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 school 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, ravaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
There has been particular anger over new government guidelines that allowed 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. 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. “We will provide financial support to schools for measures to deal with soil in schoolyards as a way to lower radiation levels for children,” Mr. Takaki said at a news conference. The reversal came as angry parents confronted local education board officials in Fukushima on Wednesday, demanding quicker action to decontaminate schools.
Also this week, a group of parents from Fukushima staged a rowdy protest outside Japan’s Education Ministry in Tokyo. Some towns and cities in Fukushima Prefecture have already sent in bulldozers to remove contaminated soil from school grounds. Parents in Fukushima are also demanding a more extensive, regionwide decontamination effort, as well as health checkups for all local children. In April, an adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan resigned over the new radiation guidelines, saying he would not let his own children be exposed to those levels.