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2011年3月25日 (金)


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 23
EDITORIAL: Every effort must be made to contain radiation fallout

Radioactive fallout from the quake-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. is registering levels that are disconcerting not only to residents of Fukushima Prefecture, but also to people in surrounding prefectures.

According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the latest environmental radioactivity readings show high levels of cesium 137 and iodine 131 in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture, and Shinjuku Ward in Tokyo. The two areas are about 120 kilometers and more than 200 km from the nuclear plant, respectively.

Some of the readings exceed government-set levels for "radiation controlled areas." That designation is aimed at prevent exposure to dangerous levels of radiation.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan suspended shipments of spinach and other vegetables after unacceptable levels of radiation were detected in the farm produce.

Clearly, radioactive substances that were released into the atmosphere from the crippled power plant have mixed with the soil.

We must not panic at every radiation reading. On the other hand, it would be folly to underestimate the risk. The government has a duty to gather detailed data without delay and take effective steps.

One thing to bear firmly in mind is the need to understand the long-term effects of radioactive fallout from the nuclear power plant.

Once radiation is released into the atmosphere, there is little that can be done. Some substances remain in the atmosphere for a long time, tainting the soil and still releasing radiation.

For instance, the half-life of cesium 137 is about 30 years. Health damage can result from exposure to or ingestion of radioactive substances. Even if the levels detected in the environment are within permissible standards, people can still be affected.

Symptoms of health damage are not immediately noticed in cases of protracted exposure to radiation in small doses.

Experts warn that damage to DNA and the risk for cancer ought to be considered in terms of several years to more than a decade.

When radioactive fallout that cannot be considered negligible spreads far and wide, the risk of people contracting cancer will rise slightly over many years. But there is no need for every citizen to be alarmed, since the increased risk per person remains very low.

But looking at society as a whole, we realize that some people will fall victim to cancer through no fault of their own.

Even though the increased risk is only slight, every effort must be made to keep it to a minimum.

It will be also necessary to provide proper psychological care to people in areas where radioactive fallout has been detected.

This is the reality we are now faced with.

The government must take long-term health risks into consideration when deciding evacuation plans and other moves.

The most urgent task at present is to avert massive radiation leaks from the damaged nuclear reactors.

Beyond that lies our country's long battle to minimize the damage to people's health and the environment.


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