Friday, 10 August 2012

Living with Radiation

Today I found another deranged note had been pushed under my door. I'm putting this out there in the hope someone can identify the writer and get them the psychiatric help they need. I'd also like to know how they got that photo of my wife....

Hello Kitty leads the way

I'm often asked whether Japan's safe. [<- Try clicking the links.] The short answer is: no, it's dangerous. If you're caught out in the rain without protection, you can be dead within hours. But it's still a fascinating land of contrasts and there's money to be made, so if you fancy a visit don't let the radiation deter you. Do as the survivors do, and you too can make it through your time in the land of the rising Sieverts without knocking too many years off your life expectancy.

Tip 1: Wear your protective gear when you go out.

No excuses.  Keep your gear by the door, and practice putting it on quickly in case of an emergency.  Your gear should include:

A geiger counter
Kids models -- boys and girls -- at my local mall.
If you buy a smart phone in Japan it must, by law, be fitted with a geiger counter.  Make sure it includes a food and water probe, and keep the battery charged!

A back up geiger alarm
Geiger counters can fail.  A full replacement back-up is overkill, but an alarm to stop you blundering into hotspots is essential.

A dosimeter
Just like calories, those rads soon add up.  Keep it with you 24/7 to keep track of your accumulated exposure.  Check it regularly, and make sure your lifetime exposure isn't rising too quickly.

A respirator
A basic respirator
Air-scrubbers can fail so, wherever you are, you need your respirator. You may think it's a hassle, but spare a thought for your grandparents.

A Mickey Mouse gas mask from 1942
We've come a long way since then!
Modern respirators are light, convenient, and come in all kinds of cute designs, so there's no excuse for being caught short. You can do anything you'd normally do in a respirator except eat, spit, kiss, and scratch your nose, and those are all things the Japanese would never have done while out walking even before the accident.

A pair of goggles
Any basic workshop goggles should do, but check out this cool pair Lady Gaga wore when she was in Japan:


Covered skin

Another snap from my local mall
The so-called "skinless" look has become, well, a necessity. Again, fashion designers have risen to the occasion.

Here's what not to do

She nearly has it right: respirator, geiger counter (clipped to her t-shirt), backup radiation alarm (clipped to her bag), and so on.  But notice that her arm covers have slipped. That kind of carelessness will put you in the oncology ward in no time.

Of course, you must also take off your gear as soon as you enter an uncontaminated zone. If you're in a hotel, or a guest in somebody's home, your host should provide you with slippers and a yukata (cotton robe) to wear indoors.

Tip 2: Secure a supply of clean water.

Most supermarkets and community centres dispense clean water for free, or for a low charge.  Here are the two dispensers nearest my home:

You'll also need a shielded container to keep your water in.  Basic models start at ¥4000-5000:

Fancier models have built in geiger counters.  They're pricey, but save you having to check for contamination every time you're thirsty:

Note the the LCD geiger display on top.
If you ever detect contamination in your tank, discard it. I also recommend that you keep a spare. A few weeks ago, one of the water dispensers in my neighbourhood became contaminated. Hundreds of water tanks had to be thrown away, and it was a real struggle to source new ones.

All restaurants and cafes follow these procedures, and their water is regularly checked by health inspectors, so you can drink with confidence.

Tip 3: Wash at the onsen.

Onsen owners go to some lengths to create a simulated outdoor environment.
The onsen (public spa bath), long a feature of Japanese life, has taken on new importance since Fukushima went bang. They take their water from aquifers deep underground and, so far, these aquifers remain uncontaminated.

Demand is heavy, of course, so the government has introduced a rationing system.

Onsen ration cards
Touch your card to the reader at the turnstile
You will be issued your ration card along with your alien registration card, so make sure you register at the immigration bureau as soon as possible!  And then, for 20 minutes a week, you can relax and forget about iodine pills and becquerels.  (Of course, you should still keep your protection equipment to hand, but put it somewhere discreet.)

For the rest of the week, use wet wipes.

A note of caution
There have been one or two cases where the government suppressed news of contamination seeping into an onsen.  I can well understand why they did this -- the exposure in one 20 minute visit was less than a dental X-ray -- but I still think we should be allowed to decide for ourselves what an "acceptable dose" is.  I recommend you do a quick rad check before you enter the water, but try to be discreet about it.

Looking ahead
A long-term solution to the water problem is in the works. The recently completed Tokyo Sky Tree is just the first step in a massive infrastructure upgrade project, designed to bring water clean enough to wash in directly to every home in Tokyo and, eventually, across Japan. At a height of 634m, it can cleanse an Olympic swimming pool every 3 minutes.

By far the world's largest water filtration column
Tip 4: Take extra care with kids (and pets).

Growing tissues are especially vulnerable to the rads, so if you want your kids to give you grandkids, extra precautions are in order.

Learn to love the great indoors
Kids are kids; no matter what you tell 'em, all they want to do pull off their masks, and play. Avert disaster through regular trips to the play centre, where they can let off some steam:

My neighbourhood play centre
Play centres are thoroughly monitored for radiation
Drill, drill and drill again on safety procedures
The mouthless Hello Kitty has become the mascot of the "Wear Your Mask" campaign. Here she is at the exit of the play centre, reminding kids to put on their masks, wave their magic wands (geiger counters) and wear their ribbons (dosimeters) when they leave.

Kawaiiiii! And with an important safety message too.
Pets need protection too
Specialist gear is available
Consider keeping them in an akazouko
This is controversial, but many parents have opted to have their kids and pets placed in sealed containers in low-rad facilities.

These facilities, known as akazouko (baby warehouses) are extremely sensitive. I couldn't get any photos of the human centre, but the pet centre next door was more liberal:
This one is housed in a converted dental clinic.
Oh, is that the kids centre in the corner of the photo?  Shh!
Owners can visit, but are not allowed behind the glass curtain.

Play time!

That's all for now! Let me know if you have any suggestions for tips I can include in future posts.

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