JAPAN | Radiation screening in high demand in Fukushima

Posted on June 17, 2011

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JAPAN | ASAHI SHIMBUN | 17 June 2011

FUKUSHIMA–Being screened for radiation has become a routine exercise for many residents in Fukushima Prefecture as work continues to stabilize the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

An official in charge of radiation screening in Fukushima city said those who often come for measurements are parents who have spent a long time outdoors with their children, company employees about to return to their prefectures after a business trip to Fukushima and residents who do a lot of gardening work.

“Some people have brought in their pet dogs or rocks in the yard,” the official said.

On June 13, a 38-year-old homemaker brought in her two children, aged 5 and 7, for full-body sweeps using radiation survey meters.

“I want to evacuate, but I have nowhere to go. So at least I want to periodically check on the radiation levels,” the woman said.

A taxi driver in Iwaki goes for radiation screening on an almost daily basis.

“I have never had radiation levels above the standard, but passengers from outside Fukushima feel more relieved if I show them a certificate,” the driver said.

So far, 200,000 tests have been conducted since March 13, including those on repeat visitors like the taxi driver. The prefecture’s population is about 2 million.

Nine screening centers have been set up in Fukushima Prefecture, and even in June, some centers have had between 300 and 500 people come in for tests each day.

March 29 was the last time someone has been found with radiation levels above the standard requiring decontamination.

“There has been a shift from confirming whether someone has been exposed to radiation to eliminating concerns about radiation and negative publicity,” said a prefectural government official in charge of disaster management.

Testing of public spaces has also spread.

In June, the Fukushima prefectural government began radiation testing at all kindergartens, elementary, junior and senior high schools in the prefecture as well as other public facilities frequented by children.

The prefectural government will establish a telemeter system at about 500 schools to monitor radiation levels around the clock.

The Fukushima city government plans to distribute small dosimeters to about 34,000 children attending day-care centers, kindergartens as well as elementary and junior high schools in the city, except those run by the central government. Accumulated radiation levels will be measured for a three-month period from September.

The total cost of the program will be about 160 million yen ($2 million). Date and Kawamata will also distribute dosimeters to all children in elementary and junior high schools.

The spread of radiation measurement testing has also led to some confusion.

The Iitate village government had displayed the results of radiation measurements in front of the government building but had to temporarily stop the announcements because the results were different from tests conducted by the prefectural government.

According to officials of K.K. Alpha Tsushin, the Tokyo-based company that provided the radiation testing equipment to Iitate, radiation levels on May 30 were about 8.9 microsieverts per hour. The results released by the prefectural government for that area had levels of 2.8 microsieverts.

Company officials reduced the number of radiation types tested and raised the height of the counter to the 1-meter level used in testing by the prefectural government. That produced a result of 3.8 microsieverts per hour.

But the more detailed radiation screening may not ease the concerns of Fukushima residents unless the effects on human health are clarified.

Nozomu Asukai, a deputy head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science, said Fukushima residents had two major concerns: the effects of radiation on their children’s health, and whether the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. were releasing all relevant information.

Because the results of radiation testing can vary widely depending on the type and quality of equipment used as well as the locations, experts said it is more important to focus on the accumulated amount of radiation exposure than the daily changes in radiation levels.

The government has set an annual radiation exposure level of 20 millisieverts as one guideline in deciding whether residents should evacuate from an area.

“Measuring radiation levels will likely lead to peace of mind as an objective standard,” said Shunichi Yamashita, a professor of radiation medicine at Nagasaki University and adviser to Fukushima Prefecture on radiation health risk control.

“But what is most important is not to be exposed to more than 20 millisieverts,” he said. “It will be almost impossible to exceed that standard in the present lifestyle environment so I hope people will not be easily influenced by daily measurement figures.”

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Posted in: JAPAN