Story of a Tokyo mother

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. There was a run on bottled water in Tokyo today, that after authorities issued a warning about radiation levels at the water treatment plant for the city. The levels were twice what's deemed safe for infants, so parents in Tokyo were urged not to use tap water to dilute infant formula. This is the latest fallout from the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Radiation from the crippled plant has also contaminated milk and vegetables in the region. Miho Ota lives in Tokyo. She's the mother of two young children. One of them is four months old; the other a three year old. They'll soon be moving north to join her husband who's working as an engineer in Ibaraki prefecture, but for now, Ota is trying to cope without using Tokyo's tap water.

Miho Ota: By the time we heard about the news all the water of course was gone from the shelves in the stores.

Mullins: So what are you doing then?

Ota: We always used to drink mineral water at home for drinking purposes. So we do have a certain amount of stuff, but it won't last very long if we start cooking with it. So we have to think of what we do.

Mullins: Have you been told that you should not be cooking with the tap water?

Ota: No, they said that for regular daily use it should be okay to use the tap water, but once you hear about it you want to go on the safe side, so I don't know to what degree I should use mineral water.

Mullins: Right, so you want to take any precaution. What else are you doing though to make sure that your family and you are as isolated as possible from any kind of radiation exposure?

Ota: I think we will have to stay away from food outside the home from restaurants and other places where you're not sure what has been used to cook and what kind of vegetables have been used to cook. And that's pretty much all I can do about food, and not by food originating from the nuclear power plant area.

Mullins: And in terms of your kids have you taken any other precautions?

Ota: Well, we try to avoid the rain. It's been raining the past few days, but I've been trying to keep them at home or places where you don't get wet, or cover them completely if there's a need to go out.

Mullins: Do you feel as though you're getting up-to-date information and accurate information from the Japanese government about the dangers of radiation in food and water?

Ota: I don't think they are hiding any data, but I don't know if they are quick enough in giving out the information. I presume that if there's contamination in water in Tokyo that there should be equally contaminated water up in the north, but none of that information has been given out so far. The example is the prefecture where we're planning to return to very soon.

Mullins: Now, you're going to the north. Your husband is there working as an engineer, so clearly you're concerned about the lack of water up there.

Ota: Yes.

Mullins: Are you going to be taking precautions on your own or just waiting and seeing what the government says for that region?

Ota: We're going to take precautions on our own and of course, taking information from foreign media as well as our own media here in Japan.

Mullins: You're looking for information from foreign media to compare it to what you're hearing locally?

Ota: Yes, because after this earthquake a lot of my friends and relatives living abroad have been calling me, but they have been panicking more than people in Japan have been, so it's always trying to look into the media of those countries and what they were saying about us.

Mullins: And have you heard anything that is remarkably different from what you know to be the case locally, or at least told by the government locally?

Ota: Not so much in terms of data, but the way it's been transmitted, maybe just some false image of Japan because I think many people think that the entire Japanese is in a panic and in emergency state, but it's only the east and the north part of Japan.

Mullins: What's it like to go through this experience?

Ota: Oh, actually it's not the first time because I used to grow in Germany, and I was there when the Chernobyl accident happened, so I was in high school. I wasn't as close as this one to the area where it happened, but the food issue was always a problem for a long time, kind of like food from the eastern area. So, I'm more alert that other mothers in my circle because they have not had this experience with nuclear accidents.

Mullins: What do you plan on doing though? I mean you're worried now, you say you can't find bottled water? You're relying on the mineral water that you've been using, although that's gonna be in short supply as well, but...

Ota: I asked some relatives in west Japan to send some water, to organize for some bottles to be sent to our place. And if in the long range that's not enough, maybe we have to take refuge in a different area for a certain period of time and until the iodine level goes down.

Mullins: Miho, thanks, thanks a lot for talking to us. Good luck to you and your family, thank you.

Ota: Okay, thank you, thank you.

Mullins: That was Miho Ota who's the mother of two young children speaking to us from her home in Tokyo.