Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fukushima, smart phones and stigma

Wondering what to get your Japanese friends for a birthday or holiday gift? How about a smart phone with radiation detection capabilities? Docomo, partly owned by the Japanese government, has unveiled its new system.

Scheduled to be unveiled at the CEATEC Japan conference in October, the system requires a specialized case and the download of an app, and with this you'll then be able to detect radiation levels from 0.01 microsieverts to 100 millisieverts per hour. The company also announced similar devices designed to measure ultraviolet rays and body fat percentages. But let's be honest, the radiation detector will be the first thing consumers are likely to take note of, especially since Docomo is partially owned the Japanese government itself. Could it be that we're witnessing the beginning of a new trend in radiation aware devices?
If you buy it, chances are the recipient won't be able to use it when going to the Fukushima exclusion zone, because, with few exceptions, no one is going there for a very long time. Bloomberg news reports on the loneliest landscape in Japan:

What’s emerging in Japan six months since the nuclear meltdown at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant is a radioactive zone bigger than that left by the 1945 atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While nature reclaims the 20 kilometer (12 mile) no-go zone, Fukushima’s $3.2 billion-a-year farm industry is being devastated and tourists that hiked the prefecture’s mountains and surfed off its beaches have all but vanished.
The bulk of radioactive contamination cuts a 5 kilometer to 10 kilometer-wide swath of land running as far as 30 kilometers northwest of the nuclear plant, surveys of radiation hotspots by Japan’s science ministry show. The government extended evacuations beyond the 20-kilometer zone in April to cover this corridor, which includes parts of Iitate village.
Because the reactors were named after the prefecture, people and products from Fukushima are being shunned. There are legitimate fears of social prejudice, based on the experiences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors.

The fear of radiation was prevalent after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and it stigmatized the survivors, known as hibakusha, or people exposed to radiation. Many hibakusha concealed their past for fear of discrimination that would prevent them finding work or marriage partners, according to the Japan Confederation of A-and H-bomb Sufferers Organization.
Some people believed A-bomb survivors could emit radiation and others feared radiation caused genetic mutations, said Evan Douple, Associate Chief of Research at the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima.
An examination of more than 77,000 first-generation children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings found no evidence of mutations, he said.
While radiation readings are lower in Fukushima than Hiroshima, Abel Gonzales, the vice-chair of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, said similar prejudices may emerge.
“Stigma. I have the feeling that in Fukushima this will be a very big problem,” Gonzales said in a symposium held in Fukushima City on the six-month anniversary of the disaster.
Some children that fled Fukushima are finding out what Gonzales means.
Fukushima schoolchildren were being bullied at their new school in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo for “carrying radiation,” the Sankei newspaper reported in April, citing complaints made to education authorities. An 11-year-old Fukushima boy was hospitalized in Niigata prefecture after being bullied at his new school, Kyodo News reported April 23.
Produce from Fukushima’s rich soil is also being shunned. Peaches, the prefecture’s biggest agricultural product after rice, have halved in price this year. Beef shipments from the prefecture were temporarily suspended and contamination concerns stopped the town of Minami Soma from planting rice, according to local authorities.

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