Sunday 10 February 2013


Hello again,
However rational you may be as an adult making judgments about yourself, it's hard to decide what's for the best when you have kids. This whole radiation thing is every parent's worst nightmare. But parents here are coping and, as many people have said to me,  'people outside Fukushima seem more anxious than we are'.

All school playgrounds have been decontaminated so in the Koriyama area at least there seem to be no restrictions on how long primary and secondary school children can play outside. Last year there were announcements telling after-school baseball clubs etc that it was time to come in but not any more. Those who want to go out at break to kick a ball do so, and after-school clubs are running as normal. It's different with younger kids. As far as I can gather it's at the discretion of the school and most play is still indoors. A friend who runs a kindergarten takes her charges out for only 30 minutes a day. At another kindergarten the kids were allowed to make snowmen and play out in the snow recently (snow shields the radiation).  Younger children in nurseries don't seem to be going outside much. There are some really good indoor play centres now such as PEP Kids so parents might choose to take their kids there rather than to the local park partly because it's safer but partly because the kids have fun and get lots of exercise. NPOs and students at the local university have been organising days out skiing or other outdoor activities in low radiation areas.

The 'glass badges' which were distributed in the early days to measure the accumulated dose of radiation seem to be a thing of the past. Certainly children are not wearing them round their necks anymore. Some have them in satchels and pencil cases I'm told. One mother told me that at her son's school they were collected a couple of months ago but new ones haven't been issued.

A friend's son recently had his thyroid test and she was mightily relieved. All kids in the prefecture are to be tested once every two years but it's taken a while to get round everyone. Another friend's daughter had the 'whole body counter' scan and thyroid test last year. From what I read in the papers, the risk of thyroid problems seems to be low. There was an international conference in Tokyo a few weeks ago refuting the WHO's earlier high estimate of risk. It's proving hard to work things out as Iodine 131 has a half life of only 8 days and in the chaos that followed the earthquake the necessary measurements were not done. A recent documentary on NHK was basically a paean to the scholars - physicists, radiation measurement experts, meteorologists - who are working together to salvage data and piece together a map showing how much Iodine 131 people were exposed to. But Fukushima Daiichi emitted one tenth the amount of iodine as Chernobyl and experts are saying the risk is low. Parents seem reassured by the system that's been put in place for testing.
(18 February 2013  Just been announced that a third case of thyroid cancer has been detected. Experts are saying that the thyroid cancers at Chernobyl developed 5-6 years after the accident and that these cases are nothing to do with the accident here; they are tumours which ordinarily would not be detected until the kids were in their 20s and 30s. We certainly hope so.) 

Parents are careful about food. All the parents I have spoken to use bottled water. They all want to know where their food comes from, yet to my surprise, several people told me they would rather eat food grown in Fukushima because they know it's been tested rather than food from neighbouring areas. Since last autumn every school has been supplied with equipment to measure school meals. One meal is chopped up and tested before the rest is served. The menu, the results and the sources of the ingredients are on school websites. I haven't heard of any sudden lunch cancellations yet!

Decommissioning is going to take 40 years. What if there were another accident? Certainly, there's always that worry. But if it's not one thing, it's another. Chemical smog from China is plaguing other areas of Japan. You have to get on with life, earn a living, and bring your kids up as best you can. The parents that I know seem satisfied with the measures the prefecture has taken and are doing just that.
P.S. Fukushima has never been top of the education league tables but one recent survey showed that children's interest and willingness to learn was above average in all subjects. Like all of us, the kids must have grown stronger as a result of the disaster.

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