MATSUMOTO, Japan —
Like many near the Fukushima plant, Hashimoto routinely measured the radioactivity in her neighborhood. Some spots were a bit high, in a gray area where science is divided about the longtime effects. Children are far more vulnerable to radiation than adults.
The girl's grandparents and her college-age brother find the fretting about radiation ridiculous. But for the 12-year-old herself, the sticking point was her 5-year-old younger brother, who cannot be part of the program, which starts at third grade.
The girl said she was worried she wouldn't be there to watch over the boy, making sure he wore masks and didn't eat local food.
Then the girl started getting nosebleeds and growing pale and lethargic. That may have had nothing to do with radiation, but it made Hashimoto decide to get her out, and her husband relented.
"The low-dose radiation is continuing. There is no precedent. We don't know what effect that will have on our children," Hashimoto said.
So far, 33 children have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer in Fukushima in the last three years among 270,000 checked, 18 years old and under. Thyroid cancer among children is rare at a handful in a million. But some experts say the higher cases are merely a result of more rigorous checking. Also, the surge in thyroid cancer did not surface until four or five years after Chernobyl.
The U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation has concluded that cancer rates won't increase in a discernible way, estimating the risk for thyroid cancer to be for "fewer than 1,000 children."
"The bottom line is: No one knows for sure. What we do know is that the cases of cancer are up, and so naturally we are worried," said Hiroshi Ueki, a former Fukushima resident who moved with his wife and two children and oversees the nonprofit Matsumoto project. It relies heavily on donations; the parents pay 30,000 yen ($300) a month to cover basic living expenses.