Fukushima’s Surfers Riding on Radioactive Waves

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Fukushima, Japan – On 11 March 2011, at 2:46 pm, Japan was hit by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake which generated a tsunami along the coast. The casualties of the disaster included 18,500 dead, 90 percent of whom drowned in the tsunami wave. The bodies of 2,561 people were never recovered.

Article by Eric Lafforgue

The tsunami hit the Daiichi nuclear power plant as well, a level-7 catastrophe that was the equivalent of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.

Over the course of five years, nearly 50,000 people have worked to decontaminate the plant and stop leaks according to government press releases. They remove between 5 and 30 cm of contaminated soil every day and place them in plastic bags, which are stored on the outskirts of town, pending a better solution.

In Tairatoyoma beach, a prefecture of Fukushima and some 50km from the nuclear plant, was among the most popular areas for Japanese surfers prior to the nuclear accident.

Surprisingly, despite the presence of radiation in the sand and water, some dedicated surfers continue to come here to catch some waves. They are aware of the risks, and the hundreds of bags of contaminated sand piled up on the beach serve as a constant reminder of the health risks to them.

“I put on sunscreen against the sun, but I haven’t found anything against radiation,” said one surfer. “We will only know the true consequences of our time in the water 20 years from now.”

 

‘I come to Tairatoyoma beach and surf several times a week. It’s my passion. I can’t stop surfing,’ says this surfer. The sign next to him in Japanese indicates that the area is a restricted area. [Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera]

Some surfers were on the beach when the tsunami struck. ‘The earth shook, we came back on the Tairatoyoma beach, and a few minutes later, the tsunami wave arrived,’ recalls one surfer. ‘None of the surfers who were on the beach died, as we had time to escape. Those who were in their homes were taken by the waves by surprise and they died.’ [Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera]

Over the course of five years, nearly 50,000 people have worked to decontaminate the plant and stop leaks. Nearly 500,000 people were evacuated because of the tsunami and the nuclear accident. [Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera]

A radiation dosimeter placed inthe difficult-to-return zone after the daiichi nuclear power plant irradiation, Fukushima prefecture, Tomioka, Japan

Radiation sensors indicate the level of radioactivity. But no one is present to read the sensor in the red zones, classified as ‘difficult to return to zones’ by the government. One millisievert, – ‘the average accumulated background radiation dose of an individual for one year, exclusive of radon,’ – is the maximum radiation exposure dose allowed. [Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera]

Residents receive compensation from TEPCO company based on the degree of contamination of their homes. In the red zone, they receive $1,000 a month per person. This has created tensions in the population because those who live on the other side of the barrier, like here in Tomioka, do not receive as much. [Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera]

In the ‘orange zone’, residents have the right to visit their home if they wish to take care of it. In the town of Naraha, this man has come to weed his garden. His wife refuses to come back, and he will not bring his children. He never sleeps in his contaminated home. He knows the dangers well as he had worked at the nuclear plant. [Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera]

Cities distant from the sea, like Tomioka, were only affected by the earthquake and the radiation, but not the tsunami. They have now turned into ghost towns. [Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera]

Thirty million tonnes of contaminated soil are stocked in open-air sites. [Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera]

The Tairatoyoma beach was popular for its white sands, but the tsunami washed this sand away. Now, a concrete wall offers protection against the waves. A few rare foreigners venture here to surf according to the Japanese surfers. [Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera]

Japanese surfer in front of bags with contaminated sand after the daiichi nuclear power plant irradiation, Fukushima prefecture, Tairatoyoma beach, Japan

The surfers cannot ignore the risks. There are hundreds of bags of contaminated sand piled up on the beach. ‘The government keeps telling us that things are back to normal in the region. But we can see that few people have come back. There are only elderly people. Children are kept away,’ said one surfer. [Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera]

Despite knowing the risk, surfers are undeterred and willing to take the risk to surf in these waters. ‘I put on sunscreen against the sun, but I haven’t found anything against radiation. We will only know the true consequences of our time in the water 20 years from now,’ said one surfer. [Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera]

Japanese surfers in the contaminated area after the daiichi nuclear power plant irradiation, Fukushima prefecture, Tairatoyoma beach, Japan

Japanese surfers in the contaminated area after the daiichi nuclear power plant irradiation, Fukushima prefecture, Tairatoyoma beach, Japan

An employee of the nuclear plant said that he would never swim here as the water is too contaminated. Five of his friends who work at the plant now have brain damage. [Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera]

 Read more at aljazeera.com