A community of 325,000 residents with “core city” status in Japan, Iwaki includes a dozen districts and hamlets such as that of Suetsugi, located in the district of Hisanohama. Its green hills and fertile fields make it an ideal place to live a peaceful life in the country, a favourite of retirees.
Not far from the coast, Suetsugi suffered the full force of the devastating violence of the tsunami on March 11, 2011.
Unlike the city of Date, where the city administration, led by Mayor Nishida, was on the forefront of initiatives implemented in the wake of the nuclear power plant accident, the residents of Suetsugi took fate into their own hands.
It started with the meeting of two Iwaki residents - Ryoko Ando, working at a plant nursery, and Shinya Endo, entrepreneur and landowner - whose paths would not likely have crossed were it not for the March 2011 catastrophe. Each in their own way, Ms. Ando and Mr. Endo are an embodiment of the human capacity to mobilize without waiting for outside help, and to take individual initiatives aimed at regaining control of their lives.
When the media first spoke of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, Ryoko Ando and Shinya Endo immediately felt something serious had just happened in their nearby environment; they started searching for information that would help them understand the situation and assess the threat. In Suetsugi, where residents were immediately evacuated, some decided to return, coming together to take initiatives to protect themselves and gradually regain control of their lives.
Shinya Endo, Public works contractor and Farmer, district of Suetsugi, city of Iwaki
Today we feel like things are OK, but we don't have any experience allowing us to predict the impact of the accident after five or ten years. So we really don't know anything. To the extent possible, we want to live where we have always lived and return to our environment. We need to work really hard to make that happen.
Struggling to escape the maze
In the early stages, life was just a series of questions: What is radioactivity? What are the short- and long-term effects on health? How can it be detected? Where can we buy measuring equipment? How do we make sense of the measurement results? How do we get rid of contamination? What products can we eat and which ones should we avoid?
Ryoko Ando feverishly surfed the web looking for the answers, or at least hints to help with making decisions. Using social media networks, she obtained information and advice from experts. She also learned about the ICRP and Publication 111, which led her to discover the work done in Belarus for the ETHOS project, an initiative led by local and foreign radiation protection experts in direct cooperation with the residents of contaminated areas following the Chernobyl accident. She was struck by the importance placed on involvement of those affected in the management of post-accident situations. Very interested in this approach, she got in contact with experts from the ICRP such as Jacques Lochard and Ohtsura Niwa, who headed up the 1st meeting of the Fukushima Dialogue Initiative in the fall of 2011, to foster mutual understanding and sharing of points of view between residents of Fukushima and radiation protection experts.
“The purpose of our discussions is not reassurance. It is first and foremost to talk about what we think of the results obtained. More than the conclusions, it’s the discussion that matters, the fact of understanding what each person thinks, it’s about talking to each other.” - Suetsugi resident