JAPAN | Nuclear crisis causes drop in private kindergarten attendance

Posted on August 4, 2011

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JAPAN | YOMIURI SHIMBUN | 4 August 2011

FUKUSHIMA–About 2,300 children enrolled at private kindergartens in Fukushima Prefecture have stopped attending or been evacuated on fears stemming from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant crisis, according to a survey.

The figure represents about 10 percent of the 19,193 children enrolled in private kindergartens in the prefecture.

The survey, the first undertaken on preschool children affected by the ongoing nuclear crisis stemming from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, was conducted by Fukushima-ken Zen-shiritsu Yochien Kyokai, an association of all the private kindergartens in the prefecture.

On July 26, the kindergartens affected by drops in attendance requested through the association that Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the troubled nuclear plant, pay about 8 billion yen in compensation for losses of income resulting from reduced service charges, costs spent on decontaminating premises and other measures to cope with the nuclear crisis, such as purchasing radiation dosimeters.

According to the survey, about 2,300 children had stopped attending private kindergartens or transferred to other kindergartens as of May 19. About 800 of those did so because they lived within the designated no-entry zone or emergency evacuation preparation zones around the plant.

The 2,300 children include 589 in Iwaki, 581 in Koriyama, 215 in Fukushima and other municipalities in the northern part of Fukushima Prefecture; 95 in Sukagawa and other southern municipalities of the prefecture; and 18 children in the Aizu area, located about 100 kilometers west of the nuclear plant.

Of the 2,300 children, about 300 were transferred to other kindergartens in the prefecture in areas where radiation readings are relatively low.

The remaining 2,000 children are believed to have been moved out of the prefecture or pulled out of attending kindergarten, according to the association.

Radiation readings in some cities of the affected kindergartens are below 3.8 microsieverts per hour, the government-set threshold that restricts childrens from doing outdoor activities. As of Tuesday afternoon, in the city of Fukushima, readings were 1.14 microsieverts; in the city of Koriyama, readings were 1.03 microsieverts.

The kindergartens affected by drops in attendance have taken measures such as removing contaminated soil from their yards and purchasing air conditioners to help children stay active indoors.

In Koriyama, 670 children had left, stopped attending or transferred as of July 1. The association is conducting additional surveys.

Yoshihiro Moriai, head secretariat of the association, said, “Many parents or guardians complain about radiation fears, even though readings stand below the level set by the education ministry that restricts outdoor activities.”

The Fukushima prefectural government also has been conducting surveys on the 32,884 children enrolled in day care centers in the prefecture as of April last year.

“Due to the earthquake and nuclear accident, the number of children at day care centers has been decreasing,” a prefectural official said.

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