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Japan raises permissible radiation levels for -

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Japan raises permissible radiation levels for children

Mark Willacy reported this story on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 08:21:00

PETER CAVE: Outraged Japanese parents have held a rowdy demonstration outside the Education
Ministry in Tokyo, to protest against the government's decision to weaken nuclear safety standards
in schools.

Under the new guidelines, Japanese children can now be exposed to 20 times more radiation than was
previously permissible.

The government argues the new rules are essential to keeping schools in the Fukushima region from
being forced to close.

As our North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy reports from Tokyo.

(Sounds of protest)

MARK WILLACY: They came from radiation zone of Fukushima to the doors of the Education Ministry in
Tokyo - hundreds of parents, furious that the government will now allow school children to be
exposed to 20 times more radiation than was allowed before the nuclear disaster.

(Sound of Sanako Kaji speaking)

"While it may perhaps be safe to raise the exposure limit from one millisievert to 20 millisieverts
per year, it doesn't seem to be the case that the people raising that limit would allow their own
children to go and play in those areas," says Fukushima resident, Sanako Kaji.

Like a sacrificial offering to an angry mob, an Education Ministry official was bundled outside to
speak to the demonstrators, although he had very little to offer them at all.

(Sound of ministry official speaking)

"The current radiation levels for schools in Fukushima pose no health risks to kids at all," says
the ministry official. "The ministry does agree that it should take every measure possible to lower
radiation levels at schools," he says.

The hapless official's words only seemed to anger the protestors even more.

The decision to increase the acceptable safety level to 20 millisieverts a year means Japanese
children are now allowed to be exposed to as much radiation as a German nuclear worker.

The new regulation has provoked outrage from within the government, with the prime minister's chief
scientific advisor resigning in protest.

But the government says it had no choice but to raise the legal exposure limit, saying about
three-quarters of the schools in Fukushima have radiation levels above the old safety level of one
millisievert. Meaning if they didn't increase the maximum allowable dose of radiation, the vast
majority of schools would have to close, putting the education of hundreds of thousands of children
on hold.

For the protestors, the meltdown at Fukushima is an ominous warning that the government must heed.

(Sound of Tsutomu Une speaking)

"This is an opportunity to get rid of nuclear energy and to switch to renewable energy," says
Tsutomu Une. "If we let this chance pass us by we're wasting all the sacrifices made by the victims
of this disaster," he says.

According to the US based Nobel Prize winning group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the new
limits mean exposed children now have a one in 200 risk of getting cancer, compared with a one in
500 risk for adults.

This is Mark Willacy in Tokyo for AM.