No Easy Path For Fukushima Parents

Submitted to ANT-Hiroshima by Elizabeth Baldwin
After the Daiichi No.1 Plant disaster, 140,000 people left Fukushima’s coastal communities or, in some cases, the whole region.
Many parents who stayed put hunkered down to educate themselves about radiation. Protect the Children associations formed around the region. Members shared information on contamination levels in food; they mapped the hot spots; their websites tackled questions about how to live in an irradiated environment:
  • Should you hang the laundry in the house? 
  • Where to temporarily pile the contaminated dirt that you dug out of your yard? 
  • What to do after your neighbor spray-washes his house and the irradiated roof dirt slides into your ditch?
A year down the road, these groups are small pockets of new radiation experts who continue to educate each other. Some of the most concerned parents eventually moved away, worn out by non-stop diligence and criticism from parents with different priorities. Many dropped out because even constant vigilance cannot control what goes into their child’s mouth.
I understand that decision viscerally. When I ate fish in Fukushima, I found myself saying a prayer. Still, I can’t imagine the struggles of parents who finally decide that the best thing for their family was to stop thinking about radiation altogether.
The parents who believe that tracking an unprecedented radiological disaster requires continued effort from the stakeholders had no choice but to keep Protect the Children alive. The government has shown that, when it comes to bad news, it is consistently secretive and slow to respond.
One member of a Protect the Children group about 40 kilometers south of the Daiichi Plant holds up a jar of taranomi (edible tree buds) that she harvested from a mountain near her house in order to test radiation levels. In her village, few families have children. Neighbors who supplement fixed incomes by harvesting wild plants from the mountain asked her not to test the taranomi.
“If you detect any radiation—however small—we’ll have a harder time selling what we pick on the mountain.”
Such conflicts are not unusual, she told me cheerfully. I asked if she had considered moving away.
“Oh no! We have a four-generation household. Grandma and great-grandma can’t go anywhere, and we’ll never leave them.”
So much for the notion that conflict over radiation monitoring is a simple pitting of young against old.
One Protect the Children leader who spends hours each week testing radiation levels in preschool lunches is a mother of five. In April, her high-school son’s school put on a food fair to revive trust in local foods. This teen must thread his own path between the known worrywart who is his mother and the need to be “one of the guys” at school. That day, when he came home after the fair, he made sure to tell her, “I ate every food they had.”
If KD is wondering how it came to pass that protecting growing children somehow makes her “anti-community,” she nonetheless seems comfortable in the role of lonely guardian of the future. Her only response to her son after the food fair was a quiet “Congratulations.”
Elizabeth Baldwin is a peace activist from the United States who lives in Hiroshima.
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