2012年11月22日木曜日

To foreign visitors: A personal note of caution regarding radioactive contamination of food in Japan


Although there is essentially no or little contamination of the environment (land/water/air) in the Kansai area and western Japan in general, I have serious concerns regarding the contamination of food (fresh produce and processed food).

What I have noticed so far is that most people are not comfortable talking about this subject, and that include professors and staff at universities, let alone the news media and the government. I am doing it because I cannot forgive myself if I kept my mouth shut while knowing what is going on full well. If you have heard about this stuff more than enough, please just ignore it.

Guidelines for myself and therefore recommendation for anyone are as follows (Note that what is written below in no way represents the official view of my employer or anyone else.):

[1] The mass media and the government do not give you critical information in an easily accessible manner. Most of the time, they appear to mislead people, sometimes with outright lies. You have to look for the important information yourself.

[2] Please look at the map below, and use it as a guide for selecting agricultural products based on their origin (especially those that you eat a lot), and places that you might visit. Personally, I try to avoid produce from prefectures with pink to purple dots. Mushrooms (grown outside), bamboo shoots, nuts, berries are known to concentrate cesium.


[3] I will avoid seafood caught in the Pacific from the northeast side of Japan, i.e., from Shizuoka up to Iwate. Realize that food items with falsified origin labels are probably in circulation, as that is highly profitable. (And I don't know of anyone who went to jail even though some were caught red-handed. That means that the government isn't serious about preventing these possibilities.)

[4] In my (non-expert) opinion, the "provisional" government standard of 100 Bq/kg (for most items) is way too lax. You should consider it as the radioactive dosage level (via food) that is extremely hard to prove as a cause of specific and individual health problems that may develop years later. FYI, typical Cs134+137 intake via food and drinks in Japan before 3.11 was on average just 0.1 Bq/person/day and at most 1 Bq/person/day even at the peak of atmospheric nuclear tests during the late 1960's. That is, the current government standards for Cs contamination of food is 100~1000 times the values that Japan experienced in the past. In essence, the government standard is whatever the govenment and the industry can get away with, and not much else.

[5] Lastly, please oppose restart/operation of nuclear power plants in Japan in any way you can. Of 14 reactors in Fukui Prefecture (very close to Kansai/Osaka), two owned by KEPCO (Kansai Electric Power Company) are currently in operation. They restarted these two despite strong opposition from all over Japan. Actually, those two are the only commercial nuclear reactors running in entire Japan. KEPCO can easily shut them down without affecting electricity supply at all. Thus, Japan can go ZERO nuclear tomorrow if it wants to, without any power shortage. Remember that Fukushima Daiichi was in no way special or more vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis than other plants elsewhere. All other reactors in Japan are more-or-less in the same situation, and fundamentally there is really no way to retrofit them. It is just plain insane and totally reckless to be operating any nuclear reactor at this point. They haven't even finished the retrofits that even the nuke promoters are saying as needed, and even those superficial retrofits require at least two more years.
[*Important*:Please do not do anything that can lead to your arrest. Police can keep you locked up easily for a month, may be more, and access to attorneys is uncertain.]

[6] Known health consequences of radioactive exposures are not limited to just cancer. Radioactive cesium can cause heart attacks regardless of age, and many other problems. I can supply pointers if anyone is interested.

[7] There is only so much we can do, if you eat out almost anywhere in Japan. It's a small country, and the food contamination problem is not limited to east Japan. However, you can try to control what you eat at home.

If you think this note is helpful for anyone, please feel free to share or forward it. I am happy to discuss the matter if anyone thinks that I (a non-expert) can be useful. My addresses are at the top.

[For anyone wondering, the research about nuclear energy policy and radioactive contamination was done as a part of my job. I had to give a few lectures on "global environmental problems" for a course at Osaka University, and this stuff certainly qualifies as that.]