly started measuring radiation levels in parks and farmland after the nuclear disaster, but not in the ocean. Komatsu and others sought help from Seiichi Tomihara, a 41-year-old veterinarian at Aquamarine Fukushima, an aquarium near Iwaki's Hisanohama Port. They also asked for help from Hirokazu Ishii, 37, the captain of a fishing boat called the Choei Maru. The boat was the only one at Tomioka Port -- located about 10 kilometers from the Fukushima plant -- to avoid damage in the tsunami triggered by the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, as Ishii had been out at sea when the devastating waves rolled in.

Although Ishii's boat made it through the disaster, he lost his 18-month-old daughter Kanna to flooding, and his home near the port was destroyed. Following the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, fewer fishing customers used his boat. He agreed to use his vessel for Komatsu's project.


On April 27, project members set out from Hisanohama Port for a round of measurements, arriving at their destination off of the coast of the plant after about an hour. From the boat, the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant could be seen roughly 1.5 kilometers away.

"It's smaller than you think, isn't it?" Ishii says. "Everyone asks, 'Is this tiny thing getting the world stirred up?"

The airborne radiation level stood at just 0.05 microsieverts per hour, supposedly thanks to the ocean water lowering the level. The team took up a sample of seabed soil and brought it back to Aquamarine Fukushima to examine its radioactive contents.

At the aquarium, a scan of the soil revealed it to have a radiation level of 417 becquerels per kilogram, around 100 becquerels per kilogram more than ocean soil taken near the aquarium.

"It seems to be a high number when comparing the soil samples, but I think that considering it was taken from right in front of the nuclear plant, this number does not justify the view that Fukushima's fishing industry is doomed," says Tomihara.

May 8 marked the first shipment to Tsukiji Market in Tokyo of fish unloaded in Iwaki since the nuclear disaster. Their radiation levels are deemed safe.

"By taking regular measurements, we're showing TEPCO that residents are also taking action. We'd like to create opportunities to think about the ocean off Iwaki and about Fukushima's fishing without people's interests getting in the way," Komatsu says.

Video: The Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant as observed from the ocean.




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