Tokyo Area Parents’ Radiation Worries Grow Over Discovery Of Local ‘Hot Spots’

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Tokyo area parents’ radiation worries grow with discovery of local ‘hotspots’ (Mainichi, June 21, 2011):

More than three months after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, Tokyo region residents are becoming increasingly worried over radiation exposure as a number of radioactive “hotspots” have been discovered in and around the capital.

Local governments are calling for calm, as annual doses of radiation at the hotspots — sites where radiation levels are significantly higher than their surroundings — would not exceed 20 millisieverts as they do in parts of Fukushima Prefecture. Residents are nevertheless calling on their local governments to take some kind of action.

“Safety and peace of mind are not the same thing,” said an expert speaker at a lecture on radiation held on June 18 in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, as more than 350 residents in attendance feverishly took notes. “Even if the numerical radiation values are scientifically safe, that doesn’t mean people will feel all right about them.”

The chairman of the local association of private kindergartens, and the lecture’s organizer, said, “I hope kindergarten operators and parents use this information to make informed judgments.”

Meanwhile, 33-year-old housewife and mother of two Yuki Osaku started a petition to have the earth in parks, kindergarten playgrounds and school fields replaced. With the power of the “kindergarten moms” grapevine behind her, she soon had over 10,000 signatures to submit to the city government.

The city, however, has failed to give her a concrete response, while the kindergarten her three-year-old eldest son attends has also taken a very negative view of any anti-radiation measures, Osaku says. She is now wondering if she should pull her son from the kindergarten in July.

Similar signature drives have been mounted by parents in Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures, as well as Tokyo proper.

“Everyone is worried about their children,” Osaku says. Meanwhile, there are some kindergartens in Kashiwa and neighboring Abiko that have replaced the topsoil on their playgrounds themselves.

However, even as radiation hotspot worries mount, there continues to be only one site in all of Chiba Prefecture where radiation levels are being formally monitored, drawing criticism. Local radiation tests performed at primary schools and other public spaces at the end of May revealed a 0.54 microsievert per hour radioactive hotspot at a Kashiwa park. The prefectural monitoring post some 50 kilometers south southeast of the park, meanwhile, has recorded radiation doses of only 0.08 microsieverts per hour — a discrepancy which has stoked the fears of parents.

Meanwhile, a radiation monitoring committee formed by six cities in the northwest of Chiba Prefecture — including Kashiwa — also discovered a 0.65 microsievert per hour radioactive hotspot in a park in the city of Nagareyama.

These figures all remain well below the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s provisional upper exposure limit of 3.8 microsieverts per hour for schoolyards. However, parents are concerned that the levels measured at the parks in Chiba Prefecture would, over the course of a year, exceed the ministry’s maximum annual radiation dose of 1 millisievert — which translates into an hourly exposure of 0.19 microsieverts.

The prefecture in fact closed part of a nursery school playground in the city of Noda on June 20, after discovering a hotspot emitting over 0.19 microsieverts per hour.

“Even if we’re told we’re making too much of a fuss over the issue, we have to do something to ease our citizens’ fears,” said Noda Mayor Takashi Nemoto. The park in Nagareyama with the highest detected radioactivity in the six cities, meanwhile, was given an emergency mowing to reduce the radiation level.

Independent radiation readings are also spreading across metropolitan Tokyo. The capital’s Katsushika Ward has been flooded with enquiries from residents since a hotspot was reported there in May. In response, the ward government began taking radiation measurements at seven locations in its jurisdiction on June 2, registering readings in the 0.1 to 0.2 microsievert hourly dose range. The ward has published the readings on its homepage and in a brochure, and also sends them by e-mail to anyone interested.

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