JAPAN | Temple priest stores residents’ radioactive dirt

Posted on July 27, 2011


JAPAN | MAINICHI | 27 July 2011

Temple priest Koyu Abe stands by a pile of bags of radioactive soil at Joenji temple in Fukushima. (Mainichi)

Temple priest Koyu Abe stands by a pile of bags of radioactive soil at Joenji temple in Fukushima. (Mainichi)

FUKUSHIMA — A temple priest here is storing radioactive dirt from local residents’ properties on temple grounds, calling it his duty to help.

Koyu Abe, 47, has accepted around 160 bags of soil, which now sit piled atop a small hill on the grounds of the temple he manages, called Joenji. Due to the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant, soil in many areas has been contaminated with radioactive material, but the national and local governments’ response has been delayed.

“The people here are threatened, and I cannot leave them without help,” says Abe. “Sacrificing oneself and taking on burden is the duty of a priest.”

“Up through the Edo Period (1603-1867), temples served roles similar to today’s municipal governments,” explains Abe.

Abe’s dosimeter reads the soil he has taken on at around 8 microsieverts per hour, but he laughs away the danger, saying “the dirt that’s brought in has lower radiation levels than the topsoil.”

At the end of May, Abe formed a citizens’ group that distributes seeds and seedlings of sunflowers, which are said to absorb radioactive material. He is planning to distribute 20 million seeds by April next year and, after the flowers have grown and absorbed radioactive material, accept them at the temple.

Abe says that when he explained his plans to take on radioactive soil and flowers, local residents did not object. Around 100 volunteers composed of local residents and temple supporters, as well as a local business that Abe has old ties with, are helping with the work.

“Though I am only a single priest, because of relationships of trust with the community I am able to do this much. The fact that the government’s response has been so slow shows that their relationship of trust with the people is broken,” says Abe.

Abe says that even after the earthquake, people come to the temple from the early morning to share their troubles. “I just want to return everyone’s happiness,” says Abe.

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