News / Asia

The View From Japan's Nuclear 'Hot Zone'

VOA's Northeast Asia Bureau Chief Steve Herman was the first of two American journalists to reach the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant

VOA's Northeast Asia Bureau Chief Steve Herman is tested for radiation contamination in Koriyama, Japan
VOA's Northeast Asia Bureau Chief Steve Herman is tested for radiation contamination in Koriyama, Japan

Modern Geiger counters don't click. As is the case with so many other devices, they have gone digital.  At least that is true for the high-tech Japanese Geiger counters here. But they still measure radiation exposure in the quaint-sounding "clicks per minute."

After spending nearly all of the past six days in the "hot zone" of Fukushima Prefecture, it seemed prudent, while reporting from a radiation screening checkpoint, to see how much clicking my own body would register.

Arriving at the Koriyama Municipal Gymnasium was akin to walking on to the set of a science-fiction movie. Men clad head to toe in white anti-contamination suits calmly guided visitors through the gauntlet. Other "space men" unloaded boxes full of white masks.

Japanese, young and old, expressed no emotion as a mysterious device rendered their radioactive fate.

When my turn came the needle began to jump as the man in the space suit scanned my torso. I knew not to become immediately alarmed. After all, with the jump in background radiation levels in the past few days in the prefecture, it was not surprising that I had absorbed some extra radiation.

I had done an online cram course in radiation to conclude that even if I had been quite close to the crippled nuclear facility (and I was at least 30 kilometers away at all times), I was unlikely to have picked up more radiation than I would absorb on a trans-Pacific flight - or, at the very worst, a chest X-ray.

When the Geiger counter descended to my feet I looked at the meter and my heart jumped. The reading had pinned the needle.

I noticed a subtle look of surprise in the technician's eyes - perhaps he was thinking, "I've got a live one!" ( this one is worth special attention ) He switched the meter to a higher scale and intoned that perhaps I should wash my footwear.

"What is the reading?" I asked in Japanese, with the same nervous voice one might use seeking the results of a biopsy.  He replied, "3,000 cpm [clicks per minute]."

CPM is a comparatively crude measurement to determine radiation exposure, calculating the number of atoms in a certain quantity of radioactive material that are detected to have decayed in one minute.

It was important to put things in journalistic perspective. So I asked, what was the typical reading in Koriyama for a test subject prior to the radiation leakage from any of the six troubled reactors at the Fukushima-1 plant?

The technician replied that it would have been 300 to 600 cpm. He also said it was likely that my boots had picked up the radiation from material falling from the sky in the rain and snow during the past couple of days. By comparison, the reading on my torso peaked around 1,500 cpm.

I was assured that the current readings, even on my 20-year-old boots, were nothing alarming.

As I moved toward the exit, a pair of white-suited men handed me a yellow card. That's not a good sign in football (soccer). However, I was assured that the paper certifying I had undergone radiation screening was an "all-clear" document. It would allow me entry to one of the shelters now home to more than 200,000 evacuees from the core of the Fukushima hot zone. If I had needed medical attention, based on my scan, I would have been given a green card and presumably escorted to a decontamination center.

So far, authorities say, only a handful of people apart from nuclear-plant workers have generated more than brief concern, and all were told merely to wash their hands and face.

That situation could change drastically if any of the reactor cores or spent fuel rods go critical, something that government sources here acknowledge is no longer an impossibility.

Images of the disaster in Japan

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs