Haunted by fear of the invisible

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 March, 2012, 12:00am


For Kanako Nishikata and her children, Hong Kong is blessed with 'clean air, trustworthy milk and freedom'. Home for this family is Fukushima.

They were left living in fear after the tsunami crashed through the Japanese prefecture last March, claiming thousands of lives and triggering the country's worst nuclear accident at a power plant 50 kilometres away.

In Hong Kong yesterday, Nishikata had a message for the city: Do not take everyday life for granted - in a nuclear world, everything is fragile and uncertain. She said: 'The only luck the Japanese have had is that we have this painful Fukushima accident to give us an opportunity to reflect upon it and act.

'I don't know if this chance will fall to you, but you can still do something about it.'

For the past eight months, Nishikata's son Kaito, 11, and daughter Hu, nine, have drunk fresh milk only twice - the first time during a sponsored trip to Germany in November and the second in a coffee shop in Hong Kong yesterday.

'Last time, they finished one litre of milk in minutes and this time they are so happy to have two glasses of milk at breakfast,' said Nishikata.

She is in town to officiate at an exhibition to mark the anniversary of the March 11 disaster, organised by Greenpeace at the Fringe Club. She will also attend a chief executive election forum today.

In May, the single mother retreated a further 40 kilometres inland from the reactor to the town of Yonezawa, but she is still terrified of contamination.

The family has avoided virtually all food produced in the stricken northeast of the country. They still drink bottled water and minimise contact with tap water. At home they normally keep windows shut and the children are not allowed to remove their face masks outdoors. Playing outdoors is out of the question most of the time, too.

Nishikata said the danger that threatens their lives is invisible.

'You don't see house ruins in Yonezawa because it was not hit by the tsunami. What we fear is something you can't see,' she said.

That's why they feel safer in Hong Kong, even though nuclear reactors are just 50 kilometres away in Daya Bay. 'We are set free here as the air is cleaner. We can walk under the sun without face masks and we don't have to worry about the food,' said Nishikata.

'I understand [the reactors are close] but what has happened in Fukushima is so bad and terrible that I feel freedom every time I am abroad,' said Nishikata, who is part of a network to protect children from radiation and supports a campaign to shut down all reactors in Japan.

Nishikata, who grew up in Fukushima, regretted she had long neglected the issue of nuclear safety. Even after she watched the horror unfold at the Fukushima nuclear plant, she still had little idea of the possible consequences.

'Without the right knowledge, I still let my children go to the park and they might have been exposed to radiation,' said Nishikata.

Her suspicions about the government's safety role grew when, after the disaster, officials raised the upper allowable dosage of radiation by 20 times for children. She decided to back the clean energy campaign.

The exhibition, Shadowlands, runs until March 14.