A Fukushima Mother’s Story

Yukie Hashimoto | December 19, 2014

Knowledge, empowerment, and future preparedness

I have spent days that felt both long and short these three and half years since the Great East Japan Earthquake.  The experience during these three years was something my family and I have never gone through before.

My hometown is just 50km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The huge earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, and evacuation procedures started for people living within a 30km radius from the power plant, but there was no indication for people living within 50km radius, where my home was.  I was really concerned whether my home was safe or not.

Even within my family, there were different opinions whether to evacuate or not, but we decided to evacuate only my children to my family’s house in the western part of Fukushima.  It was the first evacuation for my children.  When school started in April 2011, my children came back, but I still had a lot of anxiety over highly contaminated food items, school grounds and my children’s daily routes to go to their school.

I’ve thought many times how I can protect my children from radiation exposure.  I kept on asking myself “shall we evacuate and live somewhere else?”  These thoughts were going round and round in my head.

One day, I found an article in one of the community papers which was about Musubiba (a partner of CWS Japan) and their work on supporting evacuees from nuclear disaster.  Through this encounter, I’ve looked around to find similar minded mothers and joined some members at Café Plus Kooriyama (a meeting place for mothers with concerns about radiation exposure). I then became part of various workshops and exchange of counseling information.

To this gathering, we invited Wataru Iwata from Citizen-Scientist International Symposium on Radiation Protection (another partner of CWS Japan) to hold a lecture on “Reminding, knowing and asking about radiation.”  Participants were from local areas, in and outside of Fukushima prefecture, and also from foreign country.

We then created a guideline for community members together with Mimisuma and Iwata in the form of a questions and answers style, on basic knowledge and risks of radiation.  The main topic among this was “how we face the constant low dose exposure to radiation?”

Some of the things I learnt were, there are three principles to protection from radiation, which are 1). Ensuring enough distance from radioactive source; 2). Shorten the time spent near the radioactive source; and 3). Shield the space between humans and the radioactive source.   I’ve also learnt the importance of recording the health conditions of my family and myself, and how evacuation/migration/recuperation initiatives are effective means to improve one’s deteriorating health condition.

After the lecture, there were opportunities to exchange information, concerns and knowledge with other participants.  This networking opportunity has really prompted us to think “how we can protect ourselves.”  We are planning to hold a similar event soon based on the result of survey questionnaire that we have conducted.