Contaminated food fears thrown out of proportion

Ishinomaki car upside down

With the escalated disputes (seems folly to call them something so tame) in Libya, it’s clear that the posting of devastating stories and the suffering happening up north is pushed aside all together to only make room for a short piece on the current nuclear episode.

Not that I feel Japan deserves any special attention – after all, how long did New Zealand, Haiti or the tsunami in Indonesia stay in the news for? The media loses interest, and, shocking as it is to say, people start becoming desensitised.

However, the coming weeks will bring us the most heart-wrenching stories. When the 350,000 people living in evacuation centers will come to realise what has become of their homes and families (after all – they don’t have a TV). Miraculous stories of those struggling to survive – as the story of the boy and his grandmother showed us (he had a body temperature of 28 and doesn’t remember much of how they survived, rationing out a few snacks). Rescue workers are saying they don’t want to show the families the bodies they find amongst the rubble as their faces have turned purple, body parts are crushed, and crabs & other sea critters nibble away at the remnants of what used to be a human being. The psychological damage will prove an interesting challenge, as the Japanese aren’t known to give this part of well being a lot of attention. This article in the Economist provides an interesting few stories from different emotional perspectives.

As the struggle with (mainly) reactor 3 continues, reactors 1 and 2 are looking positive that, if all machinery proves functionable, cooling should start up again soon. The water temperature at all 6 reactors is now below 100 degrees Celsius, which doesn’t seem that amazing but not long ago it measures about 196 in one of the reactors. There has been detection of about 5 radioactive elements in the area in the air, which are released when nuclear fission occurs (possibly from some of the spent rods) but nothing in any way alarming.

Data now seems to be released in a unit called Becquerel, which is mainly used when talking about contaminated food. This refers to the number of nuclei that decay per second which I’m presuming refers to the way your body deals with it. The legal allowance is 300Bq/kg (iodine) for water, milk and other diary products, and 2000Bq/Kg (iodine) for vegetables. Five times this much iodine has been measured in the milk near Fukushima, and seven times this much iodine in spinach from Ibaraki. However, the government has stated that by showering in the water you do not absorb the iodine, just don’t drink it. That being said, there is only sustained damage from these products if consumed over a long period of time (and Japanese tap water is one of the cleanest around the world anyway). According to the government, drinking the contaminated milk for a year would expose you to less accumulated radiation than from 1 CT scan. And no one thinks twice about a CT scan.

At this point, I get the impression that the government is handling the situation extremely well – very calm and (most importantly) they are trying to keep everyone else that way by being incredibly transparent – the government even has a website that it updates twice daily with full radiation detection data around Japan. So if you’re looking for a good English-language news source in japan, the Japan Times or NHK World service in English is your best bet.

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