Japanese consumer co-operatives are at the forefront of a summer vacation programme for children and parents from the Fukushima region. In March 2011 an earthquake and subsequent tsunami led to an energy accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Due to nuclear meltdowns and the release of radioactive materials, more than 100,000 Japanese residents were displaced from their homes.
The Fukushima Children’s Recreation Project started in 2012 as a joint programme led by the Fukushima Consumers’ Co-operative Union, the Fukushima Committee for UNICEF, and the Disaster Recovery Research Institute of Fukushima University.
The project provides weekend activities for children up to preschool age, a long holiday programme for school-aged children, special weekend courses for school-aged children and a nursery and kindergarten programmes.
The Japanese government defined restricted areas to avoid radiation, but parents remain anxious when their children stay outside for too long. Furthermore, due to potential exposure to radiation, many children are forced to stay indoors or wear protective clothing when they travel outside. The Fukushima Children’s Recreation Project gives these children the chance to play outdoors, in a safe environment.
The project offers recreation for children and their parents, enabling them to spend weekends and school holidays in areas remote from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The damaged areas refer mainly to those in Fukushima Prefecture.
Through the programme children get to spend weekends with their parents in hotels in hot spring areas in Fukushima, Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures. Participants can also share their experiences in the aftermath of the 2012 catastrophe.
The project is funded through donation from support groups, including the Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union and the Japan Committee for UNICEF. As of March 2015, 70,987 people including children and their parents had participated in the programme. In 2014 JCCU and its member co-operatives provided JPY ¥50m (£257,000). The Japan UNICEF Association provided another JPY ¥21.5m (£110,000). The project had attracted JPY ¥70m (£359,000) in funding from the two organisations in the previous year.
In early August, prime minister Shinzo Abe announced the state would restart its first nuclear reactor since the Fukushima disaster, a decision opposed by 90% of people in Japan. The country, which used to rely on nuclear power for 25% of its electricity, has been nuclear free for two years. According to new figures released from Fukushima, nearly 2,000 people have died from the effects of evacuations necessary to avoid high radiation, while another 5,000 will die from cancer.
Co-operatives have also played an important role in responding to challenges faced by Japanese farmers post Fukushima. To address fears of radioactive contamination leaking into the food system, the agriculture co-operative group, JA Zenchu, has launched a Soil Screening Project in collaboration with the Fukushima University. The initiative has helped farmers check the levels of radioactive contamination on their land and produce.