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Kawauchi, Fukushima ignores dangers of radiation for children

April 17, 2012

Two boys are "happy and laughing" in this photograph even though they are about 20 km away from the Fukushima nuclear plant and in an area with abnormal levels of radiation. Source the Guardian

On April 16 the Guardian newspaper published an article on Kawauchi’s residents returning to an area about 20 km away from the “stable” yet “vulnerable” Fukushima Daiichi power plant that is the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. The focus was the opening of school in the town.

In this article, written by Justin McCurry, Kawauchi is mentioned in the same sentence as Pripyat (Chernobyl), which means that it is a comparison: the area is contaminated on a level similar to Chernobyl and would be abandoned, but is not. Why not? The mayor of “Kawauchi, he decided, would not become a second Pripyat.” In other words, a politician decided, not the almost 3,000 former residents. What about scientists? They are not even mentioned as having been consulted. And with the sort of pseudo-science being promoted in Japan these days by some experts, it would have made little difference anyway.

What is so interesting about this mayor’s decision is that is reveals just how far some politicians may willing to go to preserve their own power. A simple question: if Kawauchi is abandoned, what happens to the mayor and other politicians? Do they not lose their positions? They might or might not. But asking what the motivations are for asking people to live in a radioactive wasteland are worth the time to investigate. It may not be a selfish act to preserve power, but why is possibility not even considered? Many politicians have done more for less.

“Happy and laughing”

As students stood listening to the mayor, he said, “You have become courageous over the past year.” That would be “courageous” for being among the “pregnant women, children, and the elderly [who] should avoid residing within 30 km of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.” “Now you can concentrate on the things that matter, like school and home,” said mayor Endo, as opposed dealing with the possibility that they to may one day have urine sample that indicate “all 10 tested positive for tiny amounts of caesium-134 and caesium-137,” like some of their contemporaries in nearby towns. Radiation, according to his comments, obviously are of no concern to children whatsoever, even if their biological makeup predisposes them to a greater propensity for developing problems as a result of exposure relative to adults.

The mayor has some strong scientific research on his side. He would likely agree with Dr. Shunichi Yamashita, who was quoted as saying, “The effects of radiation do not come to people that are happy and laughing. They come to people that are weak-spirited, that brood and fret.” Not surprisingly, at least two students are visible in the Guardian’s photographs “happy and laughing.” No doubt this same doctor, who says  that mothers, even mothers exposed to 100 millisieverts, pregnant mothers, will not have any effect, health effect,” would certify those children as safe in Kawauchi, even though taking his comments seriously would  likely be harmful to adults, not to mention children (the recommended level of exposure is 1 mSv to 3 mSv/y, not 100 mSv/y or anything close to it).

No worries. Such excellent doctors are at work ensuring future generations will benefit from their recommendations and thorough knowledge, as when Dr. Yamashita completes the” health study is starting at the end of this month [June 2011]…[that] he’s heading.” Since even 100 mSv does not affect children who are “happy and laughing,” it is of small consequence what the levels of radiation were at the time of the writing of the Guardian’s article on April 16, since they would not add up to 100.

What is the level of radiation as reported by the Guardian? “Areas in front of the schools measured between 0.114 and 0.16 microsieverts an hour last week – below the 0.23 microsieverts an hour the government considers safe. But in another part of the village the reading rose to 0.25 microsieverts an hour.” What this means is that even if the children spent time in lesser contaminated areas, they will still be exposed to elevated levels when they travel around town. Neither figure is particularly comforting anyway. One need not worry. The town is so safe that “village authorities have told farmers not to plant rice this year, the damage radiation has caused to Fukushima’s farming industry would render any crops unsellable.” Even though the food is uneatable, everything is fine. And what cannot be eaten is still good for the economy, because they items can be planted “for use as biofuel.” The implications of this are not even comprehended, much less written about.

The elephant in the room

As students and parents were present at the school’s opening ceremony, they listened to the words of wisdom of the mayor, head of the board of education and other officials. One might imagine there would be at least some education programme or mention of ways to help children deal with the abnormal levels of radiation. This was not the case. “Kawauchi has welcomed back its youngest residents with music, applause and speeches – but not a single reference to radiation.” This sort of denial of reality is rife in towns like Kawauchi, where people entertain the false notion that they will not suffer the negative effects of exposure to radioactive fallout. For all the faults of the Soviet Union – and they are long – they did not except people to sacrifice themselves or their health for the idea of “identity” or some other vague notion of saving a town that should be condemned for children, as Greenpeace and the US government make clear in their statements, due to their levels of radiation and proximity to the disaster that was a nuclear plant

pregnant women, children, and the elderly should avoid residing within 30 km of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. – US government

Kawauchi and the “happy and laughing” children in this town are within that 30 km zone. These glaringly obvious facts are ignored, as one would expect in Japan’s follow the leader society.

See Guardian article here and see the slideshow it posted of the school events here.

Civis Journal.

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