Greenpeace said on Monday that schools and surrounding areas located 60 km (38 miles) from Japan's tsunami-hit nuclear power plant were unsafe for children, showing radiation readings as much as 70 times internationally accepted levels.
The environmental group took samples at and near three schools in Fukushima city, well outside the 20 km exclusion zone from Tokyo Electric Power's stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in Japan's northeast.
"No parent should have to choose between radiation exposure and education for their child," said Kazue Suzuki, Greenpeace Japan's anti-nuclear project head.
The government had already taken steps to decontaminate schools in Fukushima prefecture, where the crippled plant has been leaking radiation since it was hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Calling the measures "deplorably late and inadequate," Greenpeace said it had found average dose rates above the maximum allowed under international standards, of 1 millisievert per year, or 0.11 microsievert per hour.
Japan's education ministry on Friday set a looser standard, allowing up to 1 microsievert per hour of radiation in schools.
Greenpeace said that inside a high school it tested, the reading was 0.5 microsievert per hour, breaching international standards even after the government's clean-up.
At a staircase connecting a school playground to the street, it found radiation amounting to 7.9 microsieverts per hour, or about 70 times the maximum allowed, exceeding even Japan's own standard.
Greenpeace urged the government to delay reopening the schools as planned on Sept. 1 after the summer break and relocate children in the most affected cities until decontamination was complete.
Fukushima city dismissed Greenpeace's calls, saying the schools were safe under the government's norms.
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"We're finished decontaminating the schools, and they no longer have high radiation levels," city official Yoshimasa Kanno said. He added that postponing the opening of more than 100 schools in the city based on Greenpeace's findings of "only three" would be unreasonable.
RADIATION TO PERSIST FOR YEARS
Despite the government's reassurances, parents have removed thousands of children from schools in Fukushima since the disasters, fearing damage to their health.
Underscoring such concerns, the government said this month that 45 percent of children living outside the evacuation zone in Fukushima were exposed to low levels of radiation though it was within safety levels.
Greenpeace, which took its samples Aug. 17-19, did not say how long it might take to rid the areas of harmful levels of radiation.
But Jan van de Putte, its radiation expert, noted that cleaning up in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, about 100 km from Chernobyl, required hundreds of thousands of workers toiling over several months.
A vast area is still uninhabitable around the Chernobyl plant 25 years after the world's worst nuclear disaster, and experts have estimated Japan's decontamination efforts could cost as much as 10 trillion yen ($130 billion).
"We expect that the radiation levels would persist for a long period of time," van de Putte said. ($1 = 76.855 Japanese Yen)
(Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Chris Gallagher)