Fukushima Children’s Fund Newsletter from Chernobyl No. 13 (December 2016)

— let’s learn from Chernobyl and protect our children —

We, the Fukushima Children’s Fund always appreciate your generous donations. We sent them to our affiliated NPOs; they are so glad to receive the donations from you. The Kumi-no-sato recuperation center is one of them. This past October we celebrated the fourth anniversary of the center’s opening. The 66th recuperation tour was carried out last November. We have just received many thank-you notes from the latest tour participants. The following is an excerpt from one of these notes:

Thank you so much for giving us a wonderful and memorable time at Kumi-no-sato. While we were there, my one-year-old daughter and three-year-old son waded around the shoal and played in the sand for the first time in their lives… I was so happy to see them playing around in the radiation-free environment on Kume-jima Island. I exchanged a lot of information with many visitors there and confirmed that our feelings toward the nuclear crisis vary even when it comes to radiation exposure …

group photo

The participants of the 66th recuperation program are happily posing in front of the camera at Kumi-no-sato. (November 2016)

The Summer in 2016
Reports from Chernobyl and Fukushima

The 2016 joint annual meeting of Chernobyl Children’s Fund and Fukushima Children’s Fund was held on Nov. 12, 2016. Tokyo Pal-system Co-op assisted us in organizing the meeting this year too. Many fund supporters as well as co-op members attended the meeting. We were impressed with their sincere attitudes – earnestly taking memos while listening to speeches.

Ms. Mari Sasaki, chief director of Chernobyl Children’s Fund, was the first speaker. She visits Nadeshda, meaning “hope” in Russian, recuperation center in the Republic of Belarus every year. She spoke about the summer recuperation program as follows:

I will talk about Nadeshda and its summer program. Nadeshda rehabilitation/health improvement center, founded by a Belarus-German joint public liability limited company, is for the children who have been seriously affected by radiation contamination since the Chernobyl nuclear crisis. Eight out of the nine of facilities in Belarus are state-sponsored while Nadeshda is supported by the state and foreign NPOs like the Chernobyl Children’s Fund Japan. We have assisted Nadeshda for years together with some German NPOs.

Nadeshda usually accommodates 300 people at one time. During summer vacation, it accommodates 450 at one time. While I was there, the children with not-so-serious health problems came and stayed there. However, as they lived in radiation contaminated areas; they suffer from such ailments as bronchitis and/or a loss of immunity. This summer, what most worried us was the variety of their suffering — brain tumors, eye tumors, leukemia, thrombocytopenia(deficiency of platelets in the blood), pelvis minor tumors, and kidney cancer. And of course, some children suffer from thyroid cancer even today. The Nadeshda’s 24-day summer recuperation program, which I attended, was held from Aug. 2 to Aug. 25. The participants came from Gomel City, Rechitsa City, Mozyl City and some other communities. They came to Nadeshda accompanied by two adults. Ms. Valentina PAKHOMOVA, one of the group leaders, said, “We named our group ‘Hope for the children in trouble’. I think the children still need places like Nadeshda because they are being exposed to radiation even today.”

The second speaker was Ms. Marina Masuda. She talked about the recuperation program from the point of view of a staff of the members of the Kumi-no-sato recuperation center. She sometimes escorts the participants from Haneda Airport to Kumi-no-sato recuperation center. According to her, it is about a one-day journey from Fukushima to Kumi-no-sato in Okinawa Pref. For instance, they take a four-hour bus ride from Fukushima to Haneda Airport, and then fly to Kume-jima Island via Okinawa Naha Airport. The following is her report of the latest programs;

Kumi-no-sato was opened in the summer of 2012. More than four years have passed since then. Many preschoolers and elementary/junior-high schoolers have visited the center so far. They usually came to the center with their parents. However, during summer vacation, the child participants came to the center unaccompanied. This summer, we provided three special summer programs; we welcomed 50 children per session respectively, so 150 children in total.

At the center, in addition to the regular staff, many volunteers from all over Japan as well as the local residents took care of the visitors. Also, local warm-hearted people — high-schoolers, senior citizens’ club members, musicians and sign-language club members – entertained the children with their special talents. The children had a wonderful time thanks to the volunteers. The participants underwent ultra-sound thyroid gland screenings too.

In the past, the children had recovered their health during their stay at Kumi-no-sato. But nowadays, children easily got sick from heatstroke or high fever. This tendency is prevailing among not only preschoolers but also elementary/junior high schoolers. They seemed to have lost physical strength, easily/quickly getting sick during outdoor activities.

This summer, after the programs for elementary/junior high schoolers finished, we carried out the kindergarten pupils’ program. For the program, the preschool kids came to the center unaccompanied. Some of them were infants at the time of the nuclear disaster and others were born in the post-nuclear accident period. I feel all of them are smaller than average. Nowadays, the amount of donations for the nuclear victims has been shrinking. The Fukushima residents are now feeling as if they are in a place where they cannot raise their voice over nuclear policy – either pro or con. Therefore, they, especially mothers need places to relax and recover their health and that of their children.

The Present Health Condition of the Fukushima Children
Sin’ichi Kurobe (pediatrician)

Fukushima Children’s Fund chief director/ Kumi-no-sato director

Fukushima is mimicking Chernobyl. Let me show you here what the current health condition of the children of Fukushima is like:

  1. The number of child thyroid gland cancer patients is increasing.
  2. Their immune systems are deteriorating.
  3. The number of child allergy sufferers is increasing.
  4. The number of children with developmental disorder is increasing.

The adult population in Fukushima has not been able to escape this as well. Many of them suffer from leukemia, malignant cancerous lymphoma as well as other forms of cancers. Some have already succumbed to these illnesses; some died of myocardial infarction triggered by muscle stiffness. However, the true cause remains evasive because no autopsies were performed on the bodies in question.

Generally speaking, symptoms of radiation exposure are first found among those who were exposed to a high dose of radiation. In Chernobyl, thyroid cancer symptoms were first found among children four years after the nuclear accident. At around the same time, the adults who were exposed to a high dose of radiation for example the local residents, firefighters, soldiers and nuclear plant workers began to show symptoms of cancer.

It is said that the number of adult cancer patients started to soar a decade after the nuclear accident. On the contrary, it takes only three years until the onset of leukemia symptoms can be seen in all age groups.

So, I suspect that in Fukushima the number of child thyroid cancer patients will rise soon. The juvenile patients of thyroid cancer are mostly from the areas near the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant. Nonetheless, Fukushima-ken kenmin kenkou chousa kentou iinkai (translated as ‘Prefectural Oversight Committee Meeting for the Fukushima Health Management Survey’) is now taking a step in the wrong direction – it is considering reducing the number of ultrasonic thyroid gland examinees against the local residents’ wishes. Among the child thyroid cancer patients, most of them were living in Fukushima Pref. during the nuclear crisis in 2011. They were exposed to a high dose of radiation then, I suspect.

Recently I have begun to realize some serious changes among the participants in the Kumi-no-sato recuperation program. Many more children than ever have been suffering from ill health: many more came to the recuperation center, bringing their own medicine; some canceled just before departure due to their ill health. In the past, most of the participants recovered their health while they stayed at the center. But nowadays some got sick or remained in poor physical condition so that some of them could not fully enjoy the activities there. More allergy sufferers have been found during health checkups for recuperation programs. Since the Kumi-no-sato recuperation program and facility are not designed for the disabled, the children with developmental disorder cannot be enrolled in the recuperation programs; but we feel more children with these kinds of disorders came to the health checkups

The followings are some of the numerical examples of the reality in Fukushima;

  1. As of June 30, 2016, the number of children diagnosed with thyroid cancer was 135, and those with suspect symptoms were 39; and totaled 174 in all.
  2. Out of 174; 31 (including one with benign cancer) are from the 13 communities (located around 3 – 20km away from the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant); 29 are from Iwaki City (about 40 km away from the plant); and 77 are from the seven communities such as Fukushima City and Koriyama City (about 60 km away from the plant respectively); and 37 are from the other communities. All of these patients are believed to have been exposed to a high dose of radiation released from the stricken plant.
  3. This distribution map of the Fukushima child cancer patients weirdly matches that of Chernobyl. The children suffering from thyroid cancer were, at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, inside the areas that were later designated as forced evacuation zones.

So, I recommend state-sponsored statistics be conducted and their results be publicized. The statistics should be based on the 174 thyroid cancer patients per the under-age population who were in those areas mentioned above at the time of the nuclear disaster.

What triggered the 174 Fukushima children’s thyroid cancer/disorder symptoms is still under consideration. I am afraid it will take many more years to get to the truth in Fukushima, considering the reality in Chernobyl.

I believe the radiation from the nuclear plant badly affected the children’s thyroid glands and that we will get to the truth in the course of time. Some medical science pundits said that the causes of diseases should be diagnosed by social scientific elements, but not by natural scientific ones. As Henry E Sigerist’s* words “medical science is social science” suggest, there is no use only examining cancerous cells to discover the epidemiological cause. Because in this modern society which is so complicatedly constructed, it is almost impossible for us to find out even one pair of examinees sharing the same background/prerequisite with each other. I believe time, society, the public and politics will provide an answer to all these questions.
*Henry E Sigerist: American medical science historian

My advice to the not-so-well-informed Fukushima parents:
Fukushima Medical University should function as a health information hub for the public, but it fails to do so. Nowadays some useful information has begun to come out from elsewhere little by little though; the Fukushima residents are still having difficulty getting enough information about the post-nuclear-disaster health problems. So I would like to give you, the Fukushima parents some pieces of advice in order to keep you and your family healthy:

Please evacuate to an unaffected place as soon as possible. Otherwise, please undergo health checkups together with your children, and go on recuperation trips once in a while. To mothers, please don’t bear all the problems alone; instead, try to speak / share information with others (hopefully) at recuperation centers or places like these. And finally, to the central government, please provide the Fukushima nuclear victims with state-sponsored health checkups and recuperation programs.

The Latest Report from Mothers’ Radiation Lab & Clinic Fukushima
(former group name was Iwaki Radiation Measuring Center NPO “Tarachine”)

Kaori Suzuki
chief director

We are now preparing to open a clinic this spring.
The Chugoku Shimbun reported our activity last autumn. The following is a summary of the article:

A group of Fukushima housewives have successfully identified several radioactive substances in the sea water which they collected off the coast of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant site. The word “tarachine” meaning “mother” was used in the Mothers’ Radiation Lab’s former title. This word, tarachine often appears in old Japanese poems, waka. Like mothers in old Japanese literature, mothers in Fukushima today are affectionate and strong, always trying to do their utmost to protect their children from harm. Eight months after the Fukushima nuclear crisis, a group of local women started measuring radiation levels. Ms. Kaori Suzuki, a mother of two / a yoga instructor, is one of them. The Fukushima nuclear incident has drastically changed everyone and everything.

Ms. Suzuki, the chief director, and other staff members of Mothers’ Radiation Lab have been working on such tasks as thyroid gland exams, whole-body radiation counting, and cesium analysis on samples sent from elsewhere in Fukushima and as far away from Canada! The samples consist of almost everything — even the dust on the filters of vacuum cleaners. They are now ordering organic vegetables directly sent from Hiroshima farmers every week too. Through their activities, they had gradually begun to realize examining gamma rays only was not enough.

Nowadays, they have begun to realize that not only cesium, the most often mentioned radioactive substance, but also iodine, strontium and tritium have leaked into the environment during/after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. How and to what extent have these nuclides affected us? Many citizen activists are now trying to figure out this difficult problem.

On a sunny September morning, ten people, including several members of the Mothers’ Lab staff, boarded a fishing boat to survey the sea water some 1.5km away from the nearby coast of the No.1 power plant. It was their fourth survey since 2015. After about one and a half hours of sailing the rough seas, they reached the survey area, collected 2000ml of sea water, caught four fish, and brought them to their lab for analysis.

Ms. Suzuki said “It is harder to observe sea water than things on the ground. We keep analyzing, from the point of view of the local citizens, how the sea water near the crippled plant has been changing.” Last year they found a minute quantity of tritium in the sample sea water. Periodically they update the findings on their web site.

What’s amazing is their 35 million-yen ($350,000) beta rays radiation measuring lab where the highly-sensitive radiation measuring instrument is installed! Prof. Hikaru Amano, in charge of the laboratory operation, picked up a bowl of fish powder and said “We must respond to the local citizens’ earnest wishes.” The fish powder, one of the items sent from inquirers, would soon be analyzed by his method of high-speed/high-accuracy radiation measuring system. This breakthrough ‘tarachine’ method was publicized in an English science journal.

To analyze beta-rays-emitting nuclides such as strontium and tritium requires time as well as expertise. Unlike many other citizen groups, the Mothers’ Lab is Japan’s only entity that is capable of analyzing not only gamma rays but also beta rays.

They once asked a national institution to examine beta rays in samples. The institution charged as much as \200,000 ($2,000) for an analysis; so they withdrew their inquiry. Ms. Suzuki asked herself then, “We should not say we can’t. How can we overcome this obstacle? So we racked our brains for a solution.” At last they managed to collect the startup money for their project thanks to donors and citizen activist groups. And they were lucky to come across Prof. Amano, a specialist in radioactive material analysis. Now they are providing beta-rays analysis service at the amazingly low price of \3,000 ($30).

“Are food, water and soil really safe? I wish I could get to the truth. These concerns that I have are common not only with the local fishermen but also with all Fukushima citizens, I believe,” Ms. Suzuki firmly said.

from the September 23, 2016 Chugoku Shimbun article titled “Grey zone — the risk of low level radiation exposure — Chapter 6th Reconsideration of the Fukushima nuclear crisis (part 1) — About child thyroid gland analysis”

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