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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Japanese schools grapple with nuclear crisis

From ABC News Australia

Mark Willacy reported this story on Monday, August 15, 2011 08:13:00
EMILY BOURKE: With seemingly no end in sight to Japan's nuclear crisis, many parents living around the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant are packing up their children and sending them away.

Others are staying put, but are keeping their kids indoors and banning them from playing in parks which may have been exposed to radiation.

Schools are also grappling with the crisis, removing top soil and forbidding students from playing outside.

North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy reports from Fukushima City, 60 kilometres from the nuclear plant.

(Sound of a drum and children talking)

MARK WILLACY: With their playground off limits, the children of the Sakura Nursery school are stuck indoors. This school may be 60 kilometres from the crippled nuclear plant but it's already experienced the fallout.

(Michiko Saito speaking Japanese)

"We were very shocked to learn from monitoring that our school is one of the 26 most contaminated facilities in all of Fukushima prefecture," says principal Michiko Saito. "It was so bad we got rid of the top soil in the playground immediately," she says.

(Sound of a Geiger counter ticking)

Every morning principal Saito stalks the playground with her Geiger counter recording radiation levels.

Radiation safety experts say children face a higher risk of contracting radiation-linked cancers than adults and a survey in late March found that out of a thousand children tested, nearly half tested positive for thyroid exposure to radiation.

Urine tests of 10 other Fukushima children found small traces of radioactive substances in all of them.

(Michiko Saito speaking Japanese)

"We've had five kids taken out of school by their parents," says Sakura school principal Michiko Saito. "And other mothers who are expecting babies may also leave soon with their children. But we are working hard to ease the anxiety of parents," she says.

(Baby crying)

Akiko Yoshida is one parent torn between staying in Fukushima, and packing up her kids and leaving.

As well as her two year old son Mitzki, she has three-month old Keigo to think about.

(Akiko Yoshida speaking Japanese)

"There were news reports that radioactive caesium has been found in mother's milk," she tells me. "I'm worried about my breast milk and whether my kids will be affected by radiation from living here," she says.

One of the universal complaints here is about a lack of information about radiation from the government - a grievance shared by Akiko Yoshida.

(Akiko Yoshida speaking Japanese)

"We have not received enough accurate information at all," she says. "That's why some families evacuated immediately while others stayed. I'm in two minds about what I should do," she says.

(Children playing in a pool)

Back at the Sakura Nursery School it's time for a quick dip.

Because of contamination fears the water in this small pool is changed daily and the kids are only allowed in for a few minutes.

For principal Michiko Saito trying to keep the kids in a routine is paramount but when I ask her whether she's getting enough help from the government her stoicism crumbles.

(Michiko Saito speaking Japanese)

"Children and babies are said to be vulnerable to radiation, but the authorities have moved too slowly to help schools," she tells me. "There are so many kids living in so-called radiation hot-spots but not enough is being done to look after them," she says.

So for the time being the kids of the Sakura Nursery School will have to continue playing indoors.

This is Mark Willacy in Fukushima City for AM.
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