In Reporting Nuclear Crisis, Fears Of Exposure

March 17, 2011

Doualy Xaykaothao

In Japan's Fukushima prefecture, home to the quake-damaged nuclear plant that has been leaking radioactive materials, some 10,000 people have been checked for exposure to radiation.

I was concerned about my own safety reporting in the area, so I visit the Jusendo Clinic in Koriyama City. Dr. Masae Kokubun greets me with a kind, relaxed smile. She appears very calm.

When asked about the explosions at the nearby Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear complex, she says she's worried about all the residents living near the facility, but also for her staff.

"Yes, very much. Even nurses, staff in hospital is very worried about that," she says, "but they come to the hospital and work for the sick people, so we are now trying our best."

She says she is relying on information that the government is giving about radiation.

"One thing we can do is to believe it. The information we have now is it's still safe here in Koriyama," she says. "My work is to be a doctor, and I have to take care of the people to explain radiation level is safe for their health."

I tell her I've been visiting various evacuation centers near the exclusion zone designated by the government, so she suggests I visit a radiation contamination center to get checked.

I head to a high school gym, where men in astronaut-like suits and masks guide us to another masked man with a radiation tool called a Geiger counter.

He proceeds to take radiation levels, moving the Geiger to my head, my jacket, my body, my shoes, even my microphone. As the needle moves toward a red zone with high numbers, I start to get nervous.

I ask if there's a problem.

"No problem," he says.

My translator tells me he says if I just clean my jacket and shoes I should be OK. I'm given a yellow slip that says I'm cleared and free to go.

That's it, I think, just wash?

No, it can't be, I think. So I ask, "Can I have a mask?" Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.