Fukushima Radiation Stunts Growth

Eight months on from the nuclear meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima plant the long-term cancer risks for children are in the spotlight, but a new study has highlighted more immediate problems.

Thousands of children living in the fallout zone are confined indoors because of radiation fears, and doctors worry they are not growing at a sufficient rate.

“The kids just can’t play in the dirt or enjoy nature,” teacher Junko Akanuma said. “They may look cheerful enough but they are building up tremendous amounts of stress inside.”

According to doctors stress in children can lead to physical problems.

Shintaro Kikuchi is a paediatrician who has been tracking the weight of 250 kindergarten children in Koriyama, less than 60 kilometres from the crippled nuclear plant.

His findings are startling. They show there was an average weight gain of 0.8 of a kilogram over the past year.

The year before children in the same age group put on 3.1 kilograms, or nearly four times as much weight.

“We can blame this low-growth rate on the disruption to hormone production caused by stress” Dr Kikuchi said.

Audio: Children’s growth stunted in shadow of Fukushima meltdown (PM)
“Kids who can’t get enough outdoor exercise tend to lose their appetite and they may then not get enough protein to build up their muscles.”

One of the children surveyed by Dr Kikuchi is Natsumi Suzuki.

Since the nuclear meltdowns she has not been allowed to play outside. Instead she spends most of her inside with her colouring in set.

“I want to play in the park and to ride the swings too. To be outside,” she said.

Natsumi has only put on half a kilogram in the eight months since the Fukushima disaster and her mother is worried.

“I hardly ever hear Natsumi say she’s hungry any more” she said. “My daughter is eating less. She used to eat a lot after playing outside.”

Until all the radioactive hotspots are found and cleaned up, most parents in Koriyama will continue to ban their young children from playing outside.

So mayor Masao Hara has come up with a solution of sorts, announcing the construction of a 1,900-square-metre indoor play centre.

“Let’s call it a Christmas present” he said.

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