FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – Angry parents of children in Japan's Fukushima city marched along with hundreds of people on Sunday to demand protection for their children from radiation more than three months after a massive quake and tsunami triggered the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.
"We want our lives back, we want to live like before the quake in happy families," said Hiroko Sato who marched in heavy rain with her nephews, age 3 and 7, next to banners saying "No Nukes" and "One Fukushima is Enough." "My baby was born two weeks before the nuclear accident and I don't feed her with my milk as I'm afraid I was exposed to too much radiation," said Sato.
Three reactors went into meltdown after the earthquake hit the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in northeastern Japan on March 11, forcing 80,000 residents to evacuate from its vicinity as engineers battled radiation leaks, hydrogen explosions and overheating fuel rods.
The parents have felt emboldened since May, when mass protests led to the government lowering the limit for radiation exposure for children at schools and to offer money for schools to remove topsoil in playgrounds with too much radiation.
But the protesters, who included activists and members of groups from Tokyo, said the government had not done enough.
"They still haven't removed the topsoil at the majority of grounds, and didn't help cleaning up the school buildings," said Akiko Murakami, a mother of four and volunteer at the "Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation."
It is one of many self-help citizen groups near the plant in Fukushima, where many areas are exposed to around 13 or more millisieverts of radiation a year, about 6.5 times natural background radiation levels, a city survey showed.
According to the survey, as many as 182 places showed readings close to or above the official annual exposure limit of 20 millisieverts per year.
The International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends that governments set radiation exposure targets at the lower end of the 1-20 millisievert per year range.
Local governments now need to provide reports of radiation, while most schools in Fukushima are equipped with dosimeters and teachers have to record hourly radiation readings to help create a contamination map. Anxiety over health risks associated with prolonged stay in a contaminated area is shared by mothers who did not take part in Sunday's rally.
"I just found out that a place near my house was designated a 'radiation hotspot' and now I'm seriously thinking about leaving the city," said Noriko Ouchi, mother of a 4-year-old daughter.
"We are exhausted. We have to look at every food item we eat, we only use bottled water for cooking, and on top of that every day we confront this nagging dilemma whether it's really safe for our children to stay in Fukushima or not," she said.
The Fukushima disaster has triggered worries over the safety of other nuclear power plants in Japan.
On Sunday, government officials held a live TV talk show with residents in Saga, southern Japan, home to the 36-year-old Genkai plant, to convince them that safety measures were in place for a restart of reactors now shut for maintenance.
Reactors at the Genkai plant had been considered among the likeliest candidates for the first idled reactors in Japan to restart after the Fukushima disaster as electricity shortages loom for the summer, but residents remained worried.
"I couldn't keep up with the complex terminology. I couldn't understand what they were saying, so I'm not convinced (over safety)," said a housewife, one of just seven residents selected for the program. Dozens protested against nuclear power outside the venue.
(Additional reporting by Chisa Fujioka in Tokyo; Editing by Sugita Katyal)