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Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011

EDITORIAL

Citizens measuring radiation

In the wake of the Tohoku's radiation problems, the government's insistence of safety no longer seems credible to many people, especially those closest to the hardest-hit areas. To find out for themselves if their food is safe or not, a radiation measurement station has been set up by citizens in the city of Fukushima. The station, called the Citizens' Radioactivity Measuring Station, is a clear sign that citizens no longer trust the pronouncements of government officials and specialists.

The station offers testing of food to determine whether vegetables are meeting government requirements. While the government has established limits of becquerels per kilogram, they have yet to sufficiently help regular citizens determine what those actual levels are for the food they have in hand. This station thus serves as an important addition to those standards by helping citizens determine the safety of their food in a practical and precise way.

This information is especially important because debate remains about the effects of internal radiation exposure, which comes from ingested food. While no one doubts the bad effects of high doses of external radiation coming from external contact, the effects of low doses of internal radiation pose risks that are harder to ascertain, though unquestionably the risks of exposure are worse for children. The government may be testing playground dirt, but they also need to be testing what children eat. Until the scientists and government get around to effective policies though, the citizens of Fukushima can at least now know exactly what they are eating.

Just as importantly, though, the station is also a step forward to the establishment of an independent commission that will serve as a watchdog system. With help from a similar group in France and with German equipment, this type of independent counterbalance to the government and industry is greatly welcomed. Especially in Japan, where government and industry work so closely together that the line is often blurred, an outside source of information is needed.

Skepticism about the recommendations of the government is not scaremongering or exaggeration when it is backed by scientific measurements such as this station provides. It is accurate public information, which should be considered one of the foundations for a free and democratic society and for responsible decisions about serious issues. In the absence of sufficient information from the government and industry, citizens need to take matters into their own hands.



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