Since the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, concerns have increased about radiation contamination of food products.
With the problem likely to be around for a number of years, Ikuro Anzai, professor emeritus at Ritsumeikan University who specialized in radiation protection, was asked about measures that can be taken.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
Question: What are your views about the current state of food contamination?
Anzai: Sufficient testing is not being conducted. On top of that, beef from cattle that ate rice straw that exceeded government standards was distributed on a national basis. Although the central government said it would not allow food to reach the market if it contained radiation that exceeded provisional standards, concerns are being raised as to whether that promise is being kept. The most important issue right now is that the sense of trust among consumers is being hurt.
Q: What do you think about the view that the central government's provisional standards are too weak?
A: The fundamental point is to try not to become exposed to radiation. Standards should be made much more strict and lower. However, we have no way of knowing if even the current standards are being kept. While calling for even lower provisional standards, the first step is to force the government to thoroughly stand by the provisional standards. If a sense of trust should develop through such action, we can proceed to the next step of believing that even lower standards will also be protected.
Q: What should be done to reduce concerns among consumers?
A: The current measurement methods are being conducted according to strict procedures in order to produce accurate figures, but the number of tests is therefore limited. Such tests are important as basic information for conducting scientific debate. However, what consumers are most concerned about is whether the food they eat every day is contaminated with unbelievable levels of radiation.
One option may be to place simple measurement devices at public health centers, hospitals, schools and supermarkets to allow those people who are worried to conduct measurements. The measurement time would be limited to three or five minutes.
While the accuracy may decrease, people will be able to check for extreme contamination so a considerable level of worry can be resolved.
Q: Can such a measure be implemented immediately?
A: Radiology departments at hospitals as well as research institutes and specialized institutions at universities working on radiation-related matters should be able to provide some of the equipment and personnel that they have. There are several thousands of people in Japan who, like me, are specialists in radiation-related subjects. There is a need for such people to make every effort for the sake of society. If measurements are continued over the next year, and especially until spring of next year so we have covered all the seasons, we will be able to understand the trends in contamination.
Q: What do you think about the differences among people in how they think about food contamination?
A: That is correct. If a 71-year-old grandfather named Ikuro Anzai should eat some food contaminated with radiation and he is told, "You may develop cancer in about 20 years," he will probably die of other factors before then. However, in children cell division is still very active and they are very sensitive. Because they will live much longer, they will also have a greater possibility of being exposed to radiation than adults. I believe parents are deciding to feed their children food that they consider to be more safe. For example, I can understand their feeling, when faced with a choice of spinach grown in Fukushima Prefecture or Ehime Prefecture, to choose the Ehime-made produce. That spinach will undoubtedly have a smaller probability of being contaminated based on the principles of radiation protection.
However, there is also the view that if we closed our souls the moment we hear that something was made in Fukushima, that would further upset producers in Fukushima.
Q: How should we act?
A: People have the freedom of action based on the judgment that they do not want anything that is contaminated with radiation even if the level is under government standards. On the other hand, there is also the freedom of criticizing such acts by saying, "That is an irrational act that only causes producers to suffer."
Rather than a coercive method such as fining people who refuse to buy products from disaster-stricken areas, what will be important is to recognize those two freedoms as freedoms. On top of that, people should think about what they would do after exchanging opinions with each other.
The actual condition of radiation contamination is spreading nationwide in such a manner that will not allow for easy acceptance. I believe everyone should be prepared to face living in a troublesome time.
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