'Where Do the Children Play?' In Shadow of Fukushima Disaster... Inside

Children crowd a gymnasium during a break at Hirano Elementary School in Fukushima in May 2011, two months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

'Where Do the Children Play?' In Shadow of Fukushima Disaster... Inside

Victims of Fukushima say Japanese government 'trivializing the disaster'

New research out of Japan suggests that children living in the shadow of the Fukushima nuclear power plant are suffering unexpected consequences because ongoing fears of radiation are keeping the young indoors and out of shape.

Since the power plant melted down in March of 2011, causing tens of thousands to flee clouds of radiation, local residents say the Japanese government has been "trivializing the disaster," reducing compensation to victims and giving priority to economic recovery over the health of its citizens.

In response, a nonbinding declaration of human rights is circulating, with hopes that it could receive 100,000 signatures and offered to national and local governments.

In this context, new research suggests that area children are suffering in unexpected ways from the continuing crisis in Fukushima Prefecture.

The declaration was drafted by 53-year-old attorney Yoshitaro Nomura, a Tokyo lawyer who has provided legal advice to those affected by the incident and participated in negotiations for compensation with Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which operates the former Fukushima plant, The Asahi Shimbunreports.

"Those who caused the accident switched from having responsibility to escaping from responsibility," Nomura told The Asahi Shimbun. "In essence, they are trivializing the disaster, cutting the amount of compensation and announcing the crisis is over ... What did the administration do in the wake of Fukushima crisis? The government delayed giving evacuation orders. Now it is giving priority to economic recovery over the health of residents."

The draft declaration states that the disaster deprived citizens of, among other things, the right to pursue happiness, which is guaranteed in the Japanese constitution.

The draft reads, in part, "We want Fukushima to return to the way it was, where we can eat tasty rice, vegetables, fruit, fish and meat without the slightest fear."

A November symposium on the declaration drew 150 people including scholars and citizens whose lives were devastated by the meltdowns.

One couple, Tomoo Onuki, 63, and Setsuko, 56, told The Asahi Shimbun that their vegetable garden stopped producing following decontamination work, so they now purchase vegetables and rice from nearby prefectures.

"I had thought that decontamination would make me feel refreshed," Setsuko said. "But I was wrong. I feel as if I had my skin removed."

The draft declaration and call for action comes only months after a number of scientific reports lent credibility to skeptics of the government's handling of the disaster.

In October, TEPCO admitted that it had failed to take stronger measures to prevent such disasters out of fear of inviting lawsuits or protests against its plants, The New York Times reported.

That same month, Greenpeace reported that government monitoring of the disabled plant was unreliable, and that some heavily populated areas are exposed to 13 times the legal limit of radiation.

Days later, operators of the plant acknowledged they were struggling to contain a perpetual accumulation of radioactive cooling water from the plant's broken reactors.

Then scientists found that nearly half of bottom feeding fish near the site of the nuclear disaster still showed elevated levels of radiation, suggesting that the plant may still be leaking radiation into the sea--and TEPCO didn't rule out the possibility that there was still a leak, Reuters reported.

Other impacts of the disaster were less immediate, but are now becoming more apparent. A preliminary report issued this week by Japan's education ministry shows that children from Fukushima Prefecture aged five to nine and 14 to 17 topped nationwide obesity ratings. One unnamed local education official said fear of radiation "may be one cause," according to The Guardian. "Children cannot play outdoors, so they now engage in less physical exercise."

Study authors attributed the increase in obesity to "stress caused by restrictions imposed on outdoor activities last fiscal year and changes in living environments in the process of evacuation," The Guardianreports.

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