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Since the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, there has been one thing Keiya Fujimori, a director of studies on pregnant women for the Radiation Medical Science Center at Fukushima Medical University, has persistently been saying.

“It won’t do any good just to say that it’s scientifically safe,” Fujimori says, stressing the importance of offering solid data on the effect of radiation on expecting mothers, women who have just given birth and newborn babies.

Ever since the meltdowns, the biggest question new mothers and pregnant women have is: “Is it safe to give birth to and bring up a child in Fukushima Prefecture?”

Given concerns that women may be avoiding pregnancy due to fears over how radiation may affect their unborn baby, Fujimori is adamant that data needs to be gathered that will convince them that it is, in fact, safe.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government started surveying expecting mothers and women who had just given birth in December 2011 as part of its annual health survey.

It also tracked down cases in which a baby had been born prematurely between 22 weeks and 37 weeks of pregnancy or born weighing less than 2.5 kilograms, as well as babies born with congenital defects or deformities. It has also looked into worries that women have over pregnancy and giving birth.

The idea first came from a large-scale survey conducted by the Hyogo Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Hyogo Prefecture Medical Association on how stress from the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake affected expecting mothers, women who had just given birth and their babies in the prefecture.

Fujimori, who had read the report, dispatched two doctors to Hyogo a month after the March 2011 disaster to study how they conducted the survey and why. What Hyogo doctors aimed for was the same as what doctors at Fukushima Medical University wanted — to protect mothers and their babies from the unprecedented disaster and its aftermath.

Doctors at Fukushima Medical University soon came up with a draft plan on how the survey should be conducted.

The surveys they conducted have shown that the percentage of premature babies, low birth weight infants and babies born with congenital defects or deformities in Fukushima is almost the same as nationwide figures.

But even if doctors tell mothers over and over again that it is safe to give birth to a child in Fukushima, it won’t make them feel safe, Fujimori said. What Fujimori is aiming for is to gather data that will prove that.

The annual survey is partially conducted by phone, giving those who conduct the survey to ask mothers of their concerns regarding childbirth. In fiscal 2011, 29.2% of respondents said they were worried about radiation and how it would affect them and their baby. The percentage gradually declined to 3.4% in fiscal 2018, while more respondents were concerned about their physical and mental well-being — the same as other mothers nationwide.

Determining from past surveys that there has been no clear effect from radioactive fallout, the Fukushima Prefectural Government decided to end the survey in the fiscal year that ended in March. But they are still considering whether to conduct a follow-up survey on the well-being of the mothers in the initial survey.

Like other regions nationwide, Fukushima Prefecture in the long term faces an aging society.

“It is because the prefecture experienced the disaster and nuclear incident that Fukushima needs to create a sufficient obstetrics system that will make women feel safe and secure in giving birth to a child,” said Fujimori.

This section features topics and issues covered by Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original article was published March 22.

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