Fukushima native takes her concerns to Congress

Like many people, Trumbull resident Mariko Bender loves her hometown and misses it when she is away. What makes her even sadder, she said, is that it will likely be decades before she feels it is safe for her to visit.

Bender is from Koriyama, Japan, a city of about 300,000 in the heart of the Fukushima prefecture which in March 2011 was the site of the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

"I remember I was home in Trumbull, and I was watching coverage of the earthquake and tsumami on TV thinking this can't be happening in my Fukushima," Bender said.

In the weeks and months after the disaster, Bender said, her initial shock turned to anger at the situation and the official response from the Japanese government. She has since become active in the Fukushima Network, a support group, and has founded the World Network for Saving Children from Radiation, save-children-from-radiation.org.

Bender said the official reports that the area is now safe are misleading and could result in future suffering. Family members said in the days after the disaster they recorded radiation levels as high as 4.8 millisieverts (mSv) per hour in front of their house. A single exposure to 5,000 mSv will kill 50% of people within a month. A full-body CAT scan exposes patients to a one-time dose of about 10 mSv. Typical daily exposure from the sun and other sources is about 2 mSv per hour.

"The children there are in a very dangerous situation, and my opinion is they should be evacuated," she said. "My wish is that at least the children of Fukushima should be evacuated to a place where they can breathe fresh air."

Schools near the reactor allow children to play outside every day, Bender said, and continue to serve food that has been grown in the area.

"I think as a parent, I need to do something," she said. "The community is so close-knit, I feel those children are my children, too."

Bender recently shared her concerns in a congressional hearing and also got a chance to discuss the matter directly with Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich. In her speech, she said she did not want Fukushima children treated like the survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

"After Hiroshima, scientists were sent in to study them, not to help them," she said. "They wrote a 10,000-page report that the government sealed for decades. I'm worried the same thing is happening now."

The children of Fukushima deserve better than to be treated like the victims of Hiroshima, she said.