TOKYO (majirox news) – Thousands recently left Tokyo in a panic about the perceived radiation threat. If you ask anyone of them to articulate what the threat consists of they will be unable to do so. They don’t know, and there is no threat justifying departure, at least not from radioactivity, according to Akira Kondo, an associate professor at Osaka University and an expert on environmental hazards. They flee because they heard that there is a threat from various sources, including the media, embassies, friends and relatives overseas. These sources of information have never given a credible explanation for their advisories.
However, they have created mass panic, causing thousands of people to waste their money on expensive airfares, disrupting their professional lives, their children’s education and the many other productive activities. Some foreign executives have abandoned their posts in Tokyo, guaranteeing a loss of respect among those who stayed behind.
Some service providers catering to the foreign community have lost almost their entire income overnight. On the other hand, other providers will lose long-term clientele because they fled, leaving their remaining customers and clients forced to find new providers. Domestic helpers, especially from the Philippines, have suddenly lost their livelihoods because their “employers” think it’s alright to run away without paying them another penny.
Another result of the hysteria is that attention has been diverted away from the real disaster: the damage done in northeastern Japan where thousands have died and tens of thousands are living in dreadful conditions, waiting for help.
The fact is that radioactivity levels in Tokyo are safe and have been since the beginning of the Dai-ichi Fukushima power plant incident. The levels have hovered between 0.05 and 0.10 microsieverts/h in Tokyo – normal level for this city is 0.05 is the – with the exception of two brief spikes of 0.35 and 0.50 microsieverts, respectively, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Public Health. Even these two apparently dramatic spikes are far below anything that could be considered dangerous. The consumption of just one banana brings with it an extra dose of 0.1 mcr sieverts — and this – typically – in a much shorter time span than one hour, according to the Radiation Dose Chart.
Modern instruments to measure radioactivity are extremely sensitive and precise, and report even the smallest deviations with reliability. Nowhere in the Tokyo area have there been any measurements that would imply any health risk. There certainly have been increases in radioactivity, but they are tiny and irrelevant to anyone’s health. This could not be a cover-up. Instruments to measure radioactivity are available at many different research institutions that are not controlled by the Japanese government. The J-gov does also not control the media. They simply have no laws and no means to do so.
Worst Case Scenario
What about a worst-case scenario, one that is yet to come? For four days, I have tried to find a serious source of information – a nuclear safety engineer or a public health expert – who would be able to articulate what exactly is the threat to residents of Tokyo. It has been difficult. I could quote several Japanese experts, but won’t do so to avoid a debate about their credibility, which I do not have any particular reason to doubt.
The most to-the-point assessment I found from outside Japan comes from the UK government’s Chief Science Advisor, Sir John Beddington. He spoke to the British Embassy staff in Tokyo and the BBC published a transcription of his comments. He said:
“In this reasonable worst case you get an explosion. You get some radioactive material going up to about 500m up into the air. Now, that’s really serious, but it’s serious again for the local area. The problems are within 30 km of the reactor. And to give you a flavor for that, when Chernobyl had a massive fire at the graphite core, material was going up not just 500m but to 30,000 feet (9,144m). It was lasting not for the odd hour or so but lasted months, and that was putting nuclear radioactive material up into the upper atmosphere for a very long period of time.
“But even in the case of Chernobyl, the exclusion zone that they had was about 30 km. And in that exclusion zone, outside that, there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate people had problems from the radiation. The problems with Chernobyl were people were continuing to drink the water, continuing to eat vegetables and so on and that was where the problems came from. That’s not going to be the case here. So what
I would really re-emphasize is that this is very problematic for the area and the immediate vicinity and one has to have concerns for the people working there. Beyond that 20-30km, it’s really not an issue for health.”
It is important to note that Beddington uses language such as “really serious.” Most nuclear safety engineers at this moment would describe the Fukushima incident as “very serious” and as having potentially “catastrophic consequences.” But the important point is that these descriptions of the situation do not translate into public health concerns for Tokyo residents. They apply to the local situation at and around the Fukushima plant alone. Currently, the status at Fukushima is still precarious but there are now signs that the situation is stabilizing and may be brought under control in the next few days.
Tokyo, even at this time of crisis, remains one of the best, safest, coolest and largest cities in the world. Public services are operating normally or almost normally. Many areas of central Tokyo have not experienced power outages, and when they occur last only a few hours in certain areas and are announced well in advance.
I have not experienced any power outages. Food is available in almost normal quantity and quality. The only food type that appears to be lacking is milk, dairy products, and rice because of panic purchases. Gasoline is limited but yesterday I was able to get a full tank of gas after “only” a 15-minute wait. Public order and safety in Tokyo remains higher than any other large city in the world as it always has been over the past few decades.
To really rub it in, if one lives in New York, Shanghai, Berlin, London, Sydney or any other metropolis, one is more exposed to public safety threats such as crime or road accidents. Additionally, active and passive smoking, driving a car or motorcycle, getting a chest x-ray, jay-walking, or snowboarding down a snowy mountain are much more risky activities than simply sitting on a sunny roof terrace in Tokyo.
And sunny it is in the capital of the country whose name is literally “Origin of the Sun.”
This is an opinion piece by German Axel Lieber who has been a Tokyo resident since 1998 and runs a small executive search firm. He wrote this piece March 18.
Links and an additional note by the author.
There is, however, a possibility that there will be further strong earthquakes in the next few weeks, especially in the north-east of Japan, but also in other areas, including Tokyo. This was demonstrated in the recent earthquakes in New Zealand and Chile, where powerful quakes followed the original ones, not necessarily in the same spot either. This would be a better reason to stay away from Japan for a few weeks. But again, the risk of being harmed by another earthquake, especially in Tokyo with its superb infrastructure, is not very high. And if you consider this reason enough to stay away, then indeed, you should never live in Japan because we will always face this risk here.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reﬂect the views of Majirox News.