Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
The fear of cancer from radiation exposure has led to a new set of problems for young families.
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.
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)