Warned – to drink Published by Aftonbladet on March 24th 2011

Farmers set up shop in the devastation

The town of Matsuhiwa has been dragged up into the valley

Wedding photographs in the remains

The levels of radiation are rising in water and vegetables.

New smoke has been spotted over the reactors in Fukushima. The work to salvage the nuclear plant has been interrupted – again.

In the sea, radiation has been measured up to 80 times the normal rate.

Miles away from the plant; Tokyoites are being warned – what may their water contain? Radioactivity. Also in their vegetables.

In the catastrophe’s footsteps follow criminal acts. 80 robberies have taken place along Japan’s Northeastern shore since the tsunami.

 Aftonbladet’s Elin Lindqvist travels through the deserted cities – where lives have been broken to pieces.

One and a half litre per day.

That is the amount given out Tokyo’s 80 000 families with infants.

The rest of city’s inhabitants have to make their own decisions – despite the fact that high levels of radiation have now been measured in tap water as well as in vegetables in the city of 32 million inhabitants.

In Katsushika in Northern Tokyo, 210 Becquerel per litre has been measured in the tap water. The city has confirmed that infants up to one year old should not drink the water – over 100 Becquerel per litre may increase the risk for infant cancer; 300 Becquerel is the limit for adults. Pregnant and breast-feeding women are also recommended not to drink the tap water.

The City of Tokyo says that it is only dangerous for infants to drink the water over a long period of time, but in the grocery stores, shelves have been emptied of bottled water. Signs have been put up explaining that water purchases are limited to 3, 4 or 5 bottles per customer, depending on the bottle’s size. At the same time, the City of Tokyo has decided to distribute 1,5 Litres of water per day to 80 000 families with infants.

High levels of Becquerel have also been measured in vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and cauliflower, in milk and in parsley. Anxiety is rising and questions are many.

What are the consequences for the future? What does this mean for other food products? But the questions are asked in silence and there is no mass panic.

The atmosphere in the Japanese capital is as usual and my dosimeter stays at 0 microsievert/hour during the trip back to Tokyo, even in around the city of Fukushima.

24 000 people are now expected to have lost their lives in the earthquake and the tsunami in North-eastern Japan. Those I speak to say that it is those who have survived the catastrophe who need help. Many evacuees and refugees from the Fukushima Prefecture do not have access to any running water at all and they are therefore in effect dependent upon mineral water.

Yesterday, there was a bank robbery in Kezennuma. In the now desolated landscape, a criminal gang managed to get away with 4 million Yen, more than 3,1 Million kronor. The bank’s lock had been crushed in the tsunami. Nobody has been arrested as of yet, but 80 robberies have taken place in a similar way along Japan’s North-eastern coast since the earthquake occured. The gang has stolen valuables and safes from collapsed houses and shops.

Half a million people are homeless and living temporarily with relatives or in shelters for evacuees. Those I speak to are calm, respectful and humble – but it should not come as a surprise that a small amount of individuals have taken advantage of the situation.

In the completely devastated cities, like scenes out of an apocalyptic nightmare, people are walking around, searching.  Evacuees are searching for family members, memories and personal belongings. Others are driving up and down along the coast searching for valuables in the remains. Tin plate, metal and steel can be reused in the rebuilding process. Valuable items can still be found and sold.

But most things that are found in the desolation are personal belongings silently witnessing about a life crushed to pieces. A toy car is hidden in the remains. A suitcase filled with English language books. A picture album with wedding photos.

Life goes on. The military has arrived with new tractors and cranes. They are clearing up the rubbish and cleansing the rubbles. In a street corner, local famers have set up shop; selling fruits and vegetable, that what is missing the most from the evacuee centres. And in the mountains, spring flowers are blooming in the snow.

We can only hope that the radioactivity does not continue to rise – in Tokyo’s water and in Fukushima’s vegetables.

Note: Becquerel is a measurement for radioactivity in a substance. The amount measured in Katsushika concerns the iodine-isotope 131 i the water.

Sievert gives the so called dose equivalent. In other words, it indicates how much dangerous radiation a human being or another organism is being exposed to. Most often it is measured in milli- or microsievert.

Elin Lindqvist

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