By Catherine Makino and Naoyuki Ogi
Over 18 months ago, the reactors at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station went into meltdown. Large amounts of radioactive material were released. And the world seems to have forgotten about it, or at least pretend that it?s all finished.
TOKYO (majirox news) ? But it?s not over. According to The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), children and young people are still being exposed to dangerous levels of radioactivity that continue to linger in the atmosphere and affect the safety of food.
?Many children have already developed abnormalities in their thyroid glands,? they said.
The Network has been monitoring the effects of the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Incident since the March 11, 2011 disaster. Ten priests from around the world, including Thailand, the US, Japan and India, recently toured Fukushima prefecture, including the cities of Sukagawa and Nihonmatsu and the high-radiation areas of Ita-te village and Minamisoma.
Michinori Sasaki, the vice-principal of Doho kindergarten and priest of Shingyoji Temple in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima, said, ?the children have health problems that they didn?t have before, including thyroid diseases. Almost every night parents come to our temple crying about the their children?s health problems and their future.?
Sasaki worries about his own four children as well.
?My wife and I want to leave this city because my children are sick and have diseases, but I can?t throw away my temple.?
Residents face difficult choices along with the loss of their livelihoods and the destruction of the communities in which they have grown up. The choice between remaining or evacuating has broken up marriages.
?Parents fight,? Sasaki said. ?The mothers want to leave and take their children to a safer area, but the fathers can?t leave since they can?t find jobs outside.?
The Network priests say the people are not getting direct help from the government.
?There is ongoing and serious negligence by the Japanese government, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), and other responsible parties of providing timely and accurate information on radiation levels, proper health standards, and responses regarding appropriate lifestyles responses for the people living in these regions,? they say.
There are criticisms of the way that money has been spent. Billions of dollars allocated to help victims of the disaster have been diverted elsewhere, it is claimed.
According to the Japanese media, ?the Japanese government suspended 35 projects that were receiving money from the nation?s March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster reconstruction fund. Recently, it was discovered that portions of the reconstruction budget were going to causes completely unrelated to the disaster. As much as one quarter of the 11.7 trillion yen (approx. $148 billion) fund was being diverted to other projects. These included the construction of a contact lens factory in a another part of Japan, and $30 million event went to the nation?s controversial whale hunting program.?
Katsuko Arima, who owns a restaurant in Fukushima, agrees that the people are not getting direct help from the government.
?We are told what hospital to go to by the government or else they will not support us,? she says. ? That?s because the recommended hospital will not report the truth about the conditions of our health.?
The city of Ita-te is empty except for cows, dogs and cats roaming the streets.
?It?s eerie because the greenery, the birds, and the scenery are so beautiful, but there are no people around,? said Phra Paisan Visalo, a Thai monk touring the area. ?I carried a dosimeter when I went into the area and it kept going off because of the high radiation levels.?
Safecast, which is an independent, citizens science volunteer group has been measuring radiation in Fukushima and has collected over 5,000,000 measurements for the past 18 months.
?Our measurements show dose rate values in the range of 0.3uSv to 1.3uSv in Fukushima City and in the range of 2-4uSv/hr in Ita-ite village,? said Pieter Franken of Safecast. ?Over the past year we have seen radiation levels in general come down, but the exposure risk is far from over. Seen the challenges encountered in decontamination, the exposure risk will be a long term problem requiring continuos monitoring and caution.?
Residents are allowed into the area a few hours a day to feed the animals.
The local people grabbed the priests and thanked them for listening.
?They wanted us to look at what we saw, and not from the television or newspapers,? Visalo said. ?It?s grim. However, we were inspired by their courage and perseverance, and we will offer whatever support we can to their families and children.?
The residents told the priests that the Japanese think the radiation is gone and everything has settled down.
?People are starting to forget,? Arima said. ?The disaster is not over and we are still suffering.?