Coping with Japan's nuclear disaster
Living with radiation
A spreading cloud of economic and human costs
Giving the brassicas a once-over
A PEN-LIKE dosimeter hangs around the neck of Katsunobu Sakurai, the tireless mayor of Minamisoma, measuring the accumulated radiation to which he has been exposed during the past two weeks of a four-week nuclear nightmare. The reading of 43 microsieverts is about the dosage he would get from a single chest x-ray. No cause for alarm, then. Yet he believes the radioactive particles from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear-power plant, 25km from his office, have led this once-prosperous city of 70,000 into a fight for its life.
About 50,000 inhabitants who lived closest to the plant have been evacuated or have fled since radiation levels started to rise after the March 11th tsunami—which also left at least 1,400 of the town’s residents dead or missing. Even though external radiation has since returned to near-harmless levels, Mr Sakurai fears many of Minamisoma’s evacuees may never come back.
Three worries predominate. One, the information passed out by the government and Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), which owns the Dai-ichi plant, may be unreliable. Two, the plant is still unstable, at risk of suddenly emitting vastly greater amounts of radioactive particles. Three, the longer it takes to stabilise, the more lasting damage wind- and waterborne radiation may do to the livelihoods of the farmers and fishermen who are the economic lifeblood of the community. If they go, so does the town.
These worries resurfaced on April 7th when TEPCO started to inject nitrogen into one of the plant’s six stricken reactors. That was to prevent a repeat of the hydrogen explosions that blew radiation out of the plant soon after cooling systems failed in the wake of the tsunami.
Even before that news, Mr Sakurai was saying that he was fearful of another explosion. It was why he continued to discourage hope that the town could get back to normal. “The lack of information is making people deeply stressed and frustrated,” he said.