A Japanese appeals court is expected to rule soon in a suit filed on behalf of 14 children by their parents and anti-nuclear activists in June 2011 in a district court in Fukushima arguing that the nearby town of Koriyama should evacuate its children to an area where radiation levels are no higher than natural background levels in the rest of Japan, or about 1 millisievert annual exposure. After the Fukushima accident, Japan set an annual exposure limit of 20 millisieverts for determining whether people can live in an area. The average radiation for Koriyama is below this level, but some “hot spots” around the city are above the cutoff. The district court rejected the suit in a December 2011 decision. An appeal is now before the Sendai High Court in nearby Miyagi prefecture.
After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which emitted more radiation than the stricken Fukushima plant, the Soviet government evacuated women and children from within a 30-kilometer radius of the plant, bigger than the 20-kilometer no-go zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. The number of children in the original suit dwindled to 10 for the appeal, and is now down to one as families have left the prefecture voluntarily. Toshio Yanagihara, one of the lawyers, said, “I don’t understand why an economic power like Japan won’t evacuate the children—something even the fascist government did during World War II”—a reference to the mass evacuation of children during air-raids. “This is child abuse.”
After Chernobyl, thousands of children got thyroid cancer. In Fukushima, at least three cases of thyroid cancer have been diagnosed among children, although experts hasten to emphasize the absense of a proven link to the nuclear disaster. Comparative figures on thyroid cancer in other areas of Japan are apparently unavailable. A 12-year-old girl who was among those who filed the original suit but have since left the area said in a hand-written statement submitted to the court: “Even if I am careful, I may get cancer, and the baby I have may be hurt.” (AP, April 14)
Last month, the Japanese media touted claims of the Environment Ministry that while more than 40% of children from Fukushima prefecture tested for thyroid abnormalities, that rate is “not troubling” because it roughly matches data elsewhere in Japan. “The results in Fukushima prefecture were approximately the same as in the other prefectures,” said Yasuo Kiryu, a senior ministry official in charge of radiological health control.
The prefectural government has been conducting ultrasound thyroid gland tests on about 360,000 children and young adults who were aged 18 or under when the disaster at the plant struck in March 2011. To obtain control data for comparison, the Environment Ministry tested 4,365 children in Nagasaki, capital of Nagasaki prefecture; Kofu, capital of Yamanashi prefecture; and Hirosaki, Aomori prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun, March 9)
These findings are actually small comfort, given that thyroid abnormalities throughout Japan have been elevated since the Fukushima disaster. We don’t claim to know why, or if there is necessarily a link to the nuclear disaster, but calling the results “not troubling” is an utter perversity. We echo Helen Caldicott’s call for an international investigation into these findings. Until then, we are not going to join the rush to exculpate the Fukushima disaster.
Furthermore, it has been revealed that some of the researchers have been tainted by money from Japan’s nuclear industry. A new study has also determined that US babies in West Coast states are at a higher risk for thyroid disease than those in the rest of the country—as a likely result of the Fukushima disaster.
And, highlighting the risks to the prefecture’s children, whistle-blowers have brought to light egregious corner-cutting in the disposal of contaminated waste in Fukushima.
There is nothing about any of this that is “not troubling,” thank you.