As I run a kindergarten here at the temple, there are many children here. Since I have been thinking about how to best protect these children from nuclear radiation, I have engaged in a variety of activities, such as measuring radiation levels in food to decontaminating areas from radiation. In this way, I have been working with Rev. Okochi’s Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy to provide places where there is no nuclear contamination for children to play and recreate.
Children here wear small Geiger counters around their necks to measure the amount of daily exposure to external radiation. The children are being exposed to radiation at a rate 3 times beyond the international standard of one millisievert (mSv) per year. After a year and some eight months since the nuclear incident, various abnormalities have begun to appear in the children. Thyroid examinations were performed by the Fukushima prefectural government, and the results sent to the parents are that 40% of the children have some problem in their thyroid.
The problem is that within Fukushima Prefecture there is hardly anywhere that you can get a thyroid test done. There are places to conduct tests within the prefecture and in every town, but the specific results are not made public. When the mothers come to consult with me every night, they ask why we cannot be told the results. We come to know that there are abnormalities but what kind of abnormalities we are not told. Therefore, we have to go outside the prefecture, and I have done so for my own family. The prefectural medical university has taken data on the thyroid condition of children, but they say, “Please do not get a test done anywhere else.” Therefore, it’s become a situation where we have to go outside the prefecture to get a test done. The situation is now that we have had to ask various doctors here and there in Fukushima Prefecture and neighboring Miyagi Prefecture to conduct regular tests on our childrens’ thyroids. Yesterday, I visited Miyagi Prefecture and talked with a doctor there asking him to help cooperate in protecting the children. Two days ago, I talked to the Nihonmatsu City government and asked them to help in providing tests on the thyroids of the children. However, due to budget constraints and lack of funds, I don’t think they will be able to anything any time soon. Going around like this asking for help is what I can do. We now have a plan to install at the kindergarten a Whole Body Counter and begin in November measuring the level of internal exposure to radiation in the children.
A number of people who had been involved in dairy farming and organic farming have committed suicide. Women and children have also evacuated outside of the prefecture, which has created a number of older, single men left behind who have committed suicide. These are so called “deaths related to the disaster” according to the government. Fukushima has the largest percentage of such deaths. I think there are many such deaths that are still unaccounted for, so I don’t think the number of recorded “deaths related to the disaster” is accurate. Still, since the disaster, there are over 1,000 fatalities recorded as “deaths related to the disaster”. Amongst the people who had to become refugees and live in temporary housing, there are farmers who have committed suicide, but I do not know if such figures have been taken. I think that my perspective is pretty common, one that can be heard often at many funerals at temples in Fukushima.
In order to decontaminate the premises of the temple, I had to cut down a 100 year old cherry tree located on the kindergarten’s playground. I am continuing to hold meetings in Nihonmatsu for making a temporary storage site for materials that have been contaminated by nuclear radiation, yet still no place has been found. People want to dispose of dangerous materials in far away places, and this kind of thinking is what created the problem of nuclear power. There is no place in the world you can find that is good for such pollution. I have had to bury contaminated materials in one place within the temple grounds and the kindergarten’s playground. Those who have evacuated and those who have remained are both suffering and living their lives while enduring this crime. I cannot forgive the government and TEPCO. I used to be angry inside, but the children saved me from my anger. Seeing these children who can’t freely play outside made me feel as if they were saying, ‘You did this to us.’ I used to think nuclear power had become the norm and was safe. I was indifferent to the Chernobyl and Tokaimura nuclear accidents. Having no feeling for the preciousness of life, I was living as a priest only when convenient for me. I lived like this for 39 years, and in the end it brought suffering to the children. Once I realized that, my mind got clear. I felt relieved and was able to get back on my feet.