Radioactive Food and Water the New Normal in Japan
Richard Wilcox, PhD, Contributor
“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” — Jacques Cousteau
Japan has an amazing food culture thanks in part to the rich volcanic soil and ample rainfall, despite the lack of spacious farms. As it stands, Japan can feed approximately one third of its population from domestic production.
If you watch Japanese TV from time to time, you will see a bizarre and disturbing fetishization of food that borders on the insane. The media and in turn consumers are obsessed with food as not only a source of nutrition and social cohesion (all for the good), but as art, fashion and status symbol, a celebration of gluttony and greed; an infantile obsession with eating for self satisfaction.
I love good and healthy food and appreciate Asian cuisine, but we eat to live, not live to eat. This social pathology affects other cultures as well as seen by increasing rates of extreme obesity especially in Western countries due to the proliferation of shopping malls, junk food and high fructose corn syrup.
How ironic then that a “high food” society like Japan would have to suffer the insult of radioactive contamination. This is not a tuna melt sandwich but a nuclear melt-down sundae.
“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” — Matthew 7:16-20, Holy Bible
The long-term consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster continue to linger years after the event. Anyone who studies Chernobyl will know that even after three decades radioactive contamination persists. Although a different type of accident occurred there, in the case of Fukushima it was three reactors that had meltdowns instead of one, and even possibly “melt throughs” referring to corium penetrating the reactor buildings in lateral and vertical outward paths.
In the days and months that followed the Fukushima disaster in March of 2011, many people became very worried about radioactive contamination of the food and water supply, especially from short-lived iodine isotopes, followed by the more persistent and harmful cesium, strontium and plutonium. There was much testing by both the government and independent researchers and organizations. Despite the best efforts of the Japanese government, nuclear industry and mainstream media to downplay the crisis, social media proved helpful in educating the public about how to reduce consumer risks.
The worst contamination occurred nearest the disaster site of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station (Dai-ichi) which is located about half way up the east coast in Fukushima prefecture.
When I visited Hirano town with my colleague Yoichi Shimatsu in 2013, we traveled on foot within a few kilometers of the site. We observed abnormally high levels of radiation making it unfit for long-term habitation. Decontamination has taken place there but it is not a thorough removal method and basically shifts radiation from one spot to another in the environment.
Today, if you visit the Japanese government website of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (1) you can find a variety reports on radiation levels with most reports citing very low levels of radiation. How the government arrives at such measurements is not clearly explained at the website. Are their measurements reliable or being taken in a selective manner?
The government hopes to normalize the former evacuation zone by allowing and encouraging residents to move back as soon as possible, despite their reluctance to do so.
Only 28% of Fukushima children returning to former schools….
The majority of schoolboys and girls are opting to stay out of their hometowns due to anxiety over radiation exposure and resettlement at evacuation sites (2).
The problem of radioactive contamination is not unique to Fukushima but to the entire region including Tokyo, home of millions. Recall that 60 million people were originally exposed to radioactive fallout from the accident. Japan was actually lucky because the majority of radiation blew out to sea away from Honshu, not back over the population.
While the government moves to allow wide-scale fishing off the coast of Fukushima (3), and the NRA reports minimal levels of radiation leaking from the plant into the ocean, this confidence in a safe environment is undermined by a report from Greenpeace which found “[r]adiation along Fukushima rivers up to 200 times higher than Pacific Ocean seabed.”
Riverbank sediment samples taken along the Niida River in Minami Soma, measured as high as 29,800 Bq/kg for radiocaesium (Cs-134 and 137). The Niida samples were taken where there are no restrictions on people living, as were other river samples. At the estuary of the Abukuma River in Miyagi prefecture, which lies more than 90km north of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, levels measured in sediment samples were as high as 6,500 Bq/kg (4).
The rivers and ocean are connected and one wonders why the media does not report on these worrying hotspots. These dangerously high levels are indicative of the widely scattered hotspots in the region. In contrast, I could find no reports on the radiation levels at river banks and lake beds at the NRA website, only some reports on radiation found in dust, seawater and so on.
For example, one 2014 report states:
Air dose rates in both “Road and its adjacent area” and “Vacant land lot” have decreased more rapidly than we expected considering the physical half-life of radionuclide in 32 months after the accident. Air dose rates in “Road and its adjacent area” have decreased more rapidly than “Vacant land lot” in 32 months after the accident (5).
The Culture Of Cover Up: Spiked!
A few months ago I was shopping at my health food store in central Tokyo when I was asked by the clerk if I would like to be interviewed by a TV reporter from the Asahi News. I said “sure why not.” Japanese TV often has “man on the street” types of interviews and if you put the shop in a good light, you might appear in a news “infomercial.”
The reporter asked me various questions about why I buy organic food and I spoke proficiently in Japanese about the positive benefits of eating organic food including its superior nutrition and flavor, and because it contributes to the local farm economy.
“When drinking water, remember its source.” — Chinese proverb
But I shocked the guy at this point when I bluntly stated that due to the radioactive contamination from Fukushima nuclear disaster, I prefer to buy food produced from as far away as possible, never from the northeast or Tokyo regions of Japan. Food from the west and far southwest of Japan has substantially less radioactive contamination.
I’m not sure if the reporter was even aware of the issue, being a “news reporter” you think he might have been. But it was clear from his reaction that this was a one hundred percent taboo topic. Perhaps because I was a foreigner I was perceived as rude and barbaric for raising it, and I knew ahead of time that by mentioning this my interviewed would not be aired, and it wasn’t.
In fact, after the 3/11 accident my regular health food shop very noticeably shifted the origin of their produce away from the northeast and Tokyo and toward the west, southwest of Japan due to consumer concerns. As for the Asahi News who are an arm of the Abe Propaganda Establishment (APE), Fukushima must only be presented to the public as a pristine location whose products are reliable and safe. A recent study reported:
According to the agriculture ministry, 260,538 food items were inspected in fiscal 2015, and 99 percent of farm products had cesium of less than 25 becquerels per kilogram. The tests showed that 264 items, or 0.1 percent of the total, had cesium exceeding the upper limit. Of these, 259 — or 98 percent — were wild mushrooms, game meat, freshwater fish and other so-called “hard-to-control items” (6).
According to this official data, small numbers of becquerels could be – probably are – routinely entering the general food supply, not to mention the issue of Tokyo’s persistently contaminated water supply which contains minute amounts of cesium.
Radiation is the new normal.
Although the majority of food is under 25 bq per kg of contamination, we don’t know the exact amount. If you multiply that small amount by the number of items consumed daily the danger to health grows exponentially over time.
It is good that Japan has strict standards on radioactive food products — the US allows 1,500 becquerels per kilogram versus Japan’s 100 — but the ubiquitous and long-term aspect of the problem is an ongoing concern.
About the Author
Richard Wilcox is a contributing editor and writer for the book: Fukushima: Dispossession or Denuclearization? (2014) and a Tokyo-based teacher and writer who holds a PhD in environmental studies. He is a regular contributor to Activist Post. His radio interviews and articles are archived athttp://wilcoxrb99.wordpress.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 – Nuclear Regulation Authority
2 – Only 28% of Fukushima children returning to former schools
3 – 83 species now eligible for test fishing off coast of Fukushima
4 – Radiation along Fukushima rivers up to 200 times higher than Pacific Ocean seabed – Greenpeace
5 – Monitoring air dose rates in road/its adjacent area and vacant land lot from a series of surveys by car-borne radiation detectors and survey meters after the Fukushima Daiichi NPS accident
6 – 0.1% of food items exceed radiation limit 5 1/2 years after nuke disaster
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