Shiro Morita has a new job, but he freely admits we’d all be much better off if it never had to exist in the first place.
Morita was appointed in April to a new post in Tokyo's Suginami Ward that deals with environmental radiation.
Morita, 60, had been chief of the environmental health section at the Suginami Public Health Center until the end of March. He specializes in agricultural chemistry.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident in March last year, Morita led a team from the health center to test radiation levels of tap water and swimming pools as well as the grounds and sandboxes at elementary and junior high schools, kindergartens and day-care centers.
Since the ward bought a germanium semiconductor detector in March, officials have been measuring radiation levels of school lunches four days a week at three facilities a day. The ward has made the data public.
Things started slow for the team, whose members had to figure things out as they went along at first as nobody was familiar with the equipment, which cost 17 million yen ($214,000).
As new section chief, Morita has to serve as a liaison/coordinator between various departments related to countermeasures for radioactivity. The last fiscal year, the crisis management office shouldered the responsibility for such jobs.
The business of radiation measurement was transferred to the environmental department, whose officials are in charge of public hazards.
“The radiation issue is no longer just a temporary concern, but is as important as air pollution and public hazards,” Morita said.
Environment Department chief Junji Iguchi, who had headed the crisis management office until March, agrees.
“Since citizens still have many anxieties (over radiation), we will have to continuously eliminate their concerns, setting up a standing office,” said Iguchi.
Morita went over the important points of the countermeasures with a group of officials and those in charge of parks and public health centers in April and May. He also gave the official home page a makeover.
“It would be ideal if there were no such post,” he said of his job.
Meanwhile, Katsushika Ward set up a radiation management office in December 2011. Headed by Yusuke Suzuki, the three-member office plays a central role in measuring airborne radiation levels and conducting decontamination work. It also coordinates different sections and lays out guidelines related to radiation.
The ward started measuring radiation levels at seven public facilities in May last year, and has since expanded to schools and kindergartens. In August, the ward replaced sand at 20 sandboxes that had shown high radiation levels.
Suzuki had headed the crisis management section before he assumed the newly established post.
“We have accumulated the know-how as to how to reduce radiation levels during the past year,” he said.
To measure radiation levels of food, the ward is expected to borrow detection equipment from the central government.
“I want to enhance countermeasures, especially where children gather and where food is concerned,” Suzuki said.
(This article was written by Tomoko Saito and Kenji Katayama.)
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