Friday, July 1, 2011

01/07 EDITORIAL: Respect the concerns of parents over low-level radiation exposure


Concerns about radioactivity are spreading well beyond areas close to the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
In Tokyo and other parts of the metropolitan area, individuals and municipalities are measuring levels of radiation at various places and of various things in daily life, such as parks, roads near school and food used in school lunches.
The level of radiation anxiety in these areas is much lower than in Fukushima Prefecture, where the radiation-spewing plant is located.
But radioactive materials above the national safety standards were detected, albeit temporarily, in tap water in Tokyo and in refined tea leaves processed in Shizuoka Prefecture, which is far from the wrecked nuclear power station.
Radiation data announced daily is always about past conditions and doesn't show what is happening around people now. They should not be blamed for feeling uneasy.
Above anything else, the public needs to receive more detailed, easy-to-understand information about radiation.
More than three months since the devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis, Japanese citizens are now better capable of understanding information about radioactivity and making necessary decisions.
The days are gone when the government could reassure people by simply saying there is no reason to worry.
An especially important and tough challenge for the government is how to respond to concerns about radiation among parents of young children.
A brochure about the health risks posed by radiation compiled by the health ministry for pregnant women and mothers of small children simply says tap water is safe and there is no reason to be excessively concerned about allowing children to play outdoors without giving specific grounds or data to support its claims.
The document has been criticized by many parents for making them even more anxious.
Local governments and schools in cities, towns and villages need to play an important role in dealing with safety concerns among residents and promoting their understanding of the situation.
If there are residents who are concerned about radioactivity of sand in a sandbox, municipalities or schools should measure radiation together with the anxious residents and explain the safety implications of the data. If there is disagreement over whether the level of radiation is safe or not, it should be an option to replace the sand after talks.
There are many unknowns about the health risks posed by low levels of radiation, and consequently there are differences in the perceptions of the problem among people.
Parents are especially worried because children are generally more susceptible to radiation than adults.
Some parents are determined to take every possible safety measure to protect their children. They have their children bring their own lunches to school because they are worried about the safety of food used in school lunches. They have their children stay away from school because they are concerned about the safety of outdoor activities.
Other people think such parents are excessively worried and doing more harm than good to their children's physical development by depriving them of opportunities to get necessary exercise and nutrition. There are inevitably disagreements among individuals with different values and ideas on how they should be concerned about the situation and how much they should do to ensure the safety of their children.
Older generations do nothing to ease the concerns among the nervous parents of young children by just saying, "Your are overanxious."
People with different views and opinions about the issue should try to maintain relations based on mutual respect and understanding that enable them to hold constructive discussions without rejecting any option.
Everybody wishes for healthy growth of children.
We should pay thoughtful attention to the radiation concerns among parents raising children so that differences in the perceptions of the health risks posed by low-level radiation will not create any rift among the members of society, adding to the damage from the nuclear disaster.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 30

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