updated 23 Dec 2011, 03:22
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Wed, Oct 19, 2011
Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN
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Sending kids to school becomes heartwrenching decision
by Naoki Taruta

MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima - It was back to school Monday for five primary and middle schools for the first time since emergency evacuation preparation zones were opened for parts of Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, and Hisae Suzuki had a special request. "Could you drive the kids to school?" she asked her 65-year-old mother.

A nurse at a hospital in Minami-Soma, Suzuki, 36, worked the night shift the previous day. She plans to drive her three sons to and from Haramachi Daiichi Primary School except for six or seven times a month when she has to work night shifts.

Although emergency evacuation preparation zones created in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have been opened, parents like Suzuki remain worried about their children's exposure to excessive radiation.

All five schools are located in Minami-Soma's Haramachi district, which was inside the emergency evacuation preparation zone that covered all or part of five municipalities in the prefecture.

The Suzukis, however, still live at emergency rental housing in Soma available to evacuees after the March 11 disaster, even though the emergency evacuation preparation zone in Minami-Soma was dissolved on Sept. 30.

"Due to concerns over radiation exposure, we won't return to our house unless we can confirm it's safe," Suzuki said.

She is considering sending her eldest son, sixth-grader Shigeyuki, 12, to a middle school in Soma- instead of a school near their original house -in April next year after he graduates from primary school.

Whether or not her children can play their favorite sport, baseball, in Haramachi, will factor into the decision.

However, her two younger sons--fourth-grader Yusuke, 9, and second-grader Kiyonori, 8--have been urging Suzuki to return to Haramachi, saying, "All our friends are there."

"I'd like my sons to have more freedom to do the things they like," Suzuki said. "I know we shouldn't stay at the [Soma] shelter for too long."

Meanwhile, Reiko Sato, 41, whose family evacuated from Minami-Soma to Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture, decided not to allow two of her children to return to Haramachi Daiichi Primary School when it reopened.

She said she would decide on the timing "after taking [the district's] decontamination efforts into account." Her youngest child, Hiromu, is only 4 years old, and Sato's main priority is to avoid any future health risks to her children posed by excessive radiation.

Her husband, Hidemasa, 41, spends five days a week in Minami-Soma working at his used car sales and real-estate rental businesses.

The couple's children--eldest son Taiko, 12, and daughter Haru, 9 -are adjusting to primary school in Yonezawa, but sometimes become homesick.

Sato therefore takes the children to play baseball in the Soma district on weekends when other children from Haramachi are there.

"Of course I'm worried about radiation exposure," Taiko said, "but I want to attend middle school in Haramachi."

Yet the sixth-grader's mother had a more immediate concern: "I'm wondering where his primary school graduation ceremony [in March] will take place -Minami-Soma or Yonezawa."


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