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Guardian: Fukushima families on edge of meltdown — “Nobody trusts the government any more” — Officials “afraid of triggering an exodus”

February 24, 2013
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Source: Guardian

US Navy 110328-N-OJ170-009 Hideji Kawasaki operates the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system to balance an electrical load insid

Two years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a new phenomenon is on the rise: atomic divorce. Abigail Haworth reports on the unbearable pressures and prejudices being faced by those caught in the radiation zone

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The official position on radiation risks is based on the fact that very few Fukushima residents received doses over 100 milli-sieverts per year – the level above which some scientific studies show is the threshold for an increased risk of cancer or other serious disease. But other epidemiological studies show that cancer can occur in much lower doses. Last November, UN special rapporteur Anand Grover visited Fukushima and censured Japan for its narrow assessment of potential damage to health. But it is, as they say, complicated.

The science, not to mention the politics of how it is disseminated to the public in a world that is polarised over nuclear power, is a phenomenally intricate business.

The Nomuras believe there are far too many variables and unknowns to feel secure. "If there's one thing we've learned, it's that the government and scientists don't have all the answers," says Kenji. "Even if the risks are low, we must do everything we can to minimise our daughters' radiation exposure." Aiko nods. "As parents who have to live here, it's the only option," she adds.

In practice, this means trying to seal all the leaky edges of their world without turning it into an over-sanitised bubble. It is a difficult balance and Aiko admits she often struggles. "Sakura always wants to pick up flowers and leaves when we're outside, and I hear myself saying things like, 'Don't touch. Get away from that.' It's sad." The family wear facemasks outside and drive instead of walking. They dry their laundry and air their futons inside. They avoid tap water, fish, seaweed, dairy and locally grown rice and vegetables. Like most people, they own a portable dosimeter for measuring external radiation (a popular home brand is Mr Gamma). Although most of Koriyama has been decontaminated through washing and removing topsoil, high radiation levels can return with wind and rain. The periodic discovery of new concentrated radioactive "hotspots" everywhere from playgrounds to parking lots is a constant concern.

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