Inside the Fukushima hot zone
By Shigeru Yoshida
IceCube collaborator and Japanese resident Shigeru Yoshida took advantage of an opportunity to help out his country by volunteering to scan residents after they spent time inside the Fukushima hot zone gathering belongings from their hastily evacuated homes. His first hand account of the area after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake compromised the nuclear power plant on March 11 is below.
Q1. How did you get involved with the volunteer efforts?
The federal government of Japan sought technical support from researchers directly or indirectly related to nuclear plants and radiation. The Ministry of Education, the regulatory agency of universities in Japan, informally asked JAERI, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, for volunteer work from the scientists there. A part of the scientists were nuclear physicists, who then launched a volunteer program at the research center of nuclear physics (RCNP) at Osaka university, Japan's research center of nuclear physics.
They called for volunteers in nuclear, high-energy, and cosmic-ray physics communities. I simply raised my hand, responding to their call. Many participating the volunteer work are nuclear physicists and X-ray technicians in university hospitals. High-energy physicists and astroparticle physicists are rather few. A joke I shared with my colleagues (one of them is a high energy physicist) is that 0.5 MeV, a typical energy radiated from Cs-137 and Cs-134, is too low for high energy physicists to think about seriously.
Q2. What did you do there?
I was in charge of radiation screening on people who evacuated from the radiation contaminated area. The government started a program permitting them to revisit their home for two hours max so they can pick up their clothes or something important to them. We were measuring their radiation exposure at the boundary of the hot zone when they came back.
Q3. What is your impression of the region and the people of the Tohoku area, and also the area affected by the power plant disaster, both as a scientist and as a volunteer?
The area is vast empty - All the residents, including farmers, have evacuated. Mountains 'looked' beautiful, with fresh young greens just emerged from the late spring, but I realized all this nature was substantially contaminated by the radiation when I personally measured the radiation level with the GM counter and NaI scintillator. Made me feel depressed. The evacuating people in Fukushima were extremely patient and calm, even though some of them lost their lovers. The downtown Fukushima, off the hot zone, seemed to be back to normal. Many pubs and restaurants were opened with full of people in the weekend. I was one of them ;-)
Q4. In general, how are things going in Japan? Any effects to your work, daily life?
We are still facing on possible shortage of electric power supply in this coming summer. Many nuclear plans have to be shutdown due to the already-scheduled periodic inspections, but none of them can get beck to be in operation, because of the Fukushima shocks. The government requires all major electricity consumers including universities to reduce consumption by 15 %. We would be fined, otherwise. Probably I have to shut off at least a half of computer clusters in my group and stop any experiments in lab during summertime. The IceCube group in Japan is planning to partly move to Germany, joining the Aachen group led by Christopher Wiebusch, to maintain research activities in August/September. Not really visible effect in daily life. Chiba and Tokyo is a way off the Fukushima nuclear power plants.
Q5. Anything else you would like to share with us about the experience?
Not in my mind.
Department of Physics, Faculty of Science