One year after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami that shook Japan to its core, all eyes are turned to radiation risk management adviser Shunichi Yamashita. Yamashita, the son of a Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor, has been outspoken in his belief that any low level of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi plant presents little risk to residents. Despite his advice, fears of radiation still grip many citizens who doubt whether the government really has a handle on the crisis.
Many scientists back up Yamashita’s claims, but his stance has sparked anger from residents who are convinced that radiation is a huge health risk. With the generally accepted rule that humans should only be exposed to one millisievert of radiation a year, Yamashita’s repeated comments that a hundred-fold increase is safe has earned him the scornful nickname “Mr. 100 Millisieverts.” Images of journalists wearing white protective clothing as they visit the plant hardly help Yamashita’s cause. His largest task is to complete a health survey of the 2 million people who live in the region, but the work is moving slowly as only one-fifth of the questionnaires have been collected so far. Meanwhile citizens want answers now.
The constant worry has taken a toll on Fukushima’s residents who view the lack of transparency about safe radiation levels as local politicians’ incompetence. Some have moved away, exhausted from the constant stress and concern about their long term health. Others are anxious to return to the only homes they have ever known.
Confusion aside, the Japanese have made up their minds. A recent poll by a leading newspaper revealed that 80 percent of the respondents do not trust their government’s nuclear safety programs and 57 percent oppose the relaunch of any of the shuttered nuclear power plants. No matter how many times Shunichi Yamashita repeats the same information, people just do not accept his answers. At a national level, the same can be said for the Japanese government.