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Life in a city, 40 km from Fukushima

by PhilLee — last modified Apr 05, 2011 12:09 PM

Our colleagues at Friends of the Earth Japan are writing a blog on life after the earthquake and tsunami. They will be documenting how they, and fellow citizens, are rebuilding their lives and addressing some of the issues that have arisen as the country recovers from its biggest crisis since World War II.

I would like to introduce an essay from one of our friends, who lives in Iwaki City, 40 km from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

japan earthquake tsunami 2Two weeks after the hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant building, we've returned to Iwaki City at last. Iwaki is 40 km away from the Fukushima plant and is neither within the 20 km evacuation zone nor within the 30 km safety zone.


However, immediately after the nuclear explosion following the earthquakes and tsunamis, we were not able to determine the degree of risks involved and evacuated to Ibaraki Prefecture, 160 km from Iwaki city.


My wife works at a high school, 34 km from the Fukushima plant. Two days after the evacuation, she insisted on returning to Iwaki City. I was against this. At the time, there'd been a second hydrogen explosion. Upon hearing about this, my wife still persisted with her plans to return and we began to quarrel. One hour after the second explosion, the school finally got in contact with her with an official notice to stay on stand-by and not to return, my wife conceded.


I was relieved to settle this matter. We then began to worry about our cat that was left behind. This cat, being semi-wild, lies idly during the day in the neighboring field and returns home at night. We were certain that she would take refuge in the field and was not likely to starve, thus the problem was her radiation exposure.


The radiation monitoring began in Iwaki City and was reported to be about 1 micro sieverts per hour (Sv/h) in the atmosphere above normal levels. The soil contamination too appears relatively serious. As our cat lives in the field, she must be covered with the dirt. I wonder how much she has been exposed to.


Two weeks later as we returned to Iwaki city, our cat was fortunately alive and well. I wondered what she had been eating. We brought her into the bathroom immediately and washed her with some cat-shampoo. So as not to bring the radioactive material into the house, we had initially decided to wash her outside. However, the joy of finding her alive left us with no such reason.


The hardest part came afterwards. The cat naturally wants to go outside; she kept crying so that we could not keep her indoors any longer. As we told her, "outside you will be exposed to radiation", she would not listen and began rolling around in the field again.


Like many cats, our cat too dislikes getting wet; therefore we cannot wash her every day. We ourselves are wearing masks when outside and we take our clothes off in the entrance hall so as not to bring the radiation material into our bedroom. But is it any good at all if the cat comes in full of dirt?


Thus far when we brought her inside our home, we used disposable body-towels. However, since these towels are relatively expensive, and do not come in large amounts, we opted to use baby-wipes. We soak them very lightly and wipe her three times and needless to say they are then discarded.


We are well aware of the radiation risks and have some knowledge. Yet as we restart our lives, we end up not thinking of this risks as everyday needs and emotional needs take over. People living outside the immediate danger are far more sensitive to such risks. In fact, prior to our return to Iwaki City, our family members and friends living outside Fukushima Prefecture were very concerned and strongly opposed our return.


Despite this, my wife decided to return out of her sense of duty and out of her guilt for left behind. While I, with my affection for our cat, selfishly reasoned that "the plant will not explode immediately," "we can secure the gasoline if needed," "1 micro Sv/h does not present a high risk," and so on.


Upon returning, we found the shelves of the supermarket empty and about 100 cars lined up at the gas station. Yet here the sky is blue, and so ordinary is our everyday it makes it difficult to believe that only 40 km from here are the damaged nuclear plants.


Whether our cat is exposed to radiation is still unknown, and recently we nicknamed her Sievert. More accurately, as the cat is treated as a nuclear material, Becquerel is appropriate. Therefore, we thought of calling her Becky, however, my wife thought Sievert prettier and there was no use in arguing.


By continuing this life, the risk of radiation will be forgotten unless the situation worsens at the plants or until the onset of cancer emerges. I wonder for those who have settled here for good, this may well be a happier life.


Even if her life ends prematurely, our cat might be content to roll around in the field as usual. I too am defeated by my own emotion and no longer troubled by the thought of letting our cat into our home even if this means shortening my life a little.


Photo credit: DigitalGlobe

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