Radiation fears forced me to postpone Japan visit by U.S. students

Dear Minister of Education Hakubun Shimomura,

Let me begin by expressing my strong support in principle for the Japanese government’s ongoing efforts to increase the number of foreign students in Japan from the current 140,000 to 300,000 students by 2020. This exchange cannot but enrich all participants.

I use the words “in principle” because in April of this year I was forced to make one of the most difficult decisions of my teaching career at the tertiary level: I was forced to recommend to the university authorities where I was employed that they postpone their planned Study Abroad Program in Japan scheduled for the fall of 2013.

While I deeply regretted this recommendation, I honestly felt that in good conscience I had no choice. That is to say, in March 2013 I attended a two-day Fukushima-related medical seminar at the New York Academy of Sciences where I learned, for the first time, the full scope of the ongoing dangers posed by radiation contamination from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

This knowledge was compounded by the fact that, upon returning to my home in Yellow Springs, Ohio, I was contacted by a 2012 Study Abroad Program participant who informed me that she had suffered from such symptoms as vomiting, nosebleeds and recurring headaches, all symptoms typically associated with radiation contamination. I was forced to take action.

True, the student in question made a personal choice to visit the Tohoku region during the individual research period that was part of the Study Abroad Program. Thus, one reasonable response would have been to forbid 2013 students from traveling anywhere north of Tokyo. As I considered this option, however, I could not but recall the warnings given by nuclear and medical experts both inside and outside of Japan concerning the danger of additional major radiation contamination coming from Fukushima No. 1.

Thus, I regretfully came to the conclusion that I could not expose students, especially female students of childbearing age, to the possible danger of radiation contamination, and informed the university accordingly.

Sadly, in the ensuing months the situation at Fukushima No. 1 has only worsened. Only recently Tepco finally admitted that 2.35 billion becquerels of cesium per liter of water, roughly the same as that measured right after the crisis began in spring 2011, has accumulated in groundwater tested around Fukushima No. 1, from where it then seeps into the ocean. Needless to say, this amount of radiation is millions of times higher than Japan’s acceptable limit.

With this radiation now spewing uncontrolled into the ocean, it is no longer possible to simply avoid the danger by not traveling to the Fukushima area. That is to say, fish are swimming in an ever more heavily contaminated environment where radiation bio-accumulates in the seafood. Thus the largest fish, which eat the most, often live the longest and swim great distances, become the most contaminated, and it is simply impossible for the Japanese government, or any government, to check every fish caught to ensure its safety.

Another solution I seriously considered was for 2013 program students to become vegetarians while in Japan. However, to my dismay I recently learned, from an article published by the Fukushima Minpo newspaper on Jan. 24, that the Japanese government plans to purchase contaminated rice grown in Fukushima Prefecture (providing it contains less than 100 becquerels/kg) and later sell it nationwide.

I fully realize, Minister Shimomura, that you are not in charge of decisions related to Fukushima No. 1. But as a Cabinet minister, l appeal to you to add your voice to those demanding that effective measures be taken immediately.

One eminently reasonable proposal is for the Japanese government to take complete responsibility for the clean-up operation, given Tepco’s demonstrated incompetence. Then, calling on the best expertise from throughout the world, all effective measures, regardless of cost, should be taken to completely stop additional radiation from the disaster contaminating the environment.

Needless to say, these measures should be taken first and foremost to protect the Japanese people themselves. But, additionally, this would allow educators like myself to once again recommend, in good conscience, that foreign students study in Japan.

I long for that day to come.

Yellow Springs, Ohio

Send your submissions of 500-700 words to community@japantimes.co.jp .

  • Mori

    Oh, think of the poor children!
    Yes, indeed. Think of the young people who, on this man’s recommendation, who will be denied the opportunity to make the decision for themselves whether they want to study in Japan. They will be denied the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to try to make it in a world entirely different from their own, simply because one man is afraid of the aftereffects of Fukushima. Regardless of how Mr. Victoria feels, I’m quite certain that the students at his university are intelligent enough to consider those effects on their own and let that play into their decision.
    Frankly, if I were at that university, I’d be filing transfer papers right away, to an institution with staff that would respect my own opinions on what is safe for myself.

  • Mr. No

    I hope you also ban your students from driving, since there have been more deaths caused my motor vehicle accidents this month in Ohio than deaths caused by radiation in Tohoku since 2011.

  • Miamiron

    I love how a 2012 summer student says that they have headaches and nosebleeds, so this teriary teacher with no medical training diagnosed this student as having an illness from radiation exposure.

  • Nabucco Donosor

    Considering that cows are rarely seen swimming in the Pacific ocean, has Mr. Victoria considered beef as alternative feed for the summer students? THAT could save the program…

  • tau_neutrino

    Yellow Springs, that explains it. His students would get greater exposure on the flight to and from Japan.

  • Brian Victoria

    Dear Commenters,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment on my article. In particular, I would like to let “Mori-san” know that no students have been denied the right to study in Japan because of my personal decision. This is because the university employing me did not accept my recommendation and intends to bring students to Japan in September as planned, having hired another program director.

    I fully respect the right of students to make their own decisions about the level of risk they feel comfortable with. Toward that end I strongly support the website of a former program participant who now maintains an excellent website devoted to informing all English-speaking students considering study in Japan of the current situation at Fukushima Daiichi and the possible risks involved. If interested, the website is available here: http://japansafety.wordpress.com

    My position has been, and remains, that I cannot, in good conscience, accept responsibility for the health and welfare of students studying in Japan given the ongoing, and actually increasing, dangers of radiation contamination associated with Fukushima No. i. That said, I realize that not everyone will share my opinion. But whether you agree or not, I urge you to pay close attention to the evolving situation at Fukushima No. 1. Your life may even depend on it.

    Even Tepco now belatedly admits the situation with regard to the radioactive contamination of the Pacific is out of control. Please join me and many others, inside and outside Japan, in demanding that substantive, even massive, effective measures be taken NOW! No company or nation has the right to poison the ocean and its sea life, not to mention human life, for hundreds of years. I would like to believe this is something all of us can agree on.

    Best wishes,

    Brian Victoria

  • Fitza

    The New York seminar Mr Victoria attended was sponsored by a collective of anti-nuke American doctors. They are hardly partial and their pseudo “science” you will find has been discredited by a vast body of respected scientists.

  • Scott

    Wow Brian are you ever misinformed and an alarmist! This is a university? Wow, can you say big brother? Mr. Victoria is using his own hysteria to make decisions for others? #epicfail #lowinfo

  • JS

    Many commenters here are assuming that the worse is behind us, when it comes to the accident at the Daiichi nuclear plant. However, the fact is that we are not out of the woods. Far from it, the most dangerous phase is actually going to start in a couple of months.

    Many news agencies around the world, including Reuters, have been reporting that the most dangerous phase of the cleanup will start in November 2013 and will last at least a year.

    According to these reports, Tepco is preparing to remove 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel from the damaged reactor building. This is a dangerous operation that has never been attempted before on this scale.

    Containing radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released in the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, more than 1,300 used fuel rod assemblies packed tightly together need to be removed from a building that is vulnerable to collapse, should another large earthquake hit the area.

    This operation is fraught with danger, including the possibility of a large scale release of radiation if a fuel assembly breaks, gets stuck or gets too close to an adjacent bundle. That could lead to a worse disaster than the March 2011 nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant.

    The fact is that no one knows how bad it can get, but independent nuclear scientists have stated that it could cause by far the most serious radiological disaster to date.

    Let’s all not collectively have a George W Bush “Mission Accomplished” moment, since it may be a little premature (to state it mildly).

  • B. Gette

    Thank you Mr. Victoria for your courage and intelligence.
    You made the right decision.

  • B. Gette

    *** “Nuclear Radiation: There is No Safe Dose”

    By Romeo F. Quijano, M.D.

    Quote from the article:

    “The “small” amount of radiation, claimed to be “safe” by authorities, added to our increasingly fragile environment will cause serious harm to the health of human beings and other living organisms all over the world. Radioactive particles, especially Plutonium, Strontium, and Cesium are bioaccumulative, extremely persistent and highly toxic. They travel long distances and will contaminate all regions on earth. ”

    Highly recommend everyone read this:


  • nukeroadie

    I was ready to comment on the absurd assertion by you that one persons ailments solidified in your mind that she had radiation poisoning. But I see that most everyone else here already had. This article is full of misconceptions ,assumptions and a lack of understanding of the subject. To patently attempt to deny others the right to their own decisions based on your limited understanding of radiation and its effects is simply arrogant. I applaud the board for dismissing your phobic demands. I would continue but I have a headache now …….must be the background radiation levels here .

  • baoxian

    The accusations and denial here are rather shocking. Especially in light of the continuous and ongoing cover-ups and downplaying of the danger involved by TEPCO and the Japanese government (who are constantly walking back their claims). This situation has been a slow-motion train wreck now playing out over two years, and the plant is still spewing radiation into the environment uncontrolled, and is not even close to being stabilized.

    We just learned Aug 20 of a massive release of highly radioactive water from a compromised storage tank (which has certainly not been repaired since). The level of groundwater or water cycle contamination is anybody’s guess, as TEPCO or the government certainly can’t be relied upon to provide accurate figures. I can’t imagine why anybody would assume this situation is safe and consider sending their child to Japan for a long period of time.

  • Glen Douglas Brügge

    Seriously? These foreign “experts” irk me. While the matter is serious, I believe a lot of it is based on hype. Reality is a lot different. As long as the reactors remain as they are, people are not receiving doses above and beyond what they might in a normal setting. While the reactors were cooking off I didn’t bother watching the foreign media outlets, because they feed on fear (particularly the stations in the US). What I saw on the ground in Japan was a lot different from what they were reporting. I believe he is prescribing to the school of unfounded findings. Many of these “experts” do little more than hypothesize, without ever having set foot in the country, let a lone the plant itself. I went to Yamagata this month, and the north is very much alive, and foreign tourists are still visiting. This guy did nothing but ruin many children’s dreams, and undermine the goodwill of this program through his unfounded paranoia. Let them weigh the facts for themselves and make their own decisions.

  • Christopher-trier

    How many people have been murdered in the USA this month? How many people have been killed in the USA because of traffic accidents? How many people in the USA have died of illness and health-related issues? Mr Victoria is well out of order, especially considering the hazards to be found in his home state of Ohio, much less the USA.

  • Firas Kraïem

    “Thus, one reasonable response would have been to forbid 2013 students from traveling anywhere north of Tokyo.”

    I don’t see how that’s reasonable given that a large part of northern Japan (Iwate, Akita, Aomori and Hokkaido) are farther away from Fukushima-1 than Tokyo is…

  • http://sekiwat.deviantart.com/ sekiwat

    I’m not sure what the author of this article was expecting to accomplish with this, but it’s interesting he would jump to the conclusion that one student would have a radiation-related illness just from a few symptoms. It sounds like he made a very scientific conclusion there. What about all the other thousands of students who haven’t had any health issues and are doing perfectly fine in Japan? I was living in Tokyo this past year and I didn’t have any problems to my health and even if radiation did affect me, I probably won’t notice it for many years to come since cancerous cells have a long incubation period. Besides, being away from Japan won’t protect anyone, since the radiation will inevitably spread to the rest of the world and we’re all going to be screwed.