Nakoso beach on July 16, the day it re-opened. (Screen grab from the video below. )
Before the Fukushima catastrophe, the area’s 17 beaches were very popular with tourists, in particular surfers. Now, a year after the nuclear disaster, the authorities have decided to re-open one of these beaches to the public. Our Observer, who serves as a volunteer cleaning up Fukushima’s beaches, says the next challenge is to convince vacationers to come back.
The newly re-opened beach is located in the town of Ikawi, 65 kilometres south of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was badly damaged by an earthquake in March 2011. The authorities have declared that the water in this area is now safe, as it contains less than one Becquerel of radioactive matter per litre. This convinced over a thousand people to get in the water on the beach’s re-opening day, July 16. And for those who still need a bit more reassuring, the beach’s radioactivity levels are measured twice daily.
According to a preliminary report by the World Health Organization, published in May 2012, the radiation levels recorded in Fukushima area are now below “critical” levels set by the international community, and thus no longer cause for concern.
Nakoso beach seen from above.
A study carried out by France’s Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute in March 2012 also concludes that radiation levels have drastically fallen over the past year, yet warns that it still poses some risks. The study explains that nuclear radiation, even at low doses, can become dangerous if it builds up over time; for example, the radiation could contaminate certain foods including fruits, milk, mushrooms, wild game, and fish.
The Fukushima disaster, which was set off by an earthquake that registered 9 on the Richter scale, was the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. The damaged nuclear plant let out large amounts of radioactive particles into the region’s air, water and soil, forcing tens of thousands of people living within a 20-kilometre radius to evacuate.

“While we’re cleaning the beach, we sometimes wade into the water for a quick swim”

Brandon is an American university student studying Japanese. He volunteers to help clean the town of Iwaki’s Usuiso beach, just north of the newly-reopened Nakoso beach.
I’ve taken part in the Usuiso beach cleanup since early July. Our work mainly involved clearing pieces of wood and debris that have cluttered the beach ever since the tsunami. Radiation levels are not particularly high here. This town has suffered much more from the destruction wreaked by the tsunami than from radioactive particles.
The town of Iwaki battered by the tsunami in March 2011.
While the other volunteers and I are cleaning, we sometimes wade into the ocean for a quick swim. [The beach remains closed to the public.] One time, a few local government workers came to see us while we were swimming. They told us swimming in the water posed no risk to our health, but that we should be careful because there was no life guard to watch us. On this beach, the only people we ever run into are people working on cleaning up and rebuilding the coastline.
“The people of Fukushima are having trouble selling their agricultural products outside the region”
I would really like to see Usuiso beach cleaned up as quickly as possible so that visitors can go back there. [As of now, local authorities have not announced that they would re-open any more beaches]. However, I think the majority of the population is still pretty suspicious about vacationing near a recent nuclear meltdown. So I’m not sure how long it would take before it could become popular again.
I think it’s difficult to change people’s mentalities. For example, the people of Fukushima are having trouble selling their agricultural products outside the region, even if they are not contaminated. At the national level, people are still suspicious of rice grown in Fukushima. However I have seen some local businesses starting to export their products, so the economy seems to be recovering in some ways. [Japan has asked the countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to lift restrictions on food products from Fukushima.]
Our Observer Brandon shot this video on Usuiso beach during a clean-up session.