19-Year-Old Fukushima Woman Says, "Please Let Me Be the One to Decide on My Own Life."

This is a translation of an interview article posted online on August 30, 2014, by a Japanese freelance journalist, Hiroki Suzuki. Suzuki runs a site called, "Tami no Koe Shimbun," or "People's Voice Newspaper," where he posts interviews of various people in Fukushima. The article was translated with permissions from Suzuki and the interviewee.

Tami no Koe Shimbun (People’s Voice Newspaper)

Let’s protect children from radiation exposure. Let’s protect people. That’s why I keep writing.

“Please let me be the one to decide on my own life.” A 19-year-old Date City woman talks about “nuclear accident,” “radiation exposure,” and “evacuation.”

I understand there is a danger of radiation exposure. I learned about dangers of nuclear power plant. But I don’t want to destroy my current life.... A 19-year-old college preparatory school student from Date City, Fukushima Prefecture, talked about how she really felt now that a little over three years have passed since the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power accident. Her thyroid examination result showed “A2.” Meanwhile, there is a sense of security, “It might be okay.” from the fact that it has been three years. Saying “I want to make a decision on my life myself,” she continues to live in Date City while taking steps towards her dream of becoming a space engineer.

【Afraid of “Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Power】

March 11, 2011. It was the day of her graduation from junior high school. 

After coming home, she was relaxing on the second floor of her house when severe shaking began. All she could do was protect her own body under the table. She managed to close the curtains for fear of window glass breaking, but there was nothing else she was able to do. A tea cup fell and hit her on the buttock. When she collected her senses, she saw the room was in total destruction. 

As the aftershocks continued periodically, she went to pick up her younger brother with her father. Six years younger than her, he was in the third grade at the time. As he began to walk home with his father and sister, he started to cry. He was so scared when the earthquake happened. He was so afraid that he wanted to cry. But he held back his tears as he tried to cheer up his classmates so they wouldn’t cry.

There was no space in her house where they could lie down. It was the middle of winter in Fukushima. Snow began falling. It was bone cold. They ended up spending two nights in an unused vinyl green house. Lifeline such as electricity and water remained severed. Her worried mother sent the children to her parents’ house in Iisaka Town, Fukushima City. When she managed to have the cell phone fully charged, it showed multiple dubious chain e-mails. She said, “We couldn’t watch TV at all. Radio was only turned on occasionally. We had no idea there were serious events happening in Hamadori, let alone the nuclear power plant exploded…”

She came to realize there was something happening when she was playing soccer with her younger brother. Her aunt said, “There is something seriously wrong with the nuclear power plant.”

“It is often said, ‘Earthquake, thunder, fire, and father.’ I thought about which one is really the most frightening. You can prevent damages from thunder and fire. My father is scary when he is angry (laugh), but earthquake and tsunami, and nuclear power, are the most frightening.” 

The “frightening” incident actually happened. Soon, radiation levels within Date City exceed 20 μSv/h.

【Doubts About “Safety Promotion” at an Early Age】

She has been interested in nuclear power plants since in grade school. School textbooks only showed merits of nuclear power plants, but she says, “I was lucky to have a teacher who also taught us risks of nuclear power plants.” At the time, there were always events held in Fukushima City during summer breaks for “safety promotion.” She went to them every summer, but she never totally believed them. In the ninth grade, one of the summer homework assignments was to collect and summarize newspaper articles. You choose a theme, collect related articles, and summarize them. She chose “pluthermal, or plutonium-thermal use” as her theme. Recycling of uranium and plutonium collected during the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. She even read a book about it, and the more she dug into it, the more doubtful she became. She said “Only safety was emphasized. Why are they doing ‘safety promotion’?”

Therefore, it was natural that she began to seal all windows when returning home, in an attempt to protect her family from radiation, to the point where her father said, “Is all that really necessary?” She was pre admitted to high school during the first semester, so she didn’t have to go to the prefectural high school entrance examination result announcement which was held despite high radiation levels. However, she had to go and register for high school entrance, which meant she had to physically go to the prefectural high school she was admitted into. She covered herself with a mask and a muffler, minimizing skin exposure, and she washed her face carefully upon returning home. Even with all the precaution taken, the result of her thyroid ultrasound examination, done in January 2012, nine months after the high school began, was “A2” (nodules equal to or smaller than 5 mm or cysts equal to or smaller than 20 mm).

“I am worried if my future children will be affected when I get married and have babies.”

However, even three-plus years after the accident, she still hasn’t evacuated out of Fukushima Prefecture. Even when she might be admitted to a university, she is thinking about commuting from home. Why? She had conflicts which appeared to be shared with many other Fukushima residents. 


【I Want To Be the One to Decide on My Own Life】

“As radiation is colorless and invisible, I may not be connecting it with risk to my body… Also, although the air dose level in Date City was as high as 20 μSv/h immediately after the accident, I haven’t had any health effects. That makes me think maybe I will be okay.”

In the last 3 years, her parents tried various means of avoiding radiation exposure to protect her. She knows it will be difficult to evacuate out of Fukushima Prefecture for a financial reason and also because of caring for her ill grandparent. As her parents have tried hard, she thinks her family might be more protected than the others. She also feels anxious and lonely about living alone. 

She thought about it for a bit, and announced, “I was accepted into a particular high school I wanted to get into, in order to be closer to what I want to do in the future. I am afraid of destroying what I have by evacuating. Also, it’s my own life. I should be the one to decide.”

Her dream is to become a space engineer. She says with a smile, “I want to develop an engine for a space probe.” Two years ago she participated in a overnight learning camp at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. She heard stories from an astronaut, Naoko Yamazaki. In order to fulfill her dream, she is studying to get into Tohoku University School of Engineering. “But I haven’t given up my other dream of becoming a dancer. I want to do both.” This year, she didn’t do well on the college entrance examination due to an illness. She commutes to a college preparatory school in Sendai, aiming to gain acceptance into Tohoku University next spring. 

“What people think about radiation exposure and evacuation isn’t black and white. It might be gray close to being white, or gray close to being black. Perhaps another color would blend in. Many people think of radiation the same as air, but some people are working very hard to reduce the risk. I would like people outside Fukushima Prefecture to understand that.”

Two and a half year since the last examination, she had a repeat thyroid ultrasound examination at Fukushima Medical University. After the ultrasound examination, she said, “I saw cysts on the monitor.”

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