Reflections on Fukushima

By Shelby Scarbrough, an EO DC member and president and founder of Practical Protocol.

One year ago, the world watched in horror as a gigantic wave seemed to sweep Japan away. In a moment, where people had once lived for generations, there was nothing but debris and radiation from the damaged power plants.

A few months after the devastation, when the daily news reports had abated and the world started to turn back to local issues, the Japanese people were still knee deep in destruction and the constant worry of the effects of radiation. All they knew and trusted was turned upside down.

In my work world, I have the opportunity to participate in some interesting projects. In the case of Japan, I was fortunate to be helping a company that had developed a gel that has the unique ability to suck up nuclear radiation. We were able to help the company connect with the Japanese Medical Association, who accepted a gift of the blue goo; we then worked with the prefecture of Fukushima to show them how to use it by decontaminating a Baptist Church Kindergarten in Fukushima City.

What I did not expect was to become so engaged with the tiny little school on such a personal level. What started out as a “biz dev” project, turned into an effort of the heart. We were not just decontaminating a building, we were making it possible for children to play outside on their playground— children who had been cooped up indoors for several months could run, jump and just be kids again … simple pleasures in life that most of us take for granted.

When the ribbon was cut, I found myself, along with the other adults, having to encourage the kids to explore as if they had forgotten what a slide or jungle gym was. Only when they finally realized they were free of worry and restraint, did the squeals of joy start coming from the traditionally restrained children, and the noise level start to sound like any playground in the world. A few skinned knees and dirty hands later, the day appeared to be a success.

I remember around this time how parents wondered if they could trust the government and whether an invisible thing like radiation could be removed. How could they be sure they were safe? As part of our team, we brought a scientist named Cham Dallas to Fukushima. His specialty is the human side of nuclear radiation exposure. We asked him to take the lead on making sure the decontamination effort at the school could be verified, validated and measured. I’m happy to say that we were successful in cleaning nearly 100 percent of the radiation from the schoolyard.

What a journey! The lovely family that runs the Little Lambs School at the Asahimachi Baptist Church could not have been more dedicated, invested and grateful for the focus on their little school. The long road to a clean Japan can almost not be fathomed, but there are things that can be done. I know that with a little blue gel, the lives of so many kids can be normalized in Japan. As we look back at the travesty that hit Japan a year ago, my heart goes out to Fukushima and my littlest of friends who are still playing on their clean playground.  Hopefully, we will be able to let many, many more kids be kids— one school at a time.

Categories: general


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