5 Mars 2012
FUKUSHIMA -- Fears of radiation exposure continue to haunt people in Fukushima Prefecture, nearly one year after the March 11 megaquake and tsunami triggered the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.
Some residents are falling ill after being deprived of an ordinary life at home and in the office. Meanwhile, 62,674 residents, or roughly 3 percent of the prefecture's pre-disaster population, have evacuated outside the prefecture as of Feb. 23.
Even worse, harmful rumors still abound and are affecting local agriculture and tourism.
Just before 6 a.m. on a regular working day, a radiological technologist in his 30s removes snow from the roof of his car at his home in Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture, before heading for a hospital in the city of Fukushima. He normally returns home after midnight.
Heavy snow this winter is a big challenge for him and other drivers as they travel the Kuriko mountain pass linking Yonezawa and Fukushima. A roundtrip takes five hours. Sometimes his car gets stuck in the snow, and he has to shovel snow, wondering, "What am I doing here?"
But come April, he will work at another hospital in northeastern Japan. "It will be much easier. But I feel sorry for my colleagues," he says dejectedly.
A native of Fukushima City, he studied at a medical vocational school in Tokyo for three years and has worked at the current hospital for eight years. He lives with his wife, a 4-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son.
After the outbreak of the nuclear crisis, he emphasized to his wife that there was no need to worry about possible effects from the disaster. The maximum permissible level of radiation exposure for a radiological technologist who performs X-rays and computed tomography (CT) every day is 50 millisieverts per year and a total of 100 millisieverts over five years. Schools in Tokyo claim that nuclear radiation levels in the city of Fukushima do not pose a danger to human health.
His wife seemed to have understood his explanation initially but her attitude began to change gradually. She stayed indoors with her children all day long and scolded them bitterly over petty issues. "Isn't it dangerous after all?" she asks.
Conflicting opinions on the effects of radiation exposure are flooding the Internet and false rumors abound. Her friends evacuated outside the prefecture with their children.
During weekends, he took his family to Tochigi and Yamagata prefectures to let his children play freely at parks there and returned home with a heavy load of vegetables. Fatigue took a toll on his body and domestic quarrels became frequent.
"If a radiological technologist flees, the effects around him will be enormous," he warns. His wife retorts, "Can't a radiological technologist's family escape?"
There is no proof that a small amount of radiation exposure causes cancer, but then there is no proof that it does not cause cancer. The couple spent countless hours talking about what to do, but he failed to convince his wife.
He and his family moved to Yonezawa in August last year. His wife looked happy again.
An exodus of medical personnel from Fukushima Prefecture is unstoppable. According to medical people familiar with the issue, 152 doctors in the prefecture quit between March 1 and Dec. 1 last year, while 81 doctors entered the prefecture, resulting in a drop of 71 doctors.
Kazuhira Maehara, head of the prefecture's hospital association, says, "There are many cases in which medical personnel are moving out of the prefecture even if they want to stay because of their family members' desire to leave."
The radiological technologist in his 30s says he had a hard time telling the Fukushima hospital that he would leave. He was fearful that nurses and other medical staff may leave one after another. He says he just wanted to leave as quietly as possible.
Shortly after the nuclear crisis began, doctors and nurses departed from the Fukushima hospital. He is the 15th medical personnel to quit the institution.