Many village residents resigned themselves to stay indoors, with a vague hope of outside assistance. But some individuals chose to seek information and advice, knowing that this was the only way to regain control over their everyday lives, and one day perhaps, to return to a “normal” life.
A REVISITED APPROACH TO RADIATION PROTECTION
Age 34 at the time of the accident,
Ryoko Ando is among those who decided to take action immediately. Residing close to Iwaki, a city on the edge of the exclusion zone, and unable to assess the risk associated with staying in her village, she began to do research on the internet and Twitter to find information that could help her better understand the radiological situation. Using social networks, Ms. Ando got in contact with individuals in the prefecture and all of Japan who were concerned about the situation in Fukushima and ready to help.
Through her research on the internet, she discovered a report of the International Commission on Radiological Protection - Publication 111 of the ICRP - which led her indirectly to the
Belarusian and Norwegian experiences after the Chernobyl accident, the experiences that inspired the publication.
Maybe, she thought, there are things we could learn from the experience of these people who faced the consequences of a major nuclear accident generating massive radioactive releases?
She immediately recognized the significance of this innovative approach for the population of Fukushima and the interest of presenting it to a wider public. Among other points, the Publication 111 of the ICRP emphasizes the key role of measurement to assess radiological risks associated with all aspects of daily life and discussion of results with other citizen “measurers.” This was a crucial step towards the empowerment of the people and, in time, improvement of the situation.
Ethos in Fukushima (non-profit association), village of Suetsugi :
After the nuclear accident, everyone was talking about Fukushima, forgetting the people living there. Each person had something to say, without the slightest consideration for what we were thinking and feeling. I couldn’t accept it. I even felt angry about it. I created Ethos in Fukushima because I was convinced that it was up to us to write our history. In the midst of this turmoil, the Publication 111 of the ICRP was our only moral support.
The Publication 111 of the ICRP, entitled "Application of the Commission’s Recommendations to the Protection of People Living in Long-term Contaminated Areas after a Nuclear Accident", provides guidelines for the protection of the people affected. Though focused on radiation protection, this publication also discusses the complexity of post-accident situations, which cannot be managed without addressing all affected aspects of everyday life: environmental, health, economic, social, psychological, cultural, ethical, political, etc.
The publication emphasizes the direct involvement of the population affected and local professionals in the improvement of living conditions and management of the situation. It also stresses the responsibility of the national and local authorities to create favorable conditions and provide the means necessary for involvement and empowerment of the population. The role of radiological and health monitoring, along with the management of contaminated food products and other products, are addressed from this angle.
FROM ETHOS IN BELARUS TO ETHOS IN FUKUSHIMA
ETHOS pilot projet, funded by the European Commission at the end of the 1990s, aimed to promote a global approach to improvement of living conditions in contaminated areas of Belarus after the Chernobyl accident.
One thing particularly grabbed Ms. Ando's attention in Ethos: the high level of involvement of the residents in the rehabilitation process, aiming to create conditions favorable to the restoration of the quality of their everyday life, in all aspects affected - or more aptly put, threatened - by the contamination. Given the confusion prevailing in the contaminated areas of Fukushima, she imagined the impact this approach could have for the communities of the prefecture.
This gave her the idea to launch a collaborative project: a blog called ‘ETHOS in Fukushima’. This blog was to become a key reference for those seeking information to better understand the situation in the contaminated areas. Over time, the blog content expanded to cover all local initiatives and conclusions shared during each meeting of the Fukushima Dialogue Initiative, in which ETHOS in Fukushima faithfully participated starting with the second meeting. It also relayed visits in Belarus and Norway, to share the experience of local farmers and reindeer herders met during one of these meetings. Today, it contains a set of written and audiovisual sources providing an unmatched information database on living conditions in Fukushima after the nuclear power plant accident.
Ryoko Ando summarizes the spirit of the blog on its homepage: “This is about life in Fukushima after the nuclear disaster. But beyond that, it’s about our ability to pass on a better future, as living here is a wonderful thing. By measuring, learning, thinking for ourselves, by finding a common language, we are making progress in Iwaki, step by step.”
To learn more:
Lessons from Chernobyl, Feedback from the experience of Belarus and Norway
THE INTERNET, AN UNMATCHED TOOL FOR CONTACTING EACH OTHER AND COMING TOGETHER
The speed with which contacts were made between Fukushima's residents and Japanese experts in nuclear physics and radiation protection is one of the highly positive aspects of new communication technologies. Social networks such as Twitter also played a major role in simplifying communication between individuals, regardless of where they live.
Ryugo Hayano, a world-renowned physicist specializing in antimatter, shares his time between acting as chair at the University of Tokyo and research at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Switzerland. Deeply aware of Fukushima residents’ concerns and anxiety regarding their exposure to ionizing radiation, Professor Hayano used his Twitter account to summarize and disseminate information about the radiological situation in the prefecture of Fukushima. His number of followers shot up from 2,500 to 150,000 within just a few days, and remained at about 130,000 in 2015.
Among these residents was Makoto Miyazaki, radiologist at Fukushima Medical University, involved in the deployment of whole-body counters in the prefecture. Simultaneously, through discussions with mothers worried about their children's health, Professor Hayano saw that the lack of a whole-body counter adapted to the measurement of infants was a source of concern for them, even if of little use from a health point of view. He thus decided to develop a specially designed device. His participation in the 5th Fukushima Dialogue Initiative also led him to work with high schoolers from Fukushima on the measurement and acquisition of knowledge concerning ionizing radiation and radiation protection.
The internet proved to be a useful tool for the creation of a network of individuals in Japan and abroad. Thanks to the Web, the volume of daily discussions quickly grew between members of a new virtual community rallied around a common goal: to actively contribute to the improvement of living conditions after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.