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Thursday, Sep. 13, 2012

Work on citizen radiation reports going slow


FUKUSHIMA — The work to check the external radiation exposure of the public in Fukushima Prefecture has been slow, due partly to people's fading memories of their activities when the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant started 18 months ago.

As of the end of July, only 22.8 percent of some 2.06 million citizens of the prefecture had returned to the prefectural government their medical checklists used in estimating their external radiation exposure.

The estimated doses will be registered as basic information for monitoring their health in the coming decades, but people are losing interest as time passes.

In the survey, people are asked to write down their activities between March 11 and July 11 last year to calculate their estimated doses during the four months.

The survey was launched in late June 2011 and initially covered people from the town of Namie, the village of Iitate, and the Yamakiya district in the town of Kawamata, where evacuation was delayed despite high radiation levels.

The survey was expanded last autumn to include the rest of the prefecture.

Even in the areas covered by the first round of the survey, the response rate stood at a low 55.8 percent at the end of July this year.

For the Soso area of northeastern Fukushima, which includes the stricken nuclear plant, the rate came to 40.4 percent.

Only about 15 percent of the health forms was returned in the Aizu inland area and the southern part of the prefecture, where radiation levels are low.

According to the prefecture, the low response rate is due to people finding it cumbersome to fill in the forms amid their fading memories and because the significance of the survey has not been understood well.

"I clearly remembered what I did in the first few days after the nuclear accident, but my memories since then are not clear," said Shingo Ishikawa, 29, who evacuated from Namie to Koto Ward, Tokyo.

Inquiries about the survey have been decreasing.

"Although we are visiting households to seek submissions, such efforts have produced only limited results," said a prefectural official involved in the survey.

Meanwhile, some people have expressed frustration and distrust.

Yuko Toyoguchi, 76, who is from Namie, believes he was exposed to substantial levels of radiation because he stayed in the town for some time after the crisis started to carry out his duties as a district leader.

But Toyoguchi has not sent back his medical checklist, partly due to his frustration with the delay in the launch of the survey. "Authorities should instead take measures like exempting victims from having to pay medical bills," he said. Toyoguchi has evacuated to the city of Fukushima.

Shinobu Tanaka, 64, an Iitate resident who moved to temporary housing in the city of Fukushima in August 2011, complained, "It took nearly a year to get the results of the survey, and there have been no explanations about my radiation dose."

The prefectural government has so far informed only 36,761 people, or 7.8 percent of the 470,000 respondents, of their estimated radiation doses, due to a lack of personnel and the need for officials to check incomplete answers by phone.

The highest estimated radiation dose was 25.1 millisieverts, a level unlikely to cause any health damage, according to prefectural officials.

Of the people who have so far been notified of their results, 97.4 percent were estimated to have had doses below 5 millisieverts.

Hisakatsu Kotani, a prefectural government official in charge of monitoring health, said: "Although one year and six months have passed since the nuclear accident, we are still at an early stage of the crisis. I hope people will send back the forms so we can prepare for the future."

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