– Japanese monitor radiation on their own (Times Union, August 1, 2011):
IWAKI, Japan — Kiyoko Okoshi had a simple goal when she spent about $625 for a dosimeter: She missed her daughter and grandsons and wanted them to come home.
Local officials kept telling her that their remote village was safe, even though it was less than 20 miles from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. But her daughter remained dubious.
So starting in April, Okoshi began using her dosimeter to check nearby forest roads and rice paddies. What she found was startling. Near one sewage ditch, the meter beeped wildly, and the screen read 67 microsieverts per hour, a potentially harmful level. Okoshi and a cousin who lives nearby worked up the courage to confront elected officials, who did not respond, confirming their worry that the government was not doing its job.
With her simple yet bold act, Okoshi joined the small but growing number of Japanese who have decided to step in as the government fumbles its reaction to the widespread contamination, which leaders acknowledge is much worse than originally announced. Some mothers as far away as Tokyo have begun testing for radioactive materials.
Such activism would barely merit comment in the United States, but it is exceptional in a country where people generally trust their leaders to watch out for them. Driven by fear and even despair, that faith has been eroded by a sense that government officials have been, at best, overwhelmed by the enormousness of the disaster, and at worst, hiding how bad things are.
“They don’t riot and they don’t even demonstrate very much, but they are not just sitting on their hands, either,” said Gerald Curtis, Burgess Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and a longtime Japan expert. “What the dosimeter issue reveals is that people are getting more nervous rather than less about radiation dangers.”
That trust may also be hard to restore: Under pressure from concerned citizens, bureaucrats in Tokyo have expanded their monitoring, but many people doubt the government’s standards are safe or that officials are doing a thorough enough job of testing.
Okoshi takes no comfort in having been proven right, but she feels she has made a difference. She knows because a friend to whom she offered an apology for making a fuss assured her it was not necessary.
“She said, ‘No, no.'” Okoshi recalled. “‘I would have no information if you didn’t measure.'”