Beefing up radiation checks
Since covering the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March, I have photographed various radiation scenes in the months that followed.
Starting with shocking scenes of people who were actually contaminated with radiation being cleansed and scenes of people being isolated into a building.
I covered many people who had possibly been exposed after their evacuation from areas near the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Imagining what it would be like to be in their shoes it was difficult to ask for permission but surprisingly, almost all the people allowed me to take pictures as a Geiger counter ticked beside them.
However, being friendly to the media didn’t mean that they were not worried.
I clearly remember one girl in her early 20s collapsing into tears after finding out that she was clear of radiation. As tears rolled down her cheeks, she slowly told me that the moment when there was an explosion at the nuclear plant, she was playing with children at a nursery school in Iitate town (about 40 km from the nuclear plant) and that she had been extremely worried that the children might have been exposed to radiation. But after finally discovering that she was safe, it meant that the children were safe as well and as a result her selfless fear burst into tears.
Compared to covering the radiation checks on concerned evacuees, the recent radiation related assignments have been much easier on me mentally. This is because the checks were conducted on inanimate objects to quell radiation fears for customers. So far, I have photographed radiation checks on vehicles, cargo containers (both to be exported) and most recently domestic beef.
After reports of more than 1,000 beef cattle that ate feed contaminated with radioactive cesium being shipped all over Japan from Fukushima and other prefectures, concerns regarding beef were added to the already long list of Japan’s anxiety over food safety following cases of contaminated vegetables, tea, milk, seafood and water due to radiation leaks at the tsunami-hit nuclear plant in Fukushima, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.
I covered radiation checks on domestic beef at a restaurant operator’s central research center, and requested permission to shoot consumers who would be eating the beef.
Amid the beef scare on top of an already chilled economy after the March 11 disasters, the PR person didn’t expect that we would find any customers after lunch time, but luckily there was a couple of groups enjoying a late meal. I started chatting with a mother and her 23-year-old daughter eating barbecue to celebrate the daughter receiving a job offer as a nurse.
They allowed me to take pictures of them eating imported meat along with domestic meat which had gone through radiation checks at the company’s central research center. I asked them whether they had any anxiety about the general situation of possible radiation contamination of beef. The answer I got from the daughter was quite surprising.
“I love meat so much that I think I would keep on eating even though there are worries about radiation.”
Her mother continued, “Eating delicious meat and feeling happiness is much better than worrying about radiation all the time. On top of the delicious taste, if the meat is completely radiation free, what more can you ask for?”
Their comments may not be in the majority, but the big contented smile on the daughter’s face as she ate radiation-free meat was hard to miss, since it seemed to symbolize what Japan needs to beef up its damaged economy.