Journalists must empower those who have to stay nearFukushima plant (Part 4)
One-year-old Himari, center, held by her mother Tomomi Sato, left, undergoes a radiation screeningtest at the welfare office in Oyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on May 24, 2011. (Mainichi)Eight days after the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant began to unfold, samplesof spinach and raw milk were found to be contaminated with radioactive iodine in amountsexceeding the provisional permissible amount set by the Food Sanitation Act.Government officials have tried to underplay the dangers with messages such as, "It's all right aslong as you're not eating 4,200 servings of spinach," and "Even drinking 1 liter of milk every daywill not cause any problems."However, the problem boils down to how much radiation we're exposed to at the dinner table. Asradiation contamination fears spread to water, vegetables and fish, we decided that releasing thereference dosages of radiation found in various food products, including those that were found tohave lower-than-maximum levels of radiation permitted by the government, would help the publicfeel more at ease in the decisions they make. We asked radiation experts to come up with thenumbers, which we published in the Mainichi's April 5 morning issue.As the crisis continued, there came a shift in the focus of concern from radioactive iodine to cesium,which has a longer half-life than the former and was detected in beef and tea leaves. In addition, agrowing number of people began to feel that the maximum permissible amounts set by thegovernment were too high. To allay consumers' fears and prevent foods from being rejected by the public merely because of where they had been produced, it is necessary to find ways for individualsto learn how much radiation they have been personally exposed to through food.We also looked at the impact of radiation-tainted soil on children. The regulations on outdoor activity issued by the government in late April said that it was permissible for children to beexposed to up to 20 millisieverts of radiation per year -- the same level of radiation at which an areawould be designated a "planned evacuation zone." We felt it was too high for children, who aremore easily affected by radiation than adults. On May 23, we reported on the decontaminationefforts taking place in the disaster areas, along with testimony from experts arguing that children'sradiation exposure limits should be lowered. Parents of children in Fukushima also protestedagainst the government's numbers, and in August the government revised the maximum permissibleexposure to radiation for children down to 1 millisievert per year.