Radiation levels are still being tested in Fukushima after almost a decade when the nuclear disaster happened in 2011. It was also the year when a megatsunami hit Japan, destroying thousands of establishments and killing thousands of people.

A year after the nuclear disaster, people have started a makeshift operation of testing soil samples for radiation in which people, mostly elderly, have begun returning to Fukushima and were worried about the high levels of radiation found in their food and soil.

Citizen Scientists Still Test Fukushima For Radiation
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Guards read a whiteboard near the Fukushima-1 nuclear plant's main gate, April 13, 2011 (VOA Photo S. Herman)

Grandma and Grandpa Lab Tests Soil Samples for Radiation 

In a laboratory called "grandma and grandpa lab," elderly couple Takenori Kobayashi and his Wife Tomoko bring their soil sample for radiation testing. The tiny workspace located at the edge of Fukushima's nuclear exclusion zone has lab equipment and computer set up.

Tomoko, 67, said that they have already given hope that the children in their area are coming back to live there as most young people have already decided to start their lives elsewhere rather than return in fear of high radiation levels. But for their children to come back and visit them, they have decided to know everything is safe.

Citizen scientists like them have flourished in Fukushima after the nuclear disaster in 2011 caused by the explosions in the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant due to the megatsunami that hit Japan. Radioactive materials were carried for miles by the wind, which covers the whole towns and neighborhoods with invisible and dangerous particles.

Almost a decade later, citizens have taken it upon themselves to collect radiation data, from mothers worried about their kids' safety to surfers who monitor the beach and to people in their homes with Geiger counters.

Inside the grandma and grandpa lab, the couple gets to work, one of them will measure the soil in small containers while the other one starts labeling. The samples are examined in a donated gamma counter, which is a cylindrical machine that measures radiation. Today, they are testing the soil from a nearby farm.

Other citizens started helping them, and soon after, experts from universities have taught them how to use the equipment in the laboratory. Takenori, 71, said that all grandparents in the have now become radiation experts. But before the disaster, the couple had different jobs. He was an accountant while his wife helped run an inn that has been in her family for generations.

The residents in Fukushima were forced to evacuate the area for five years before they were allowed to return in 2016. By that time, Tomoko reopened the inn and learned everything they could about radiation. She said that although this turn of events was unexpected, they have to do it to survive.

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Contradictory Information of Radiation Levels in Fukushima

One of the original citizen data operations in the area was the Safecast, which is a non-profit organization formed in the early days of the nuclear disaster when accurate data was unavailable. Today, they have hundreds of devices in the area surrounding the Daiichi nuclear powerplant, with dozens of locals helping in reading radiation levels.

Lead researcher of Safecast, Azby Brown, said that giving the citizens the chance to take measurements themselves and have a way to compare it to government data gives the citizens a sense of control.

Due to the contradictory data, the residents have been receiving from the government and other organizations, and people started wanting to know how to collect and understand radiation data. Brown said that citizens who know about collecting data felt empowered and reduced their anxiety.

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