Radiation levels in Japan
We were due to go to Japan in March 2012, one year after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011, so we did a bit of background research about radiation levels and after weeks of reading news and corresponding with various sources of information through the net, we were definitely… confused.
In a last minute act before the trip, we bought the Gamma Scout Geiger counter and took measurements throughout Japan.
RADIATION LEVELS IN JAPAN
Our Geiger measurements indicate that radiation levels are average (often even below average), as you can see in the pictures.
To sum it up: background radiation is overall lower than in Europe. It is safe to go to Japan!
Quick reminder of typical radiation values: Germany/Heidelberg has a background radiation levels of about 0.1 – 0.2 micro sievert/hour and I found that very helpful when looking at the Gamma Scout, comparing values.
22nd March 2012. TOKYO.Tokyo Grand Hotel. Tokyo is really very low on radiation.
23rd March 2012.TOKYO. The Inn capsule hotel.
24th March 2012.TOKYO. Tsukiji fish market.
24th March 2012.TOKYO. Metro.
25th March 2012. TOKYO. Imperial Palace.
26th March 2012.TOKYO. Supermarket.
26th March 2012. TOKYO. Metro. Reduced radiation beneath the surface of the earth.
27th March 2012. TOKYO. Restaurant.
28th March 2012. Close to TOKYO Train Station. On the Shinkansen going to Yamagata.
30th March 2012. On the Shinkansen. Close to YAMAGATA Train Station going back to Tokyo.
1st April 2012. KYOTO. Metro.
3rd April 2012. KYOTO. At our Ryokan. Kyoto was really very low on radiation, usually below 0.1 micro sievert/h. The values would suddenly go above 0.1 micro sievert/h when the Gamma Scout was close to those apples. That freaked us out a bit. Very possible that we overreacted a bit, too. Background radiation is still very low, as you can see on the Geiger (despite the apples).
4th April 2012. KYOTO Train Station.
5th April 2012. HIROSHIMA Peace Memorial. At the Atomic Bomb Dome.
5th April 2012. HIROSHIMA Peace Memorial Museum.
5th April 2012. HIROSHIMA Peace Memorial Park. Near the end of WWII, in August 1945, the United States Army Air Forces dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I was wondering whether these slightly increased values are radioactive remains of that bomb.
5th April 2012. MIYAJIMA. Island of Itsukushima.
6th April 2012. HIROSHIMA Airport.
7th April 2012. NAHA CITY on OKINAWA island.
8th April 2012. NAHA Airport on OKINAWA island.
RADIATION AT FUKUSHIMA
Yes, we even dared to take a trip to Fukushima Train Station and radiation values indicated by the Geiger were… just fine, as in average. We only got
a significant increase in radiation, when the Shinkansen was getting closer to the Daiichi power plant. By that I mean that the train was passing the power plant at a distance of about 45-50 km. By significant I mean about three to four times average levels – which BTW is seriously nothing to radiation levels during flights.
What happened at Fukushima is different to Chernobyl (nuclear disaster in 1986), although both accidents are classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale – two sad worldwide records (so far).
These are the differences: there were no first hand deaths at Fukushima and the amount of radioactivity released from Fukushima was a lot less than the amount released at Chernobyl, where highly radioactive smoke drifted over large parts of the western Soviet Union and Europe. The total amount of radioactivity released from the Fukushima Daiichi reactors was only 1/10 of that from Chernobyl.
Our measurements would back the info, that most of the radioactivity was carried away from the mainland (onto the ocean) and that the overall impact was rather small in comparison to Chernobyl. I am not sure about the impact on marine life.
28th March 2012. Shinkansen arrived at FUKUSHIMA TRAIN STATION. Slightly elevated values for the usually lower radiation levels in Japan. The city of Fukushima is actually 60 km away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
28th March 2012. At FUKUSHIMA TRAIN STATION. Average radiation levels. (For Japan they are a tiny bit elevated.)
28th March 2012. On the Shinkansen. We are passing by the FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR PLANT with a distance of about 45-50 km close to KORIYAMA. Exceeding normal radiation levels four times.
30th March 2012. On the Shinkansen. Passing by FUKUSHIMA POWER PLANT again, with a distance of about 45-50 km, on our way back to Tokyo.
1st June 2013. After a three months stay in Tokyo (with simply perfect radiation), I just took one picture at Narita Airport at the Air Aisia check as we were leaving Japan. Radiation is just better than normal in Japan.
Detecting radioactive particles in food is not possible with the Gamma Scout. If you are concerned about what you will eat and worry about radiation in (sea) food, then don’t let it spoil you trip or better don’t go.
Aware of the limits of our Geiger in detecting food contamination, but very curious whether there would be any changes on the display – we held the Gamma Scout above our food to see what happens. We decided that, if radioactivity levels would increase and show a major discrepancy to surrounding radiation levels, we would be cautious – and risk scientists’ condemnation for our ‘method‘. This is by no means scientific as the Geiger counter measures background radiation all the time and not the inside contamination of solids or liquids. Unfortunately, you do need a laboratory for the latter.
Anyway, here is what we found: the Geiger showed a somewhat suspicious difference in radiation levels only that one time, as we were holding it above those four foiled apples, which we didn’t eat to comfort our conscious. At all other times we held the Geiger close to our food, the Geiger showed no changes at all. In the end we gave in to all (veggie and seafood) delicacies in Japan, because this was the reason why we came to Japan in the first place.
We carried the Geiger in the outside pocket of our backpack, so that we could ‘monitor’ radiation at all times. Maybe a bit on the compulsive obsessive side but we weren’t that bad. Look, we didn’t do a blood test for caesium, nor did we get the magic Prussian Blue Pill to come clean after leaving the country, nor did we take iodine tablets for thyroid protection. (Just some of the crazy stuff I read on the net.)
Considering radiation, but mainly the amazing food and things we saw, we are definitely planning to visit Japan again!
‘I hate radioactive rain‘. I found this kawaii sticker in Tokyo.