Berkeley Lab

Tuesday, 9/1/15

We got an early start today because we wanted to walk around the village a little bit before having breakfast, so Professor Takamura, from the University of Nagasaki, who was with us in Kawauchi Village, introduced us to Mr. Ako Moto, an elderly man who was the only person who did not evacuate the village after the accident. The reason, he said, was that he asked what the dosage was in the town, 0.5uSv/h, and then asked what the dosage of radiation meant, and was told that the amount is not anymore dangerous than what some people do on a daily basis, like smoking, which he does, so he concluded he was not in anymore danger than usual. He also showed us a tree that was over 1200 years old in his backyard, and told us that the house he lives in is the oldest house in the village. He then invited us inside his home for tea and some fruit. I was amazed at the great hospitality shown by the residents of the village. On our way to his house and back, I noticed that dosimeter measurement stations were located throughout the town, so people could see for themselves what their homegrown vegetables measured.

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We then went back to the hotel to have breakfast, and then drove to the city hall to meet the mayor, who was very friendly and welcoming as well. He came back to the town after the evacuation in January 2012, and since then has been very active in trying to bring more residents back. Something interesting I learned is that mushrooms can easily accumulate cesium, specifically the isotope cesium-137, so mushrooms show a higher radiation dose when measured. Unfortunately, mushrooms are very popular in the Japanese diet, especially the ones picked in the forests by the residents. The half life of cesium is pretty long (30 years), so mushrooms will show higher measurements for a while.

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After that, we went to a sort of community center, where the town’s residents could go to have their food measured for radioactivity. This is necessary, as many people are still worried about this issue. On our way to the next stop, we drove past the junior high school of Kawauchi Village. It was a huge building, and looked very nice. We were then informed that there are currently only 16 students attending, as other students have not moved back to Kawauchi Village. Only 60% of the former residents had moved back, and most of them were from the older generation. We then drove to Tomioka Town, a town closer to where the accident happened. This town was affected greatly by the earthquake and the tsunami as well, so it is still evacuated and will be for quite some time. There were many workers there, cleaning debris and decontaminating houses. The houses that had green cones in front of them were decontaminated, while the red cones were ones that hadn’t. There were large black bags everywhere we looked, which contained topsoil of the area, to be burned, since it was all still very radioactive. The damage of the earthquake was evident by the number of bricks that had fallen from the roofs of the houses, and as we got closer to the coast, damage from the tsunami became more and more serious. The windows of all the houses were crushed, and things were in places where they weren’t supposed to be, for example in one house, a car had washed into the living room.

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Since Tomioka Town is so close to the power plant, the radiation dosage was higher. We measured 0.27uSv/h, which is about 2.37mSv per year. This is higher than the other numbers we have been getting, but still relatively low. We tried to drive closer to the fukushima-daichi nuclear power plant, but unfortunately did not have the right authorization for it. We got pretty close though, and the radiation there was 2.89 uSv/h. This is about 25mSv per year, which was higher than the radiation we measured at the highest altitude on the plane. Of course, the workers there wear protective gear, and they don’t stay there overnight, so they are not receiving this radiation over a long period of time. After that it was time for lunch, and I had soba noodles for the first time. These noodles are locally grown; in fact, it was easy to spot the soba fields since they were white flowers, and they are very popular eaten cold. We ate the noodles with tempura, which is vegetables and seafood fried.

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It took us about an hour to drive back to Koriyama City, and we were brought to the hotel we would stay at, Hotel Hamatsu. We had some time to ourselves, and were then brought to where we would have a small reseption with a couple other people from Koriyama City. The meal consisted of several courses, each with different small dishes, so it was a lot of food, but it was good food. I had different kinds of nonalcoholic cocktails, while the others had beer and sake, rice wine.

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To learn more about radiation, go to radwatch.berkeley.edu