The Yomiuri Shimbun
The education ministry has estimated children who attend schools in Fukushima Prefecture where radiation exceeds government limits but restrict their outdoor activities will be exposed to about 10 millisieverts of radiation a year, less than the annual limit set by the government due to the nuclear crisis.
In the prefecture most affected by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, radiation levels temporarily exceeded the limit of 3.8 microsieverts per hour at 13 schools and kindergartens. But the ministry did not say how many of these schools would see radiation levels above 10 millisieverts in the estimates released Thursday.
On April 19, the government announced steps to prevent radiation exposure from harming children's health. Under the steps, a limit on annual radiation exposure for children was set at 20 millisieverts and the government said outdoor activity should be less than one hour per day if radiation at a school is higher than 3.8 microsieverts per hour.
The government has made areas where annual radiation levels are expected to exceed 20 millisieverts subject to its planned evacuation instruction, which asks residents to leave around late May.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said the annual radiation limit set in April is reasonable and the estimates were only half that amount. But the ministry acknowledged it needed to make further efforts to reduce radiation levels not only on school grounds but also outside school.
According to the ministry's estimates, children who attend schools where radiation levels exceed the hourly limit would receive 9.99 millisieverts of radiation yearly in their daily lives, with 17 percent of the exposure occurring at school.
Senior Vice Minister Kan Suzuki said at a press conference Thursday: "The radiation levels students receive at school have been found to be very low. This could be because of restricted outdoor activities, but it's hard to imagine they're not going outside at all."
Suzuki said the ministry intends to set up an expert panel in regards to the issue. "To address physical and emotional health concerns about children, we'd like to hear opinions from experts," he said.
However, some lawmakers and members of the public have demanded the government revise the 20-millisievert safety limit.
Masamichi Nishio, director of the Hokkaido Cancer Center, sounded a warning over the ministry estimates.
"During nonemergency times, the annual amount of radiation permitted for ordinary people should be 1 millisievert except for natural radiation," Nishio said. "Taking risks of cancer and other health hazards into consideration, even 10 millisieverts [per year] isn't absolutely safe for children, since they're particularly vulnerable to radiation exposure. It's not good to have schools in locations where accumulated doses reach such levels."
Gen Suzuki, a professor at the International University of Health and Welfare, however, had a different view. "I don't think 10 millisieverts of radiation a year would pose an immediate health risk to children. But efforts to reduce radiation levels in the whole region are needed," he said.
"For example, the surface soil of yards, parks and other areas should be replaced with underlying soil. Cleaning asphalt roads, walls and roofs with pressure washers is also effective. It's important to take care of the environment while letting people go on with their daily lives," Suzuki said.
School sports affected
Meanwhile, after high levels of radiation were detected at schoolyards in Fukushima Prefecture, the board of education in Koriyama postponed athletic meets scheduled for the first semester at all municipal primary schools.
According to the board, all 58 municipal primary schools had planned athletic meets in April or May. But after parents voiced concerns over radiation detected in schoolyard soil in April, the principals in the city decided to postpone all sports events.
Such precautions have also been taken by schools in Fukushima, Motomiya, Nihonmatsu and other places in the prefecture.
(May. 14, 2011)