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Thursday, 4 August 2011

Japanese parents live with radiation fear

Japanese parents live with radiation fear
TOKYO — Parents living near Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant are facing a nightmare dilemma: evacuate their children or live with the fear that radiation will make them sick.
Since the crisis started on March 11, authorities have raised the exposure limit for children to that used for atomic plant workers in many countries but have sought to reassure families their children are safe.
Some people have listened to the official advice, then voted with their feet and moved out of the fallout zone -- but most have stayed, reluctant to give up their jobs, homes and lives, despite the lingering fear.
In Fukushima city, home to 300,000 people, playgrounds are eerily quiet while children play indoors, one layer removed from the dangers of the atomic plant 60 kilometres (40 miles) away on the tsunami-ravaged coast.
Most schools have banned children from playing football or baseball on outdoor fields or splashing around in swimming pools exposed to the sky. The windows of classrooms remain shut despite a summer heat wave.
More than 300 children have left the city's elementary and junior high schools since April, says the education board in Fukushima, where town workers have been washing down the walls of school buildings.
"We fully understand the feelings of parents, but we want them to act calmly," board official Yoshimasa Kanno told AFP, adding that the city will hand a radiation dosimetre to every student by September.
One mother, Sachiko Sato, 53, who lives in Kawamata, just 35 kilometres from the crippled plant, has moved her two children to another town, although she has stayed behind in the family home.
"We asked ourselves what's most important to us," she said. "For some people it's their job, for others its family ties. For me it's my children's future."
Another parent, Hiroshi Ueki, 40, a former kindergarten worker, moved his wife and two sons, aged one and four, to Matsumoto in the mountainous prefecture of Nagano, 280 kilometres away.
Remembering family life in their home town, he said, "everyday I used to tell my sons: 'Don't touch this. Don't eat that. Don't take your mask off'."
"When we got to Nagano, my son was still asking me: 'Dad, can I touch this flower? Can I touch that car? Can I play in the rain?' When I heard him say that, I was almost crying."
Ueki is one of a growing number of local citizens who, in a movement rarely seen in consensus-seeking Japan and fuelled over the past four months by social media, are challenging the government.

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