A leaflet distributed by the Reconstruction Agency for junior and senior high school students on the three topics regarding tainted water treated by the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) is shown at the Miyagi prefectural government office on Feb. 21. (Ryuichiro Fukuoka)

March 7, 2022

Complaints from educators have prompted some municipalities in coastal areas of the Tohoku region to stop schools from handing out government fliers to students or retrieve distributed ones that tout the safety of releasing treated water from a crippled nuclear plant into the ocean. 

The government sent a total of 2.3 million booklets directly to elementary, junior and senior high schools across the nation in December in an effort to prevent reputational damage caused by the planned water discharge. 

The school staffers say the leaflets are unilaterally imposing the central government’s views on children. 

“There are both arguments for and against the processed water discharge program, but the materials impose the thought that it is safe on naive children in a one-sided manner,” said a principal of an elementary school in Miyagi Prefecture who described the fliers as “totally unacceptable” in the disaster-ravaged region. 

The processed water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is scheduled to be released into the sea in spring next year, but the plan is facing strong local opposition.

One of the two booklets in question targets elementary school students with the aim of promoting recovery from the nuclear crisis by instructing them on the disaster triggered by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

It was developed by the economy ministry’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

The other was worked out by the Reconstruction Agency to educate junior and senior high school students on the three topics over contaminated water treated with the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS).

They arrived directly in schools along with supplementary textbooks of the education ministry on radiation.

The handbook for elementary school pupils describes the processed water as “so safe that people’s eating or drinking it would pose no health problems.”

Referring to a radioactive substance called tritium in the treated water, the leaflet for high schools states there “would be no health effects” and that kind of water “has already been discharged in oceans all over the world.”

A representative of the Reconstruction Agency said its material was distributed as “supplementary data to provide scientific explanations to prevent the spread of groundless rumors that cause reputational damage.”

Mitsunori Fukuda, a senior economy ministry official, said the leaflets are aimed at providing accurate information about the water discharge based on scientific evidence to minimize possible reputational damage. 

“The ministry has no intention of requiring using the leaflets (at schools) and it is up to local governments to decide how to use them,” said Fukuda, director of the Nuclear Accident Response Office. 

The central government in April last year announced a plan to release water contaminated in the Fukushima nuclear crisis into the sea in spring 2023 after removing most radioactive substances in it and diluting it with seawater.

Suffering negative effects of groundless rumors of contaminated products in the aftermath of the 2011 tremor, local fisheries associations are resolutely opposing the program. Miyagi Prefecture in November demanded the state “research disposal options other than oceanic discharge.”

On Feb. 21, four opposition parliamentary groups in the prefectural assembly submitted a request to the prefecture’s educational board to stop the fliers from reaching students.

“Though the issue is still being discussed, the materials convey information directly to children while presupposing the sea release,” said Miyuki Yusa, chair of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan’s caucus in the assembly.

Yusa insisted that concerns about the safety of treated contaminated water have yet to be dispelled.

Akiyo Ito, head of the secretariat of the prefectural education board, said the board is not planning to retrieve all the distributed leaflets, but acknowledged that the documents have been “sent directly to schools and have resulted in a mess, posing a problem.”

Many municipalities are embarrassed about the booklets.

In Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, the city education board instructed 23 elementary and junior high schools, except for two schools, to refrain from distributing the leaflets and keep them at the schools. The two schools had already handed out the fliers to students. 

An education board official said the leaflets include contents sensitive to the city where the fisheries industry is essential to the local economy. 

“We need more time to deliberate on how to deal with the issue,” the official said. 

Kamaishi and Ofunato cities in the same prefecture issued similar instructions. 

In Okuma, which co-hosts the Fukushima No. 1 plant in Fukushima Prefecture, officials distributed the fliers at junior high schools but decided not to do so in elementary schools. 

In Iwaki in the same prefecture, the city education board sent a written notice to all elementary and junior high schools on Feb. 4, calling on them to refrain from using them in classes and store them at schools. 

A junior high school teacher said the timing was inappropriate. 

“It is important for children to know the actual situation but it is too early to distribute the leaflets when there are strong criticisms about the planned water discharge,” the teacher said. 

Ishinomaki city in Miyagi Prefecture called on school operators to “cease handing the leaflets to students” because it has not examined the contents thoroughly.

As many people in the fisheries circle in Shichigahama are worried about the water release plan, the town has decided to retrieve booklets already distributed to first-graders at elementary and junior high schools.

“The materials were distributed at a significantly insensitive time in a terribly thoughtless manner,” said a member of the town’s education board. “It can’t be helped that people suspect they were sent out behind the backs of municipalities.”

Nobuo Takizawa, head of the secretariat for Natori city’s education board, pointed out the central government should have notified municipalities in advance.

“The documents were distributed to schools without the education boards being notified,” said Takizawa.

Yoshinori Hakui, a senior education ministry official, showed signs of remorse about the direct distribution of the leaflets to schools during a session of the Lower House Committee on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on March 2. 

“We regret that we delivered the leaflets in a manner that was not careful enough. We could have made better coordination with the economy ministry and others,” said Hakui, director-general of the Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau. 

https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14556960