In this 2 April 2013 photo, Toshio Yanagihara, one of the lawyers representing 14 children from Fukushima who started a legal battle for the right to live free of radiation, holds a leaflet urging quick action be taken to protect children from radiation during a press conference in Tokyo. Yanagihara criticized the government as appearing more worried about a population exodus than in saving the children. Photo: Yuri Kageyama / AP PhotoBy Yuri Kageyama
14 April 2013

TOKYO (Associated Press) – Their demand: The right to live free of radiation. The plaintiffs who started the legal battle: 14 children.

A Japanese appeals court is expected to rule soon on this unusual lawsuit, filed on behalf of the children by their parents and anti-nuclear activists in June 2011 in a district court in Fukushima city, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) west of the crippled nuclear plant that spewed radiation when a massive earthquake and tsunami hit it more than two years ago.

The lawsuit argues that Koriyama, a city of 330,000, should evacuate its children to an area where radiation levels are no higher than natural background levels in the rest of Japan, or about 1 millisievert annual exposure.

In a culture that frowns upon challenging the authorities, the lawsuit highlights the rift in public opinion created by the baffling range in experts' views on the health impact of low dose radiation. Although some experts say there is no need for children to be evacuated, parents are worried about the long-term impact on their children, who are more vulnerable to radiation than adults. Consuming contaminated food and water are additional risks.

After the Fukushima accident, the world's worst since Chernobyl, Japan set an annual exposure limit of 20 millisieverts for determining whether people can live in an area or not. The average radiation for Koriyama is far below this cutoff point, but some "hot spots" around the city are above that level.

"This is the level at which there are no major effects on health and people can live there," said Keita Kawamori, an official with the Japanese Cabinet Office. "Academic experts decided this was the safe level."

A prominent medical doctor in charge of health safety in Fukushima has repeatedly urged calm, noting damage is measurable only at annual exposure of 100 millisieverts, or 100 times the normal level, and higher.

A lower court rejected the lawsuit's demands in a December 2011 decision, saying radiation had not reached the 100-millisievert cutoff. The International Commission on Radiological Protection, the academic organization on health and radiation, says risks decline with a drop exposure, but does not believe there is a cutoff below which there is no risk.

An appeal filed is still before Sendai High Court in nearby Miyagi Prefecture more than a year later. […]

Toshio Yanagihara, one of the lawyers, criticized the government as appearing more worried about a population exodus than in saving the children.

"I don't understand why an economic power like Japan won't evacuate the children — something even the fascist government did during World War II," he said, referring to the mass evacuation of children during the 1940s to avoid air bombings. "This is child abuse."

After Chernobyl, thousands of children got thyroid cancer. Some medical experts say leukemia, heart failure and other diseases that followed may be linked to radiation. […]

"Why is Japan, our Fukushima, about to repeat the mistakes of Chernobyl?" wrote a mother of one of the children in a statement submitted to the court. "Isn't it up to us adults to protect our children?" [more]

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Blog for the evacuation lawsuit: http://fukushima-evacuation-e.blogspot.jp/

Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at www.twitter.com/yurikageyama

Japan lawsuit seeks evacuation of children out of Fukushima radiation zone after nuke disaster

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