- - Friday, October 7, 2011

FUKUSHIMA CITY, Japan — Unlike many mothers who have moved away, Ayako Okada, 40, is staying with her 5-year-old daughter in Fukushima city, about 40 miles from nuclear reactors leaking radioactive particles since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

She drives her daughter to school every day, then goes to work as a receptionist at a private school. Her grandfather picks up her daughter after school and looks after her.

Like other kids who remain in Fukushima city, population 290,000, the daughter is not allowed to play outside, at home or a school.

“Many mothers who stay at home are worried sick about radiation levels, because they have time to research online and think about what might really be happening,” Ms. Okada tells the Washington Times in an interview.

“I am a working mother, so I do not have time to think about radiation levels too much. And I do not want to transfer unnecessary fears to my child, even though she has been taught at school not to go outside too long, and to wash her hands and wear masks to avoid getting sick.”

**FILE** In this photo from March 24, 2011, a young evacuee is screened at a shelter for leaked radiation from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in Fukushima, Fukushima prefecture, Japan. (Associated Press)
**FILE** In this photo from March 24, 2011, a young evacuee is ... more >

She says many parents have taken kids out of elementary schools in Fukushima city and sent them to stay with relatives in other provinces, such as Yamagata or Niigata.

“The younger the kids are, the more likely are the parents to take them away from Fukushima,” she says.

In many cases, only the mother and children move to other cities, while fathers stay behind in Fukushima city to work. At night, the city’s karaoke clubs are full of lonely men temporarily separated from their wives and children, she says.

Many workers are staying in Fukushima because they figure they won’t find work elsewhere during a bad economy. Since she has little choice but to stay in Fukushima, she at least wants to know the truth about radiation levels.

She’s upset that Fukushima city has been slow to test radiation levels in children compared with other cities in the province. “In Fukushima city, they said they will start testing kids next February. That is too long to wait. Everybody is complaining that it’s taking too much time.”

She said other cities already have given mothers portable Geiger counters, called “garasu badges,” for children. “But I had to buy one for my daughter because our city didn’t provide us one. I want to know the truth.”

Education Ministry and Fukushima provincial government officials have told reporters that they are installing dosimeters in about 500 elementary schools and 100 sites, including public meeting halls, fields and gyms where children gather.

Starting this month, they plan to measure radiation levels constantly at all elementary schools in the province and update the results every ten minutes on the Internet.

They hope to measure levels at all kindergartens and junior and senior high schools in the province by the end of the year, the Asahi newspaper reported.

Mrs. Okada says many mothers might not trust this information: “Sometimes, mothers get into arguments because they have different opinions. As for myself, I am quite relaxed about all this. But there is misinformation and different news coverage in other countries. My sister who lives in South Korea with her husband is really concerned about my mother and I because we are still here in Fukushima.”

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