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May 27, 2011
Japan Tries to Ease Fury of Parents Near Plant
By HIROKO TABUCHI
TOKYO — Responding to fury among parents in Fukushima, Japan’s education minister said Friday that the country would set a lower radiation exposure limit for schoolchildren in areas around a stricken nuclear plant and pay for schools to remove contaminated topsoil from fields and playgrounds.
In recent days, worried parents have spoken out over what they say is a blatant government failure to protect their children from dangerous levels of radiation at local schools. The issue has quickly become a focal point for anger over Japan’s handling of the accident at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was ravaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
There had been particular anger over new government guidelines that allowed schoolchildren to be exposed to radiation doses that were more than 20 times the previously permissible levels. That dose is equal to the international standard for adult nuclear power plant workers.
The education minister, Yoshiaki Takaki, said Friday that the government would, for the time being, revert to the original limit of 1 millisievert a year. Mr. Takaki said the government would pay for local schools with radiation levels above that limit to remove contaminated topsoil from their grounds.
While removing contaminated soil at schools is expected to decrease children’s exposure, it will not fully protect them because the materials are spread throughout towns and cities. The government continues to struggle with broader decisions in addressing that issue, including what level of long-term exposure it believes is acceptable for residents. Those decisions could force leaders to make the difficult choice of condemning substantial amounts of land near the plant or ordering much larger and more expensive cleanups.
The reversal came as angry parents confronted education board officials Wednesday in Fukushima, demanding quicker action to decontaminate schools. Also this week, a group of parents from Fukushima protested outside the Japanese Education Ministry in Tokyo.
Some towns and cities in Fukushima Prefecture have already sent in bulldozers to remove contaminated soil from school grounds.
In April, an adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan resigned over the radiation guidelines, saying he would not let his children be exposed to those levels.
Seiichi Nakate, a social worker who rallied local parents to start the Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation, said he was relieved that the government was finally taking action. But he remained worried about exposure outside school grounds.
“There needs to be a wider cleanup effort, as well as assistance to families who decide to leave the area,” Mr. Nakate said. “The government must go beyond stopgap measures designed to placate the parents.”
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