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Fukushima gov't tries to block opinions (again)

December 19, 2012

Fukushima gov't tried to kill proposal to store baby teeth for future radiation checks



FUKUSHIMA -- The Fukushima Prefectural Government has tried to kill a proposal by a local assemblyperson to store local children's milk teeth to examine their internal radiation exposure stemming from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it has been learned.

In September 2011, Fukushima Prefectural Assembly member Junko Yaginuma asked the prefectural government if it should urge local residents to store baby teeth that came out after the March 2011 reactor meltdowns for future analysis of children's strontium-90 exposure. Strontium-90, released in the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, has biochemical features similar to calcium and can easily accumulate in bones and teeth.

After receiving Yaginuma's query, the prefecture sent an email to members of a committee overseeing a prefectural health survey and asked them to provide plausible reasons to reject the proposal. The prefectural government called the proposal a plant by anti-nuclear groups.

The survey committee has been mired in a string of other problems, including holding advance "secret meetings" to harmonize expert opinions over how to do health checks of local residents in the wake of the meltdowns. The latest revelation is yet more evidence that the Fukushima Prefectural Government tried to block opinions it considered unfavorable.

According to sources with knowledge of the issue, an official at the prefecture's health and welfare division -- which serves as the health check committee's secretariat -- sent an email to committee members. In the email, the official said, "Are there any findings or information that suggest that there is not much point in storing baby teeth?" adding, "It is not the assemblyperson who asked that question, but it appears to be an argument made by anti-nuclear people. So, we don't wish to take up the question."

It is not clear whether the expert committee accepted the prefecture's request. On Oct. 4 last year, however, Yaginuma raised the issue at a plenary session of the prefectural assembly. The then head of the prefecture's health and welfare division responded, "I understand that there are various opinions even among experts over the validity (of storing baby teeth). We would like to explore it while taking into account the circumstances surrounding the scattering of radioactive materials and experts' research and arguments."

The same official has since told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I don't even remember how I answered (Yaginuma's) question. I may have told (an official in charge) to ask experts for opinions, but I haven't heard who and what kind of email they sent." The official in charge said, "I don't remember, and I can't confirm anything about the issue."

Meanwhile Yaginuma stated, "I thought it was a negative answer to my question, but they were doing things like this behind the scenes," referring to the email. "That's an insult to the people of the prefecture," and, "the prefecture, which sustained damage from the nuclear accident, must not do that," she continued.

A dental clinic in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, has collected about 200 baby teeth so far and sent them to a research institute in the United States for analysis. Takemasa Fujino, head of the clinic, said, "I can't believe that the Fukushima Prefectural Government is reluctant even to call for (storing baby teeth). It has abandoned its responsibility to protect children."

Katsuma Yagasaki, professor emeritus at University of the Ryukyus, said that research conducted in the U.S. after the 1950s confirmed a correlation between childhood cancer and their internal exposure to strontium-90. He said Fukushima children's baby teeth should be stored so that the danger to their health can be examined in the future.

On Dec. 19, Hiroyuki Kanno, head of the prefecture's health and welfare division, apologized for "having caused a misunderstanding with the people of the prefecture."


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