Going against Tokyo's order
On April 3, Aoyama returned to Japan from the IAEA conference in Monaco and headed directly to the Meteorological Research Institute’s Office of Planning.
"What's all this about freezing our radiation monitoring budget?" he asked. "Would you please call Tokyo and ask again?"
"They've told me the science and technology ministry refuses to disburse the budget," Inoue replied.
Aoyama called the ministry himself. "If ever there's a time when radiation monitoring is absolutely necessary, that's now," he insisted. "Why are you telling us to stop now?"
The person he spoke to was Akane Yamaguchi, chief of the No. 1 Coordination Section of the Disaster Prevention Network for Nuclear Environment of the ministry's Nuclear Safety Division.
"The meteorological agency has informed us that it does not need the radiation research budget," Yamaguchi said.
The agency said that? Aoyama was stunned.
On the grounds of the Meteorological Research Institute in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, there are three vessels for collecting rainwater. The vessels are cubes with open tops, with each side measuring 1 meter or 2 meters. Minute particles in the atmosphere are trapped in the rainwater, and radiation level readings are done with these particles.
The institute has another radiation measuring device, which uses filters to trap minute particles in the atmosphere.
The institute also commissions oceangoing liners to collect seawater for radiation analysis. All these undertakings have continued without interruption for 54 years since 1957.
Changes in the Earth's environment can be determined only through constant observation over many years. In fact, the ozone hole over Antarctica was first discovered by a researcher from the institute who kept observing the sky over Showa Station.
Everyone at the institute knew the importance of continuing the observation, and were determined to keep it up even when the going got rough.
And now, less than a month after the nuclear disaster started at Fukushima, the meteorological agency was ordering the institute to stop.
Aoyama's colleague, Igarashi, was forced to conclude that the agency's decision was final and irreversible. But as researchers, both men could not possibly bring themselves to discontinue their work. They decided to ignore the budget freeze and keep going. "No budget means we just don't spend money," they agreed. "Let's at least keep collecting samples. Analysis can wait."
The Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK Line) liner the institute had commissioned for seawater collection had already set sail before the budget freeze.
To change filters for trapping minute particles in the atmosphere, Aoyama and Igarashi came to the institute at night and on their days off. When they ran out of filters and other supplies, researchers at other institutes and universities helped them out on the Q.T.