Moms rally around antinuke cause

by Junko Horiuchi

Kyodo

Japanese mothers, many with no history of political activism, have started taking to the streets to urge the government to protect their children from radiation leaking from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Using social networking media, they have organized antinuclear energy rallies nationwide attended by thousands of protesters, and even attracted offers from overseas to house Japanese families with children.

“If the Fukushima accident had not happened, I would not have come all the way to Tokyo to protest,” Masako Kobayashi, a mother with a 10-year-old daughter from the city of Fukushima, said at a rally in Tokyo.

“I thought nuclear plants would be safe. But now, I want to fight to protect my daughter and other children,” said Kobayashi, 43.

Frustrated by the lack of information released by the government, mothers have formed groups on Facebook, Twitter and blogs to share knowledge and data about radiation exposure.

They are also calling on each other to participate in events across Japan to have their voices heard.

Many women argue the government-set radiation limit of 20 millisieverts a year for children at schools in Fukushima Prefecture is too high, a position supported by some experts, and are urging the government to lower the level and ensure their children’s safety.

“It is the first time that I have protested to the government but I wanted to do something to change the situation,” a pregnant woman from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, said after a rally in Tokyo, at which she joined other women wearing aprons and carrying sunflowers, which are said to absorb radioactive materials from contaminated soil.

The 30-year-old woman and her 2-year-old son are temporarily staying at her mother’s home in Tokyo, but her husband has remained in Fukushima. “I was only lucky to have a place to escape to. . . . I am speaking up for the mothers in Fukushima who cannot leave.”

Although many Fukushima mothers are using the Internet to express their distress regarding whether to leave or remain in the prefecture, in reality many have little choice but to stay. “It becomes harder for mothers to leave because of family constraints, as the government has said it is safe,” said a 32-year-old woman who relocated from Koriyama to Saitama Prefecture with her 4-year-old daughter.

Some women have been told by their husbands or in-laws that they are “overreacting” to the government-set safety limit for children at school facilities.

Meanwhile, a group of four women in Tokyo launched a multilingual website for mothers in Fukushima, as well as those who evacuated from the prefecture, to post messages. The website also carries a statement in Japanese, English and Korean calling for a lower radiation exposure threshold for children.

Yumiko Iijima, one of the website’s founders, said, “The idea of protecting children is universal.” She said the site is receiving daily responses from around seven countries since its launch in early May.

Eriko Maruhama, author of a book on the role mothers in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, played in antinuclear weapons movements in the 1950s, said she has been impressed by the activities organized by the present-day generation of mothers over the Fukushima nuclear accident.

“Many mothers today have better academic backgrounds and are able to understand how politics work by utilizing the Internet,” said Maruhama, 59.

The “moms to save children from radiation” website has also drawn responses from overseas.

After reading posts on the site, a couple in Malaysia — Belgian Marc Huysmans, 51, and Malaysian Kow Yoon Ching, 54 — offered to put up any affected Japanese family with children in their home, free of charge.

“We felt heartbroken after reading the messages. . . . One mentioned a husband threatening to divorce his wife if she moved away with their child. Another message said more affluent families have already (moved) to safer locations and are using the bullet train to commute to work,” Huysmans said.

Gerard Mannig, a French antinuclear activist, also offered his home near Rouen, northern France, to those from Japan in need. “Priority must be given to the young because future generations depend on them,” he said.

The four moms’ website is japannukecrisis.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/moms-to-save-children-from-radiation/