Testimony by a mother with two daughters and a grade-school age son who is the youngest.
I was born and raised in Fukushima Prefecture. I was living in Fukushima at the time of Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear accident. This summer, I decided to voluntarily evacuate to Yamanashi Prefecture due to health issues experienced by me as well as my children. I would like to describe how I came about deciding to evacuate and how things changed after the evacuation.
At the time of the earthquake and tsunami, the lifeline was disrupted. In order to obtain food and necessary goods, my family walked to a store we would normally drive to. We had to wait in line for hours to shop. The news of the nuclear accident came in the midst of it. I still remember how it was very hard for me and my children to breathe due to strange smell and difficulty taking a breath.
Every day the government and specialists said on TV, “There is no worry.” and “There is no immediate health effect.” Despite feeling anxious, I took those words as is, and we ate local vegetables and drank tap water.
My children had restrictions on outside activities at school. They could not play outside, and those were difficult days. We were just living a day-to-day life, and I was too busy with work and didn’t have time to research radiation and radiation exposure. Time went by, and there was a thyroid ultrasound examination as part of Fukushima Health Management Survey one year after the accident.
When the results came in mail. Two children who were examined both had nodules and were classified as “A2,” and “No need for a follow-up until the examination in two years.” I was in shock.
There were no ultrasound images, and I had no idea what kind of condition they were in. It was just a piece of paper, and I was full of mistrust.
I thought about evacuating from Fukushima then, but voluntary evacuation was not guaranteed to get financially compensated. As a single mother living with my parents, I had no courage or money to leave home to support my children, so I gave up.
I wanted to get thyroid ultrasound examinations on my own, but I had been told “No local hospital would conduct thyroid examinations.” Time simply passed by while my worries continued.
When the new year came, I tried to get my children life insurance policy as I thought “anything could happen from now on.” I reported the thyroid ultrasound examination results in the application form, and I was told later on that they were “unable to attach any special policy regarding cancer.” I asked for reevaluation and managed to get policies, but this experience made me realize that “The fact that the insurance company came up with such a result is because they decided the (cancer) risk was that high.” I was worried and tormented, and this made me begin to collect information regarding radiation and radiation exposure.
Later on I found a hospital that would conduct thyroid ultrasound examination. We all underwent the examination including the daughter who did not qualify for the thyroid examination by Fukushima Health Management Survey, and it turns out we all had thyroid cysts which were recommended to be followed up every 6 months.
I couldn’t trust the whole body counter (WBC) examination conducted by Fukushima City or Fukushima Prefecture, we were tested by a non-profit organization. All of us had previous WBC test results below the detectable limit, but two of the children had cesium 137 six months later. I had no idea what to do. I cried every day, hiding from my children.
From that time on, I began to have dry coughs of unknown etiology. When I went to a hospital, I was told “An increasing number of people had the same symptom.” As my cough would subside during a convalescent stay outside Fukushima Prefecture, I asked the doctor, “Do you think this is the effect of radiation?” I was simply told, “We have no such reports, so we don’t know.”
My son in grade school began to complain of bone pain in the sole of his feet. Furthermore, many others around us, at all ages, also complained of bone pain in the soles of their feet.
If we evacuate outside Fukushima Prefecture, can we make a living under such conditions? I was so worried about my children getting used to the new schools and a new life that I was not able to make a decision on evacuation. However, I finally decided when someone told me,”Your health and life take precedence over such little matters.” I began to look for a place to evacuate to and eventually settle.
Most of the government-assisted evacuation arrangements had ended at the end of last year. The only option was to rely on a private group making evacuation arrangements. As I wanted to move to the west of Tokyo, we ended up evacuating to Yamanashi Prefecture.
Health of all the family members quickly deteriorated during the period awaiting evacuation. My work had necessitated me to walk around a high-radiation district a lot for several months. My dry cough got so bad to the point of nearly choking in the middle of the night.
Beginning with the soles of my feet, bone pain extended to arms and legs. Parts of arms and legs exposed to air had stingy pain and itchiness. Stuffy throat and phlegm gradually worsened.
There were occasions when a sudden episode of fatigue temporarily immobilized me in a car. The arm bone pain was so bad that I could barely open and close doors. I got so scared that I stopped walking the particular district, and soon the bone pain subsided.
My grade school age son continued to have nausea and headache upon awakening in the morning. When he went to the hospital, they found blood in his urine. His allergies had tripled what he already had. Doctors diagnosed allergies as the potential reason for not feeling well.
However, no medication relieved nausea and headache, and he often had diarrhea. I also began to have continuing nausea, headache and diarrhea.
When we went to a different hospital, we were told the symptoms were psychological, and the etiology remained unknown. At this point, my son’s blood pressure had gone down to 82/50.
My son’s health gradually deteriorated with the dark circles under his eyes expanding. He could barely go to school during the three months before evacuation.
Air dose level immediately outside the house was 0.8 μSv/h, but there were some spots with air dose level of 1.5-2.0 μSv/h inside the property boundaries. Even inside the house it was 0.3-0.5 μSv/h. That was the condition we lived in.
I discussed with the school principal the thyroid issues in my children and the anxiety I felt about my children walking to school through some areas with high radiation, but all I got back was an unbelievable answer, “I think even 5 mSv annually is fine. You can’t live anywhere if you are worked about such matters.
When I checked the air dose levels at school on my own, there were multiple spots that were right around 1.5 μSv/h. However, the school would not release such data.
Then the school swimming pool reopened for swim classes after two years of closure. I was at a loss for word when the release form stated, “Any students who cannot participate in swim classes are required to turn in a medical certificate from a hospital.”
My daughter already had a skin ailment of unknown etiology, which got much worse than ever. My son sensed abnormality of his ill health and sometimes would cry in bed asking, “Something like this never happened to me before. Why is it happening now?”
First week after we evacuated to Yamanashi, we had nausea, headaches, diarrhea and fatigue. We also had badly stuffed throat and phlegm. But gradually the frequency of theses symptoms decreased from every two days, every three days, and so on. I could tell the dark circles under my son’s eye was gradually lightening up and disappearing.
Soon after that, my children and I went to a hospital in Tokyo for thyroid examination. We were surprised to hear the results later, as all of us had results which were totally different from the results in Fukushima
My son continued to have blood in urine. We were told to “take him to a specialist as the blood test results are concerning.” When I took him to a hospital in Yamanashi, he was diagnosed with “autonomic nervous system disorder.”
However, the diagnosis was not convincing enough, considering his symptoms and my own ill health. I came to distrust hospitals, and we quit going to doctors.
About one month after evacuating, my children and I felt much better, and my son was able to go to school.
Although we don’t feel well occasionally, we no longer have abnormal symptoms we used to get in Fukushima. It was only when our health improved that we realized that “we were in a scary place,” and recognized how scary radiation could be.
After we evacuated, we returned home to Fukushima twice. Each time our health worsened.
More people who remained in Fukushima are suffering from the same symptoms as mine. More people have died. There are more children who got leukemia, who began to have bloody noses and who have thyroid cancer. Children with thyroid cancer and their mothers are really suffering. Many parents want “at least children” to survive, but parents need to be healthy to be able to raise the children.
I wish both adults and children would be evacuated from high radiation areas as soon as possible.
Many evacuees, including me, are full of regrets that they didn’t “evacuate sooner.” I don’t want any more people to feel the same way, regretting that they “could not fully protect the children.”
I would like the government and TEPCO to reveal the truth and own up their responsibilities and do what they need to do.
In addition, they should get to know more about how we are burdened with double and triple suffering due to radiation even before our psychological damages are healed.
Thank you for listening.
From the Q/A session:
Question: You said the thyroid examination results in Tokyo were different from those in Fukushima. How so?
Answer: In Fukushima, my son’s thyroid ultrasound examination showed two cysts. When we went to another clinic, it still showed two cysts. When I took him to a hospital in Tokyo, he had not only cysts but also nodules; he was given a diagnosis of thyroid adenomatous goiter. In addition, he had lymphadenopathy with over 10 lymph nodes involved. ”