With rain, the sky isn’t falling

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With rain, the sky isn’t falling

The Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education overreacted to concerns over radioactive rainfall in the wake of the radiation leak at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant by recommending that kindergartens, elementary and middle schools close down on Thursday and Friday.

It advised schools to cut classes short or take necessary measures due to radiation warnings even if they decided to remain open. The order led to the closure of 126 schools in the region - 41 elementary schools (4 percent of those in the area), 84 kindergartens (4 percent) and one middle school. Twenty other elementary schools ended classes by midday, and 17 middle schools as well as five kindergartens took similar action.

The problem is that the measures were taken only in Gyeonggi. It may appear that the local education office is the only authority that cares about the safety of children. But the move comes amid government and health authorities’ endeavors to calm growing panic over radiation pollution amid unscientific hearsay.

The Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety, which has been closely screening the peninsula and following the radioactive leaks and water discharge from Fukushima since the devastating earthquake and tsunami, detected a miniscule amount of radioactive material from Wednesday’s overnight rain on Jeju Island.

In a press briefing, agency experts emphasized that the levels of radioactive iodine and cesium were miniscule - an amount when consumed for 30 years would be tantamount to a one-time exposure to X-ray.

Government authorities have lost credibility for repeatedly trying to underplay or hide things from the public during a crisis. But there is no reason for the government to downplay this time, as the culprit comes from the disaster in Japan. In the case of radioactive rainfall, schools across the nation should be closed, not just in one region, if deemed necessary.

The central government should take the lead role in safeguarding the public health. Even considering education autonomy, the Gyeonggi office’s action was imprudent. It should have at least given solid grounds for the action, such as explaining exactly how hazardous the rains were when exposed.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, in contrast, only advised against outside activities due to the rain and yellow dust. It added that it could order school closures if radiation levels increase. The office’s action and judgment in retrospect come across as more sensible.
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