Japan makes a start on sharing lessons from nuclear crisis

Japan makes a start on sharing lessons from nuclear crisis
Norio Kimura, 49, who lost his father, wife and daughter in the tsunami, walks to where his house used to stand before it was washed away by massive waves.

SENDAI, Japan - When professional boxer and model Tomomi Takano heard that children in Japan's Fukushima prefecture were becoming unfit and overweight as the 2011 nuclear crisis there limited the time they could play outside, she decided to use her skills to help.

Early this month, the glamorous 27-year-old taught some 200 junior high school students in the village of Otama an indoor workout based on boxing moves.

"They really concentrated on the boxing and tried hard," she said at a recent UN conference on disasters in the northeastern city of Sendai. The boxer hopes to run more sessions in Fukushima to improve children's agility and provide an outlet for their emotions.

Takano and civil society activists in Sendai said they wanted to communicate to the rest of the world the human impacts of the crisis sparked when a huge earthquake and tsunami caused nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to melt down four years ago.

The nuclear disaster was a sensitive subject at the UN summit, where 187 governments adopted a new 15-year plan to reduce the risk of disasters around the world.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made only passing reference to it in his opening speech at the conference. But groups representing citizens hit by the nuclear emergency acknowledged that tentative progress was being made in Sendai.

Masaaki Ohashi, the co-chair of JCC2015, a coalition of humanitarian NGOs formed ahead of the summit, praised the new Sendai disaster reduction framework for stating clearly that it applies to man-made and technological hazards - which covers nuclear power - as well as natural hazards.

He and others also noted the importance of an official presentation made at the conference about the lessons learned from the Fukushima crisis.

"The Japanese government, represented by the Cabinet Office, has clearly indicated that they are breaking away from the 'safety' myth around nuclear power plants, so we're seeing a step forward," said Takeshi Komino, general secretary of aid agency CWS Japan.

At a session on technological hazards, which also covered the Chernobyl nuclear accident, Tetsuya Yamamoto, deputy director general of Japan's Nuclear Disaster Management Bureau, said the government was strengthening plans both to prevent and to respond to nuclear emergencies.

"Our preparedness (for Fukushima) was totally inefficient - we assumed the incident would affect a 10 km radius from the plant, but it was more than 30 km," he said.

The operation to evacuate people living in the danger zone was confused and not enough support was provided, he said. Failings meant that some hospital patients died at evacuation centres, he noted.

A disaster prevention and evacuation plan has since been drawn up for 550,000 people, Yamamoto said. The government is continuing with its decontamination work, and is monitoring health in Fukushima, offering tests for thyroid cancer to those aged 18 and under, he added.

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