Kids’ safety key worry in Fukushima

Attendees of latest public hearing on energy fear low-level radiation

by Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writer

A year and half after the start of the nuclear crisis, many who attended the government’s latest public hearing on energy policy in Fukushima on Wednesday still expressed concern about the impact of radiation on their children.

“I’m really terrified,” said a city resident who gave only her last name, Hanazawa. “I have two daughters. I wonder if it’s a good idea to let them lead a life, give birth and stay here.”

According to the International Commission on Radiological Protection, 100 millisieverts of radiation exposure over a lifetime increases the chances of death by cancer by 0.5 percent.

Based on the ICRP’s standard, which sets an annual limit of 20 to 100 millisieverts of radiation exposure in emergencies, the government ordered the evacuation of residents in areas where annual radiation exposure reaches 20 millisieverts a year.

But what concerns many parents in Fukushima is their children’s exposure to low levels of radiation, and the lack of consensus among scientists on its effects.

A 50-year-old woman living in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, told The Japan Times after the public hearing that she fears young people will be harmed by the radiation, and that discrimination against Fukushima residents will continue.

“I’ve tried to prepare myself mentally for the discrimination my son may face when he looks for a job or when he gets married, just because he was in Fukushima last March,” said the woman, who withheld her name.

Her son left the prefecture to enter a university in Niigata Prefecture in April 2011, a month after the crisis started, but that hasn’t eased her worries. “I just hope my son will stay healthy,” she said in tears.

A father of two university students in the city of Fukushima and one of the 30 speakers at the hearing also expressed misgivings.

“I’m deeply concerned about whether it is OK for my children to marry and raise their kids in Fukushima,” the man, who only gave his surname, Nogi, said. “Young people (in Fukushima) have to feel anxious and fearful at such joyful moments in life. Can we accept society and politics that are causing this situation? It’s time for us to think seriously about this.”

He urged the government to abandon nuclear energy as soon as possible so the people who live near reactors won’t be put at risk.

Many Fukushima residents remain evacuees from the radiation. According to the Reconstruction Agency, as of last month there were still 100,096 evacuees inside the prefecture, while 61,548 lived elsewhere.

Residents of areas covered by the disaster relief law are eligible for free public housing for up to three years if they evacuate outside Fukushima Prefecture.

Pregnant women and children under 18 years old from 23 cities and towns designated for evacuation can receive ¥600,000. Others get ¥80,000. Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric Power Co. will pay up to ¥120,000 a month to those from an evacuation zone whose radius extends to 30 km.

But many struggle with the decision to live apart from their families due to the costs, despite the compensation.

The woman from Koriyama said she decided to stay put.

“It’s not that I don’t care about radiation, but we have a mortgage and send money to our son. So (my husband and I) thought it’s better to save while our son is in university.” It would have been different if she had a small child, she said.

Meanwhile, she said she is upset with how the government is handling the situation in Fukushima, and she continues to participate in antinuclear events.

She even went to Tokyo to join a rally in Yoyogi Park last month.

“I wanted to show that Fukushima people are angry, too, not just Tokyo residents,” she said. “I felt participating in a rally is different from just typing the sentence ‘I’m antinuke’ on the Internet.”

She said she never imagined she would participate in such demonstrations because of their past leftwing trappings. “But look at me now. I never thought I would join a rally at the age of 50.”

She said her dream is that Japan will someday shift to green energy and serve as a model for other countries.

“All Fukushima people can agree right now that we don’t need nuclear energy,” she said.