Near Fukushima, a Generation of Kids Who Don't Play Outside

The fear of cancer from radiation exposure has led to a new set of problems for young families.

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Reuters

This week marks three years since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Shortly after the power plant's triple meltdown (which caused radiation to seep into the land and sea, leading Japan's government to establish a 19-mile "no-go zone"), officials in the city of Koriyama, about a 2-hour drive from the power plant, recommended limiting the amount of time children spend outside each day.

The youngest children, up to age two, were encouraged to spend no more than 15 minutes outside per day, while 3-to-5 year-olds were told to spend no more than half an hour. Last October, these limits were lifted, but according to Reuters, that doesn't mean the city's playgrounds (equipped with Geiger counters) are busy again. Thanks to a combination of formed habits and concerned parents, Kindergartens and nursery schools are still keeping their children inside, leading to a different range of health issues.

The Fukushima prefecture's Board of Education found in its annual survey that local children now weigh more than the national average in virtually every age group. Mitsuhiro Hiraguri, a director of a Koriyama kindergarten, tells Reuters, "there's a lot more children who aren't all that alert in their response to things. They aren't motivated to do anything."

While new health concerns related to inactivity are increasingly of concern, the fear of cancer remains despite a United Nations report last May that said cancer rates are not expected to rise as a result of the disaster. The Guardian reports that "a significant rise" in thyroid cancer cases among children and young adults has been noticed by medical authorities in the Fukushima prefecture. But many experts argue that the results are most likely because of the high amounts of testing and increasingly sophisticated ultrasound equipment used to detect lesions.

It'll be difficult to assure people living near Fukushima that the environment is safe anytime soon. Just last month, approximately 100 tons of radioactive water leaked out of the power plant, the worst leak in six months. In nearby cities like Koriyama, lingering government mistrust is most poignantly found through those empty, Geiger counter-equipped playgrounds.

A Geiger counter, measuring a radiation level of 0.442 microsievert per hour, is seen at a park in Koriyama, west of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Fukushima prefecture February 27, 2014. (REUTERS/Toru Hanai) 
A man uses a roller near a Geiger counter, measuring a radiation level of 0.207 microsievert per hour, during nuclear radiation decontamination work at a park in Koriyama, west of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Fukushima prefecture February 27, 2014. (REUTERS/Toru Hanai) 
A girl runs past a geiger counter, measuring a radiation level of 0.122 microsievert per hour, upon her arrival at the Emporium kindergarten in Koriyama, west of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Fukushima prefecture February 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Toru Hanai) 
A child walks past a geiger counter, measuring a radiation level of 0.162 microsievert per hour, at a square in front of Koriyama Station in Koriyama, west of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Fukushima prefecture March 1, 2014. (REUTERS/Toru Hanai) 
Children play at an indoor sand pit of the Emporium kindergarten in Koriyama, west of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Fukushima prefecture February 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Toru Hanai) 
Four-year-old Iori Hiyama rides a tricycle at an indoor playground which was built for children and parents who refrain from playing outside because of concerns about nuclear radiation in Koriyama, west of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Fukushima prefecture February 27, 2014. (REUTERS/Toru Hanai) 

Top image: Children play at an indoor sand pit of the Emporium kindergarten in Koriyama, west of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Fukushima prefecture February 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Toru Hanai) 

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