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Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

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Taking the initiative: Mothers talk as their children play at a community center in quake-hit Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, in August. Young mothers recently took part in a workshop in Tokyo to learn about the effects of radiation on children's health. KYODO PHOTO

Moms make radiation risks a study


By MAYA KANEKO
Kyodo

Concerned about the possible negative impact of radiation spewed by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant on their children's heath, mothers in their 20s who work as fashion models have begun studying the issue to raise awareness among other moms of their generation.

Representing some 300 members across Japan of the Mamacawa (Cute Mom) Project, which promotes educational activities of young mothers, the models recently took part in study sessions on practical ways to protect their children from the adverse effects of radiation.

They also held talks with an award-winning U.S. film director who has made documentaries about children affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

In a roundtable discussion organized by Kyodo News in November, three of the celebrity moms asked Keisuke Amagasa, a 64-year-old freelance journalist specializing in nuclear power, to provide useful tips on how to select and cook food to ensure their children's safety.

Hitomi Dewa, a 27-year-old mother of two who hails from the city of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, said she is worried about her sister and relatives who still live relatively close to the troubled nuclear plant.

"My sister called the farm ministry to ask it to prevent schools from serving kids milk produced in Fukushima, but an official said such an act would just enrage local farmers. We don't know who to turn to for consultations," said Dewa, who now lives in Yamanashi Prefecture.

"The government keeps saying that consuming food and drinks available on the market won't 'immediately' harm health, but we can't trust this," said the mother of a 5-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl.

Rumi Itabashi, 24, who serves as the leader of the Mamacawa Project, said terms related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster such as "microsievert," a measurement of radiation doses, are "totally incomprehensible" to her.

"I have no clue as to how dangerous the radiation is because it is invisible," she said.

"I am worried as I don't know how much radiation is measured in places I live and commute to, such as Tokyo and Saitama, and how the levels of radiation will change over the next 10 to 20 years."

The Saitama Prefecture native, who has a 3-year-old daughter, said young mothers like her need information that is easy to understand and access.

Saori Suzuki, a 24-year-old mother who lives in Ibaraki Prefecture, said the mothers of her son's elementary school classmates were initially nervous about radiation, making sure windows at their school were closed, but they later lowered their guard as news reports about the nuclear crisis tailed off.

In the roundtable discussion, Amagasa explained to the three that drinking water and water for bathing can now be considered safe because radioactive iodine detected earlier at purification plants has a half-life of only eight days.

He also said radioactive substances that exist on the surface of food can be reduced to one-tenth the level by washing the items carefully.

He also advised them to choose food items from a variety of different production areas to lessen the risk, as the labeling system to indicate a product's origins is still imperfect.

The journalist, who also lectures at universities, told the models to be careful about eating fish caught in the sea near Japan, as over time the amount of radiation that accumulates in the fish will increase. He added that they should check the location of the fishing grounds and radiation levels whenever possible.

Referring to the risks of developing cancer or leukemia from internal exposure to radiation, Amagasa compared the health hazard caused by radiation with the negative impact on health caused by aging or smoking.

"Your DNA has a remedial ability and you get sick only when the self-repair mechanism can't keep up with the rate at which damage occurs," he said.

He said exposure to low-level radiation could slightly increase the chance of developing cancer but warned against being overly concerned about possible health risks.

Following the study session, the mothers, who were basically reassured by Amagasa's explanations, met with film director Maryann De Leo, whose 2003 documentary "Chernobyl Heart" is now being screened in Japan. Her work on children born after the world's worst nuclear disaster won an Academy Award in 2004.

Itabashi, who learned about the Chernobyl accident for the first time after the Fukushima crisis occurred, told De Leo she is eager to study more about radiation.

The director said mothers in areas affected by the 1986 crisis were mentally distressed but did not have support organizations.

"The slogan of the Mamacawa Project is 'If Mom changes, her kids change and their future will change.' We'd like to learn more about radiation and not let our fears get in the way, so as to disseminate information through our blogs to ease concerns of mothers of our generation," the project leader said.



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