​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​2011-2015 Fukushima Dialogue InitiativeSPOTLIGHT - Suetsugi
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Suetsugi: when citizens take control of their own fate

​​A city with 325,000 residents, Iwaki includes a dozen districts and hamlets such as that of Suetsugi. Its green hills and fertile fields make it an ideal place to live a peaceful life in the country, a favourite of retirees.

Suetsugi: when citizens take control of their own fate

Suetsugi: when citizens take control of their own fate

​​A city with 325,000 residents, Iwaki includes a dozen districts and hamlets such as that of Suetsugi. Its green hills and fertile fields make it an ideal place to live a peaceful life in the country, a favourite of retirees.

​​​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 EndoShinya 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

​​​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 EndoShinya 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

The emergence of citizen-based leadership

The history of Suetsugi illustrates the benefits of daily radiation measurements and regular meetings between residents and experts to discuss issues related to living in a contaminated area. It is the perfect example of the long struggle of men and women determined to regain their ability to make by themselves the decisions that will affect them.

Using devices borrowed from the city, Shinya Endo and other residents began methodically taking radiation measurements in and around their farm, and in all homes and in all fields around the village. Just like the professionals, they created detailed maps of dose rates in every corner of Suetsugi, giving them a very precise image of the radiological situation in their nearby environment, and shared them with other members of the community. ​​​​​

The emergence of citizen-based leadership

The history of Suetsugi illustrates the benefits of daily radiation measurements and regular meetings between residents and experts to discuss issues related to living in a contaminated area. It is the perfect example of the long struggle of men and women determined to regain their ability to make by themselves the decisions that will affect them.

Using devices borrowed from the city, Shinya Endo and other residents began methodically taking radiation measurements in and around their farm, and in all homes and in all fields around the village. Just like the professionals, they created detailed maps of dose rates in every corner of Suetsugi, giving them a very precise image of the radiological situation in their nearby environment, and shared them with other members of the community. ​​​​​

Personal dosimeters were introduced some time later, and discussions took place about the measurements with radiation protection experts such as Jacques Lochard and doctors such as Makoto Miyazaki, thus promoting a collaborative approach involving the community.

Internal contamination was also measured periodically using the whole-body counters​ provided, giving each person a comprehensive view of their radiation exposure. Suetsugi was gradually equipped with D-Shuttle dosimeters, and then with a device for the measurement of food contamination.

“It is important for us to establish our own radiation safety standard to give us a true sense of security” - Ryoko Ando

Maiko Momma’s appointment as an advisor o the community was a final contributor. Ms. Momma participated in the discussions on results obtained, sharing the knowledge she had obtained for herself after the accident and that she continued to develop with the residents of the district.

Over the years, t​hese mutual self-help initiatives gradually allowed people to recover control over their daily lives and to regain their dignity​. As a result, there was a change in mindset within the community, as seen during the 7th meeting of the Dialogue Initiative. The event, held in Iwaki in November 2013, was pervaded by a profound sense of humanity, with participants in good spirits. Despite the devastation caused by the tsunami and the residual contamination of the environment, they looked to the future.

In 2014-2015, an emphasis was placed on the re-establishment of the links between those who had stayed and those who had left, in particular for the youth, whose absence in Suetsugi made this re-establishment difficult. It's one of the missions of the Suetsugi Dayori (The Letter of Suetsugi), a newsletter with information on things like the schedule for radiation measurements of people and food, meetings for interpretation of results, progress of decontamination works, construction of the flood barrier against tidal waves, the resumption of this or that festival, home cooking, etc. This publication contributes to forging relations within and outside of the community and promoting the joint initiatives.

Another aspect of the story from Suetsugi is he sharing of the experience acquired with other residents throughout the district and the interest generated outside of Japan by what they accomplished. In 2014, representatives of the Japanese government interested in the initiatives implemented in Suetsugi asked the residents to share their achievements. This approach clearly shows the government’s interest in this experience that proved beneficial for the quality of life in certain parts of the prefecture. ​

Personal dosimeters were introduced some time later, and discussions took place about the measurements with radiation protection experts such as Jacques Lochard and doctors such as Makoto Miyazaki, thus promoting a collaborative approach involving the community.

Internal contamination was also measured periodically using the whole-body counters​ provided, giving each person a comprehensive view of their radiation exposure. Suetsugi was gradually equipped with D-Shuttle dosimeters, and then with a device for the measurement of food contamination.

“It is important for us to establish our own radiation safety standard to give us a true sense of security” - Ryoko Ando

Maiko Momma’s appointment as an advisor o the community was a final contributor. Ms. Momma participated in the discussions on results obtained, sharing the knowledge she had obtained for herself after the accident and that she continued to develop with the residents of the district.

Over the years, t​hese mutual self-help initiatives gradually allowed people to recover control over their daily lives and to regain their dignity​. As a result, there was a change in mindset within the community, as seen during the 7th meeting of the Dialogue Initiative. The event, held in Iwaki in November 2013, was pervaded by a profound sense of humanity, with participants in good spirits. Despite the devastation caused by the tsunami and the residual contamination of the environment, they looked to the future.

In 2014-2015, an emphasis was placed on the re-establishment of the links between those who had stayed and those who had left, in particular for the youth, whose absence in Suetsugi made this re-establishment difficult. It's one of the missions of the Suetsugi Dayori (The Letter of Suetsugi), a newsletter with information on things like the schedule for radiation measurements of people and food, meetings for interpretation of results, progress of decontamination works, construction of the flood barrier against tidal waves, the resumption of this or that festival, home cooking, etc. This publication contributes to forging relations within and outside of the community and promoting the joint initiatives.

Another aspect of the story from Suetsugi is he sharing of the experience acquired with other residents throughout the district and the interest generated outside of Japan by what they accomplished. In 2014, representatives of the Japanese government interested in the initiatives implemented in Suetsugi asked the residents to share their achievements. This approach clearly shows the government’s interest in this experience that proved beneficial for the quality of life in certain parts of the prefecture. ​