The accusations flew on Wednesday at the local school board meeting, packed with parents worried and angry about radiation levels in this city at the heart of Japan’s nuclear crisis. “Do you really care about our children’s health?” one parent shouted. “Why have you acted so late?” said another. Among other concerns: Isn’t radiation still raining down on Fukushima? Shouldn’t the entire school building be decontaminated? The entire city? Can we trust you? “We are doing all we can,” pleaded Tomio Watanabe, a senior official of Fukushima’s education board.
A huge outcry is erupting in Fukushima over what parents say is a blatant government failure to protect their children from dangerous levels of radiation. The issue has prompted unusually direct confrontations in this conflict-averse society, and has quickly become a focal point for anger over Japan’s handling of the accident at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, ravaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. At issue are updated government guidelines that allow schoolchildren to be exposed to radiation doses that are more than 20 times the previously permissible levels. That dose is equal to the international standard for adult nuclear power plant workers.
Adding to the anxiety, there is little scientific knowledge of the sorts of radiation dangers that Japan may now be facing. Scientists say readings in most areas are too low to cause immediate illness — even among children, who are more vulnerable — but they have a limited understanding of how low radiation doses over a long period of time can affect health.