On March 13 of this year, 17 year old Yuuko Sato and 13 year old Mina Sato left the only home they'd ever known on an organic farm in Fukushima prefecture. They now live more than two hours by train to the north, in Yamagata. Their mother, Sachiko, explained the move via translator as fulfilling "the minimum duty of a parent" to protect her children. The danger they fled: radiation from the meltdown of three nearby nuclear reactors on March 11.
But not every child escaped. Some 300,000 children remain in radioactive zones in Fukushima, according to Sachiko Sato. She and her children were in New York City to protest a United Nations event on the safety of nuclear power. Some Fukushima children—and their parents—were actually evacuated from towns with relatively low radiation levels to places with higher levels. That error was due to incomplete information on radiation hotspots from all levels of Japanese government in the wake of the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Sachiko Sato says "the scenery in Fukushima is as beautiful as last year but all over us is radiation." She adds, "can you understand the pain of farmers who have to abandon the land they have cared for?"
That abandonment is not complete. Mortgages and property taxes still have to be paid on that land, with little help from the government. And so Ms. Sato has stayed behind in Fukushima to meet such financial obligations. Many families have similarly been torn apart in the continuing aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and meltdowns. The triple disaster has also split apart once closeknit communities—some who stay consider those who leave to be traitors.
Ms. Sato calls the two million residents of the area "guinea pigs.” The government has simply raised what are considered safe radiation levels for contamination in food and water. The new levels are much higher than those in effect in the U.S. or even near Chernobyl. And in April, the government raised the so-called safe level of radiation exposure for children from 1 milliSievert per year to 20 milliSeiverts per year. Ms. Sato asks quote "were they saying that people's ability to withstand radiation exposure had increased miraculously?" She adds "low level radiation exposure will continue--and we will see the results."
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]