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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

"I think we should not get used to it"

September 26, 2012


Fukushima teachers' union member advocates lessons about radiation, human rights




FUKUSHIMA -- "Talking about the dangers of radiation is like rubbing salt into the wounds of us Fukusghima residents who are getting used to radiation," says Toshiki Kokubun, deputy secretary of the Fukushima teachers' union.

Twenty months after the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, decontamination work is under way at schools outside the no-go zones, while outdoor activities and athletic meets are being held like pre-disaster days.

But Kokubun, 50, has agonized over the nuclear disaster and published union news bulletins that deal with measures to respond to nuclear radiation. Such news stories are intended for teachers who are placed in a dilemma between local governments and parents, and many point to the danger from the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Kokubun is now concerned about how students are being educated about radiation. Radiation instruction has begun at schools in the prefectural capital of Fukushima ahead of other schools in the region. It is important to learn about nuclear radiation, he says, adding that he fears that being worried about radiation is being problematized more than the radiation itself.

"For cesium 137 alone, areas with a surface contamination concentration of more than 40,000 becquerels per square meter make up half of Fukushima Prefecture's eastern region. The figure is equal to that in controlled areas. Isn't it strange to question the failure to acclimate to such an environment more than the abnormality of living in such places?" he says.

Kokubun says the union has done its best to examine school lunch ingredients for radioactivity. Children have 180 school lunches a year but are not at decontaminated schools 24 hours a day, he says, wondering if anyone can say with confidence that their health is not jeopardized by nuclear radiation.

He was in the union office in Fukushima when the March 11, 2011 twin natural disasters hit. He managed to return to his house in Koriyama the following day. When he learned the news about hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, he prepared himself for death. Kokubun's mental condition soon began to deteriorate. When he saw Mt. Adatara in the morning, he couldn't stop crying. Tears welled up in his eyes as he saw rivers and mountains on his way to work.

The Abukuma River was particularly dear to Kokubun because that's where he caught crabs when he was young. After he became a teacher, he rode his bicycle along the bank's roads. He met his future wife in Shirakawa, a city on the upper reaches of the river.

Radioactive materials have spread along the waterway. "It has become a canal of radioactivity," he says dejectedly.

After the hydrogen explosions rocked the nuclear plant, Kokubun sent his son, a freshman at a university, and his daughter, a third-year student at a junior high school, to his sister's house in Kumamoto Prefecture. He and his family considered relocating to Okinawa Prefecture, but along with his teacher wife, they decided to stay.

After the Golden Week holiday period, his children returned to Fukushima to meet their friends but his sadness deepened. He cried loudly before going to work but his condition did not improve. In June, he was diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He still visits his doctor.

This past summer, Kokubun and a civic group jointly published a book about the dangers of radiation and human rights to protect the lives of children. In the book, he called for education to reduce radiation exposure, restore human rights and fight against discrimination.

There have been fewer reports of late and the Fukushima accident appears to be fading from people's consciousness. Kokubun says he himself is getting accustomed to it. "But the danger remains. I think we should not get used to it," he says quietly.




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