FOCUS

Suetsugi:
individuals taking
their fate into
their own hands

As of 1st May 2015

Area
Population

Density

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.4 km²
Just over 200 residents in some 100 households (estimate)
(479 residents in 127 households in March 2011)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 inhabitants/km²

A community of 325,000 inhabitants with “core city” status in Japan, Iwaki brings together dozens of districts and hamlets such as Suetsugi, located in the Hisanohama district. Its lush green hills and fertile fields make it a perfect place for a quiet, rural lifestyle, highly appreciated by retirees. Next to the coast, Suetsugi suffered the devastating rage of the March 11th, 2011 tsunami.
Unlike Date City, where Mayor Nishida and his municipal team were at the forefront of initiatives taken in the wake of the accident at the nuclear power plant, the residents of Suetsugi took charge of their own destiny, sparked by the encounter of two Iwaki residents – Ryoko Ando, a gardener, and Shinya Endo, a civil engineer and gentleman farmer – whose personal paths would likely not have crossed were it not for the March 2011 catastrophe. Each in their own style, Mrs. Ando and Mr. Endo truly embody the ability of man to mobilize, without waiting patiently for external help, and to take individual initiatives aimed at regaining control over one’s life.
As the media reported on the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Ryoko Ando and Shinya Endo immediately sensed that something dire was happening in their immediate environment and progressively started searching for information to understand the situation, to measure the threat. In Suetsugi, where people had been evacuated without delay, some decided to return and take mutual self-help initiatives to regain control over their daily lives, step by step.

“The purpose of our discussions is not to reassure us. It is above all to talk about what we think of these results. More than the conclusions, it’s the discussion that matters, the fact of understanding what each person thinks, it’s talking to each other.”

— A Suetsugi resident

Struggling to escape the labyrinth

In the early stages, life was nothing but question marks: What is radioactivity? How does it impact health in the short and long run? How can it be detected? Where does one buy measurement equipment? How does one make sense out of the measured values? How can contamination be removed? What can be consumed and what should be avoided?
Ryoko Ando surfed the web feverishly for answers or at least hints to make decisions. Through the social media, she was able to access information and guidance from experts. She also came to know the ICRP and its Publication 111, which led her to the work performed in Belarus as part of the ETHOS Project, an initiative carried out jointly by foreign and national radiation protection experts in close cooperation with the inhabitants of contaminated territories after the Chernobyl accident. She was struck by the emphasis placed on the involvement of the affected people as a key factor in managing post-accident situations. Deeply interested by this approach, she got in touch with ICRP experts such as Jacques Lochard and Ohtsura Niwa, who had launched the first Dialogue seminar in the fall of 2011 to foster understanding and the exchange of views between residents of Fukushima Prefecture and radiation protection experts.

The emergence of citizen-based leadership

The story of Suetsugi exemplifies the benefits of measuring radiation on a daily basis and of regular meetings of residents and experts to discuss the issues linked to living in a contaminated territory, and is the epitome of the long struggle of people determined to recover their ability to make decisions for themselves.
Using specialized equipment borrowed from the city administration, Shinya Endo and other residents started performing methodical radiation measurements inside and around their farms, as well as in every single house and every single rice paddy around the village. Like professionals, they drew up detailed maps of dose rates in every corner of Suetsugi, which gave them a precise picture of the radiological situation in their home environment, and shared it with other members of the community.

Personal dosimeters were introduced some time later and discussions were held on the measurements they gave with radiation protection experts such as Jacques Lochard and radiologists such as Makoto Miyazaki, giving impetus to a collaborative approach involving the community.

In addition, internal contamination was measured periodically using the whole body counters made available, allowing everyone to get a comprehensive view of their radiological situation. Suetsugi was progressively equipped with D-Shuttle dosimeters and then with a device to measure food contamination.

« It is important to establish our own radiation safety standard to achieve a true sense of security. »
— Ryoko Ando

This process has been topped off by the appointment of Maiko Momma as an adviser to the community throughout the joint discussions of the set of data obtained. She shares with residents of the district the knowledge initially acquired for herself after the accident at the nuclear power plant and keeps adding to it. Over the years, these mutual self-help initiatives gradually allowed people to recover control over their daily lives and to regain their dignity. This in turn led to a change in the mood within the community which became evident during the 7th Dialogue seminar held in Iwaki: a great sense of humanity, and even good humor prevailed. In spite of the widespread devastation caused by the tsunami and the residual contamination of the environment, all eyes returned to the future once again.

Currently, the focus is on reestablishing the connection between those who stayed and those who left, particularly the younger ones, whose absence from Suetsugi makes this difficult. This is one aim of Suetsugi Dayori (Suetsugi Letter), a newsletter that disseminates information on, for example, scheduled dates for radiation measurements of persons and food and interpretation of results, the progress of decontamination work, the progress of a breakwater built in the event of a tsunami, the resumption of a festival, family cooking, etc. This publication helps strengthen the ties inside and outside the community and fostered joint initiatives.

Another aspect is the sharing of the experience gained by the Suetsugi people with other residents of the prefecture and the awareness raised beyond Japan’s borders of what has been accomplished. In 2014, some officials of the Japanese government interested by the initiatives taken in Suetsugi asked local people to tell them about their achievements. This move is a clear sign of the government’s interest in an experiment which proved beneficial to the quality of life in some areas of the Fukushima prefecture.

focus

Minamisoma:
the trauma of a split city

focus

DATE:
LEADERSHIP AT WORK