The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Govt. bans decontamination work by foreign interns


March 16, 2018
The Japanese government has decided to ban companies from using foreign trainees to carry out decontamination work in areas affected by the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
The decision comes after a Vietnamese man complained that he was asked to remove contaminated soil in Fukushima Prefecture. He told a news conference that he would never have come to Japan if he had known that he would be doing this kind of work. He also expressed concern about the possible impact on his health.
The man came to Japan under a government-backed technical internship program that allows foreigners to acquire skills and knowhow.
The ministries in charge of the program say that decontamination is not suitable work for interns.
They say they will make it mandatory for companies to submit a pledge that trainees will not be asked to do this kind of task.
A group that supports foreign interns says there have been similar cases.
The ministries will warn companies if other cases are discovered and may consider revoking their permission to hire foreign interns.

March 17, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Is Fukushima doomed to become a dumping ground for toxic waste?

march 16 2018
16 Mar 2018
Despite promises of revitalisation from Japan’s government, seven years on from the nuclear disaster the area is still struggling
This month, seven years after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi reactor meltdowns and explosions that blanketed hundreds of square kilometres of northeastern Japan with radioactive debris, government officials and politicians spoke in hopeful terms about Fukushima’s prosperous future. Nevertheless, perhaps the single most important element of Fukushima’s future remains unspoken: the exclusion zone seems destined to host a repository for Japan’s most hazardous nuclear waste.
No Japanese government official will admit this, at least not publicly. A secure repository for nuclear waste has remained a long-elusive goal on the archipelago. But, given that Japan possesses approximately 17,000 tonnes of spent fuel from nuclear power operations, such a development is vital. Most spent fuel rods are still stored precariously above ground, in pools, in a highly earthquake-prone nation.
Japanese officialdom relentlessly emphasises positive messages regarding Fukushima’s short- and medium-term future, prioritising economic development and the gradual return of sceptical evacuees to their newly “remediated” communities. Yet the return rate for the least hard-hit communities is only about 15%. Government proclamations regarding revitalisation of the area in and around the exclusion zone intone about jobs but seem geared ominously toward a future with relatively few humans.
The Fukushima prefecture government is currently promoting a plan, dubbed The Innovation Coast, that would transform the unwelcoming region into a thriving sweep of high-tech innovation. Much of the development would be directed towards a “robot-related industrial cluster” and experimental zones like a robot test field.
march 16 2018 waste storage area in futaba
Aerial view of a nuclear waste storage area in Futaba, with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the background.
The test field would develop robots tailored for disaster response and for other purposes on a course simulating a wide range of hurdles and challenges already well represented in Fukushima itself. Large water tanks would contain an array of underwater hazards to navigate, mirroring the wreckage-strewn waters beneath the Fukushima Daiichi plant, where a number of meltdown-remediating underwater robots have met a premature demise in recent years.
Elsewhere on the robot test field, dilapidated buildings and other ruins would serve as a proving ground for land-based disaster-response robots, which must navigate twisted steel rods, broken concrete and other rubble. Engineered runways and surrounding radiation-hit areas would serve as prime territory for testing parlous aerial drones for a range of purposes in various weather conditions – which would be difficult or impossible to achieve elsewhere in relatively densely populated Japan.
The planned site for the test field would link with a secluded test area about 13km south along the coast to coordinate test flights over the exclusion zone’s more or less posthuman terrain.
Naturally, unlike Fukushima’s human residents, robots would be oblivious to the elevated radiation levels found outside the Fukushima Daiichi facility. In addition, prefectural officials have suggested that the exclusion zone environs could play host to a range of other services that don’t require much human intervention, such as long-term archive facilities.
Proud long-time residents of Fukushima, for their part, see all this development as a continued “colonisation” of the home prefecture by Tokyo – a well-worn pattern of outsiders using the zone for their own purposes, as were the utility representatives and officials who built the ill-fated plant in the first place.
march 16 2018 check post exit from the exclusion zone of Futaba town
A guard gesturing at a check post exit from the exclusion zone of Futaba town, Fukushima prefecture.
Years of colossal decontamination measures have scraped irradiated material from seemingly every forest, park, farm, roadside, and school ground. This 16 million cubic metres of radioactive soil is now stored in provisional sites in and around the exclusion zone, waiting to be moved to an interim storage facility that has hardly been started and for which nearly half of the land has not yet even been leased.
The state has promised to remove all the contaminated soil from Fukushima after 30 years, and government officials have been scrupulous in insisting that this will be the case – for soil. Yet in a nation with about 17,000 tonnes of highly radioactive spent fuel rods and no willing candidates for secure repositories, it is only a matter of time before it becomes possible for politicians to publicly back the idea of transforming the area around Fukushima Daiichi into a secure repository.
Government officials, including those tasked with nuclear waste storage, describe the quintessentially Japanese strategy of saki-okuri, or calculated postponement, in the context of nuclear waste storage. Such perception management is a subtle business, but by quietly and unrelentingly pushing back the day of reckoning – slowly changing the terms of debate – the broadly distasteful prospect of storing Japan’s most dangerous material in its most tragically maltreated region would become gradually less intolerable to Japanese sensibilities.
The expanse of Fukushima in and around the exclusion zone represents an already contaminated area with, since 2011, far fewer residents to protest against such plans. Such a rare opportunity for relatively unopposed intervention in a struggling area will surely prove irresistible to the nuclear lobby.
Fukushima has been marginalised, disenfranchised, and outmanoeuvred for decades. After all, the electricity from Fukushima Daiichi went straight to the capital, not to Fukushima itself, which bore the risks. Since 2011, Fukushima has been saddled with the staggering burden of the meltdown’s aftermath that, despite government PR, will encumber and stigmatise its citizens for at least several decades.
• Peter Wynn Kirby is a nuclear and environmental specialist at the University of Oxford

March 17, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

Vietnamese trainee paid US$19 a day to do decontamination work near crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan

15 March, 2018,
Japan introduced the training programme for foreign workers in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme has drawn criticism for giving Japanese companies a cover to import cheap labour
15 march 2018 vietnamese worker decontamination.jpg
A Vietnamese man who came to Japan under a foreign trainee programme was made to engage in radioactive decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture without his knowledge, a foreign workers support group heard.
At an event organised by the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan, the 24-year-old man, who declined to be named, said he would have “never come to Japan” if he had known he would be doing that work near where a nuclear disaster occurred in 2011.
The Vietnamese said a construction company in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, hired him as a trainee, but did not tell him the work involved removing decontaminated material from around where the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the days after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan in March 2011.
Japan introduced the training programme for foreign workers in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme, applicable to agriculture and manufacturing among other sectors, has drawn criticism at home and abroad for giving Japanese companies a cover to import cheap labour.
15 march 2018 vietnamese worker decontamination2
According to the network, the Vietnamese man arrived in Japan in September 2015, and his contract only stated he would be engaging in work involving “construction machinery, dismantling, and civil engineering.”
Without any explanation about decontamination, he was told to remove the surface soil from roads and nearby residences in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, between October 2015 and March 2016.
He also took part in dismantling buildings in the town of Kawamata in the prefecture between September and December in 2016 before an evacuation order for the area was lifted.
15 march 2018 vietnamese worker decontamination3
The man became suspicious about the work after seeing someone measuring radiation levels at the work sites, and he discovered the nature of the work after contacting the Zentoitsu Workers Union, an organisation helping foreign workers in Japan.
He also received only 2,000 yen (US$19) a day for decontamination work, less than a third of the 6,600 yen set as the standard by the Environment Ministry, in addition to his monthly salary of about 150,000 yen as a foreign trainee.
According to the union, this is the first known case of a foreign trainee’s involvement in decontamination work.
The Justice Ministry’s immigration bureau and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare released statements on Wednesday, saying decontamination work does not fit the purpose of the trainee programme.
“If the content of training is significantly different from the plan, it can be illegal,” the immigration bureau said.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Third Court, Kyoto District Court, Rules Tepco and Government Liable to Pay Damages to Evacuees

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TEPCO, state told to pay 3/11 evacuees who left on their own
March 15, 2018
The legal team for evacuees of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster hold signs stating partial victory at the Kyoto District Court on March 15.
KYOTO–The district court here ordered the government and the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant on March 15 to pay a combined 110 million yen ($1 million) to 110 evacuees who fled voluntarily after the 2011 nuclear disaster.
Presiding Judge Nobuyoshi Asami at the Kyoto District Court ruled that the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. were liable on grounds that they failed to take adequate measures to protect the plant from the tsunami that inundated the facility after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The court noted the government’s “long-term assessment” for possible earthquakes unleashing tsunami compiled in 2002. The report pointed to the possibility of a powerful earthquake and tsunami striking the plant.
All of the 174 plaintiffs from 57 families had evacuated to Kyoto Prefecture without an evacuation order except for one individual from Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture.
Tomioka was within the 20-kilometer radius from the plant ordered to evacuate after the crisis unfolded on March 11, 2011, triggered by the magnitude-9.0 quake and tsunami.
Apart from Fukushima, the plaintiffs were from Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures.
The plaintiffs plan to appeal the court decision, as 64 were not awarded compensation.
The plaintiffs sought 846.6 million yen collectively in damages from the government and the utility.
The district court ruling marked the fifth in a series of similar lawsuits brought across the nation.
In all five cases, the respective courts acknowledged TEPCO’s responsibility to pay damages to the plaintiffs.
The Kyoto District Court’s decision was the third to acknowledge the government’s responsibility.
The key issues in the Kyoto case were if the towering tsunami that swamped the plant was foreseen, if the government had authority to force TEPCO to take countermeasures against such an event, and if the amount of compensation paid by TEPCO to voluntary evacuees based on the government’s guidelines was appropriate.
Most of the plaintiffs sought 5.5 million yen each in damages.
In the ruling, the district court determined that TEPCO should pay additional compensation on top of the amount set in the government guidelines to 109 plaintiffs who fled voluntarily despite not being subject to evacuation orders.
The criteria for extra payment are distance from the plant, radiation levels around homes, and family members who require medical attention due to the exposure to radiation.
Among the plaintiffs who were awarded additional compensation were those from Chiba Prefecture, just east of Tokyo and roughly 240 km from Fukushima Prefecture.
The court stated that the extra payment should be based on damage they suffered over two years after they began evacuating.
In the lawsuits filed at three other districts, some of the plaintiffs who evacuated voluntarily were awarded additional compensation, ranging from 10,000 yen to 730,000 yen per person.
Third court rules Tepco, govt liable over Fukushima disaster-media
TOKYO, March 15 (Reuters) –
* Kyoto district court on Thursday ruled that Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) and the Japanese government were liable for damages arising from the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, the Asahi newspaper said
* The ruling is the third court decision assigning liability to both Tepco and the government for the disaster that led to the evacuation of around 160,000 people
* A group of 174 claimants sought 850 million yen ($8 million)in damages arising from the disaster
* The court in western Japan did not accept that all plaintiffs should be awarded damages ($1 = 105.9900 yen) (Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
Court orders Japan government to pay new Fukushima damages
TOKYO (AFP)-A Japanese court on Thursday ordered the government to pay one million dollars in new damages over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, ruling it should have predicted and avoided the meltdown.
The Kyoto district court ordered the government and power plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) to pay 110 million yen in damages to 110 local residents who had to leave the Fukushima region, a court official and local media said.
Thursday’s verdict was the third time the government has been ruled liable for the meltdown in eastern Japan, the world’s most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
In October, a court in Fukushima city ruled that both the government and TEPCO were responsible, following a similar ruling in March in the eastern city of Maebashi.
However, another court, in Chiba near Tokyo, ruled in September that only the operator was liable.
On Thursday, presiding judge Nobuyoshi Asami ordered that 110 plaintiffs who saw their lives ruined and their property destroyed by the disaster be awarded compensation, Jiji Press and other media reported.
Contacted by AFP, a court spokesman confirmed the reports, adding that the ruling denied damages to several dozen additional plaintiffs.
“That damages for 64 people were not recognised was unexpected and regrettable,” a lawyer for the plaintiffs said, adding that they would appeal, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Around 12,000 people who fled after the disaster due to radiation fears have filed various lawsuits against the government and TEPCO.
Cases have revolved around whether the government and TEPCO, both of whom are responsible for disaster prevention measures, could have foreseen the scale of the tsunami and subsequent meltdown.
Dozens of class-action lawsuits have been filed seeking compensation from the government.
In June, former TEPCO executives went on trial in the only criminal case in connection with the disaster.
The hearing is continuing.
Triggered by a 9.1-magnitude earthquake, the tsunami overwhelmed reactor cooling systems, sending three into meltdown and sending radiation over a large area.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima’s Diplomatic Fallout, 7 Years After the Nuclear Disaster

March 14, 2018
Japan faces questions from abroad about its handling of the lingering aftereffects of the triple disaster.
March 11 marked the seventh anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami disaster that devastated Japan’s northeast coastal regions in 2011. While the resulting accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to cause a great deal of disruption within the country, it also poses ongoing challenges for Japan’s diplomacy.
The Japanese government recently came under pressure in a United Nations human rights forum over the adequacy of its support for people who fled the disaster zone – and faced scrutiny about radiation levels in places where evacuees have returned. At the same time, Japanese diplomats have been waging a long battle to persuade other countries to ease import restrictions on food from the surrounding areas.
The Fukushima prefectural government says that the number of evacuees peaked at 164,865 in 2012, the year after the disaster, but that figure has now fallen to about 50,000 with decontamination work progressing and the lifting of evacuation orders in a number of towns.
Several countries took up the issue of the rights of Fukushima residents and evacuees as part of the UN’s universal periodic review of Japan. Austria, for example, urged the government to continue to provide housing support to so-called voluntary evacuees. These are people who had been living outside officially designated evacuation zones but fled because of their fears about radiation. Their housing aid ended about a year ago. Portugal, meanwhile, called on Japan to ensure women and men had equal participation in decision-making processes about their resettlement and Mexico urged the government to guarantee access to health services.
Germany’s representatives focused on radiation levels. Under Japanese government policies, evacuation orders can be lifted if the level of exposure for residents is estimated to be below 20 millisievert (mSv) per year. Germany called on the government to “respect the rights of persons living in the area of Fukushima, in particular of pregnant women and children, to the highest level of physical and mental health, notably by restoring the allowable dose of radiation to the 1 mSv/year limit, and by a continuing support to the evacuees and residents.” Incidentally, the International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends that the level for people in contaminated areas should be in the lower part of the 1 to 20 mSv/year range, with a long-term post-accident target of 1 mSv/year.
In a response dated March 1, the Japanese government said it accepted these four recommendations for follow-up, while arguing that it was providing necessary support to affected people under the relevant laws. The minister for reconstruction, Masayoshi Yoshino, subsequently told foreign journalists and diplomats that the government was effectively already committed to the long-term target advocated by Germany. “We have proceeded with decontamination efforts and as a long-term goal the government has indicated 1 mSv per annum,” he said during a briefing at the Foreign Press Center Japan on March 7.
The problem, according to environmental activists, is that the time-frame for achieving that goal is vague. Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, said the raising of the issue in the UN process was important for evacuees as the recommendations could not simply be ignored. “The German government’s intervention on behalf of tens of thousands of Japanese citizens is absolutely welcome,” he said during a visit to Tokyo. Burnie and others plan to closely monitor how the recommendations are implemented.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government has been seeking to promote the safety of food products from Fukushima and other nearby regions, as a handful of places (including China and Taiwan) still impose import restrictions.
Tokyo last month enjoyed a significant win when a World Trade Organization dispute panel ruled that South Korea’s broad restrictions targeting eight prefectures were “unjustifiably discriminate.” Seoul is appealing the finding.
The Japanese government emphasizes the integrity of its food screening measures. In a recent report to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the government said 25,864 food samples were taken and analyzed in January 2018, of which 19 samples or 0.07 percent were found to be above the limits for cesium-134 and cesium-137.
Yoshino, the reconstruction minister, said vegetables, tea, and livestock products had not exceeded the standard limits over the past five years. No bags of rice produced in Fukushima prefecture had breached the limit since 2015, he added. Yoshino further described the “elimination of negative reputation” as the biggest challenge in promoting reconstruction of disaster-affected areas.
“Hoping that overseas consumers would also experience our delicious foods, I would be grateful if you would tell the people of your country about these initiatives for food safety that I have presented here today,” Yoshino said in a press briefing that was also attended by diplomats.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan: Foreign ‘interns’ doing radioactive decontamination work at Fukushima

14 march 2018 Foreign interns  decontamination work.jpg
March 14, 2018
Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan expressed concern that foreign ‘interns’ working in Japan under the Technical Intern Training Programme (TITP) were being made to engage in dangerous radioactive decontamination work at locations close to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. ‘A’, a Vietnamese national, had worked for over two years at decontamination sites before, fearing for his health, he escaped from his company dormitory. ‘A’ states he was never told he was engaged in decontamination work, and never received any special training. He was paid just above the minimum wage (JPY 145,000, or approximately USD 1,400 per month), apparently less than what Japanese nationals doing the same work were receiving. In addition, the company he worked for paid him only one third of the JPY 6,000 (approximately USD 60) daily bonus for decontamination work provided by the government, in violation of government policy.
Though ostensibly a programme to transfer advanced skills to developing countries, TITP has been widely criticized as a means for Japanese companies to exploit cheap labour. Domestic and international human rights NGOs, UN human rights bodies, and even the US State Department has expressed concern that the programme results in human trafficking. ‘A’ paid USD 15,000 to brokers and other middle men in Vietnam before arriving in Japan on the TITP, ensuring that he was in debt bondage from the outset.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

TEPCO’s priority is, and will be, to decommission crippled reactors

March 14, 2018
Toyoshi Fuketa, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), told a news conference last week that the Fukushima nuclear accident is far from over, and that it would be a mistake to think of it solely as something that occurred seven years ago.
On the surface, it appears as if a semblance of order has been restored at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the site of one of the most catastrophic nuclear accidents in history. Except for in and around the crippled reactor buildings, workers can now go almost anywhere on the premises without protective clothing.
Measures have been set in place to cool debris from the reactor cores and spent nuclear fuel in storage pools.
The NRA has considerably downgraded the risk of the plant spewing massive amounts of radioactive substances again.
In reality, however, the road to reactor decommissioning is long and arduous.
“We are still in no state to see the peak of the mountain,” Fuketa said. “We don’t even know what sort of uphill slope awaits us.”
The government last year revised its timetable for reactor decommissioning. The basic target of “decommissioning in 30 to 40 years” has not changed, but the removal of spent fuel from the No. 1 and No. 2 reactor pools will not begin until fiscal 2023, three years later than initially projected.
With the state of the immediate surroundings of the reactor cores still being understood only vaguely, any decision on concrete steps for the removal of debris has been postponed by one year to fiscal 2019.
The volume of water containing radioactive substances, stored in 850 tanks, has reached 1 million tons, and it will only keep growing with the passage of time. The bloating costs of reactor decommissioning will translate into a heavier taxpayer burden. But trying to rush the job will raise the risk of exposing workers to radiation and inviting accidents.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, started last summer to publicly announce troubles encountered by cleanup crews as “deviations from the norm.”
Such issues include injuries or acute illnesses suffered by workers, vehicular collisions while multiple operations are being simultaneously run, and the deterioration of machinery used in emergencies. While most of these cases do not constitute legal violations, they are being reported almost daily.
Ensuring the safety of workers is TEPCO’s top priority. The utility must also pay close attention to other factors while proceeding steadily with reactor decommissioning, such as reducing the risks of environmental pollution. It is also crucial for the company to explain the situation to local residents as well as the general public and heed their voices.
However, some within the NRA, as well as the Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee, a group of domestic and overseas experts who advise TEPCO’s board of directors, have frequently expressed concern that TEPCO may start prioritizing its corporate profitability.
For TEPCO, which has been bailed out effectively under government control, decommissioning the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant should be its foremost task. As the very party that allowed the nuclear disaster to occur, it is obviously its responsibility to invest sufficient capital and manpower in this undertaking.
In 2013, when Tokyo was bidding for the 2020 Olympics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared in his speech that the issue of contaminated water at the Fukushima plant was “under control.”
But such optimism was hardly warranted, given the difficulty that became clear in disposing of the radioactive water.
This must be firmly borne in mind by TEPCO, as well as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which oversees the utility, and the NRA.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

Decontamination work begins in Okuma, Fukushima

Decontamination work begins in Fukushima town
March 14, 2018
Media have been allowed to watch decontamination work at a post-disaster reconstruction hub inside the no-entry zone set up after the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
Reporters were invited on Wednesday to a kindergarten in the town of Okuma, about 7 kilometers from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Work began there last Friday to remove radioactive substances from the kindergarten’s 7,000-square-meter playground. Workers will weed grass as tall as an adult, and replace contaminated topsoil with new earth.
The central government has recognized an 860-hectare zone around the railway station in Okuma as a reconstruction hub based on the local administration’s plan.
Utilities and other infrastructure will be rebuilt and some houses will be demolished at the request of residents to provide them with a livable environment.
Okuma was designated as an area where residents could not return due to high radiation levels. Authorities plan to lift the evacuation order in about 4 years.
Okuma is the second municipality in the prefecture after the town of Futaba where decontamination work has begun at reconstruction hubs.
Similar projects are set to kick off in other municipalities in the fiscal year starting in April.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Flounder Promotion Event Cancelled in Thailand Due to Consumers Concerns

March 12, 2018
Event promoting Fukushima fish cancelled
An event in Thailand promoting flounder from Fukushima has been cancelled amid concerns from consumers.
The event was being held at a Japanese restaurant and scheduled to run through the end of the month. The export of flounder caught in waters off Fukushima was resumed on March 1st for the first time since the 2011 nuclear accident.
The Fukushima prefectural government says a consumer group raised concerns about the safety of the fish. The group said the fish were caught in contaminated waters and dangerous to eat.
The group also reportedly demanded the Thai government announce the name of a local restaurant that sold the fish.
Consumers took to social media to voice their concerns.
Organizers say they cancelled the event to avoid confusion.
Nearly 130 kilograms of flounder have been exported from Fukushima to Thailand but close to half remains untouched. Exports are essentially halted.
A Fukushima government official said the prefecture will continue to promote the safety of the fish in hopes of once again resuming the exports.
Fukushima governor rues cancellation
Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori has called the cancellation “regrettable.”
He noted that Thai health authorities have said the flounder was rigorously screened and deemed safe. He also said the fish was favorably received at a local Japanese restaurant.
The head of a fisheries association in Fukushima said news of the cancellation came just as he felt pleased about the resumption of exports.
He said a robust screening system has been in place to ensure that the fish are safe.
He added that Thai consumers and environmental activists should be invited to Fukushima to witness safety procedures.
Meanwhile, a representative of a Thai environmental group told NHK that the names of local stores selling marine products from Fukushima should be made public. The group is critical of the Thai government’s handling of the issue.
The official said it is known that Japan has strict safety standards, but that trusting them is another matter.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Nuclear Power Facing a Tsunami of Litigation

March 12, 2018
Legal fallout from the March 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station continues, as dozens of lawsuits and injunctions make their way through Japan’s judicial system. The final rulings could have a profound impact on the government’s energy policy and approach to risk mitigation.
Court cases stemming from the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi can be divided broadly into two categories. In the first are efforts to assign responsibility for the accident, including one high-profile criminal case and numerous civil suits by victims seeking damages from the government and owner-operator Tokyo Electric Power Company. The second group consists of lawsuits and injunctions aimed at blocking or shutting down operations at plants other than Fukushima Daiichi (whose reactors have been decommissioned) on the grounds that they pose a grave safety threat. In the following, we briefly survey these cases and their implications.
A Foreseeable Danger?
According to lawyer Managi Izutarō, who is handling the largest class-action suit against TEPCO and the government, about 30 such cases are currently moving through courts around the nation. Most of the plaintiffs are Fukushima evacuees who filed suit in the districts to which they fled after the accident.
Meanwhile, TEPCO’s former chairman and two former vice-presidents are facing charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury in a criminal case currently before the Tokyo District Court. Tokyo prosecutors initially declined to bring charges, but in an unusual reversal, they were overruled by a prosecutorial review panel composed of ordinary citizens.
In all of these cases, the pivotal issues facing the court are (1) whether TEPCO and the state could have foreseen the danger posed to the Fukushima plant by a tsunami on the order of that triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake, and (2) whether they could realistically have prevented a serious accident through risk-mitigation measures. The “state” in this case is the defunct Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), the regulatory body formerly in charge of the inspection and licensing of nuclear power facilities.
Construction of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station began in 1967, when the government’s ambitious nuclear energy development program was shifting into high gear. Seismology and tsunami simulation have advanced considerably since those days, but at the time, the maximum height of any potential tsunami relevant to the Fukushima Daiichi site was estimated at a little more than 3 meters. When the facility was built, in other words, there was no way for TEPCO or the government to foresee that waves 10–15 meters in height could one day inundate the plant.
However, as scientists continued to collect and analyze data on earthquake and tsunami activity around Japan, their thinking evolved. In July 2002, a government panel of seismologists issued a report estimating a 20% chance that a magnitude-8 earthquake would trigger a dangerous tsunami off the coast of northeastern Japan within the next three decades. That August, NISA asked TEPCO to conduct a tsunami simulation for Fukushima Daiichi and other plants on the basis of that report, but TEPCO refused, and NISA did not press the matter.
When TEPCO finally did conduct such a simulation in 2008, it concluded that a major earthquake could trigger a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters, tall enough to flood the Fukushima Daiichi plant. However, the utility took no action to mitigate the risk (as by building up the facility’s seawalls or taking other measures to protect backup generators), and it failed to report the findings to NISA until early 2011, just weeks before the disaster.
Complacency and Opacity
In the wake of the Fukushima accident, NISA (since replaced by the Nuclear Regulation Authority) was faulted for its lack of independence. The agency was under the authority of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, which promotes the use of nuclear power, and officials maintain that its regulatory powers were limited. In addition, a closed, inbred environment encouraged unhealthy ties between NISA and the electric power industry. As a consequence, NISA had fallen into the habit of accommodating and supporting the utilities instead of overseeing them. TEPCO, for its part, had developed a deeply rooted culture of denial, habitually concealing information that might supply ammunition to anti-nuclear activists or fuel fears among the local citizenry. The company brushed off the warnings, convincing itself that the danger from a giant tsunami was purely hypothetical.
So far, district courts have reached decisions on three major class-action suits, and in each case they have agreed with the plaintiffs that the state and TEPCO could have foreseen the danger from a major tsunami once the 2002 report on earthquake risks was released. Two of the district courts, Maebashi and Fukushima, found both the state and TEPCO negligent for failing to prevent the meltdowns. The Chiba District Court, on the other hand, dismissed claims against the state on the grounds that the government was focusing on earthquake safety at the time and may not have been able to formulate effective measures in time to protect Fukushima Daiichi against the March 2011 tsunami. With the government and TEPCO girding up to appeal the lower courts’ decisions, the cases could drag on for years.
The final verdicts could have important ramifications in a country prone to natural disasters. Despite the scientific advances of the last few decades, our ability to predict major earthquakes, tsunami, and volcanic eruptions remains extremely limited. How can we ensure that the design and operation of existing nuclear power plants reflect the latest scientific assessments of long-term risks? Are the government and industry responsible for guarding against catastrophic events, however low their probability?
A Tsunami of Lawsuits
Attorney Managi Izutarō estimates that more than 10,000 plaintiffs are currently involved in class-action suits against TEPCO and the state. He represents 4,200 victims in the largest of these cases so far. Managi argues that allowing TEPCO to keep Fukushima Daiichi operating after learning of the risks from a tsunami was “like giving an airline permission to fly an unsafe jetliner.”
In its ruling on Managi’s case last October, the Fukushima District Court agreed that both TEPCO and the state were negligent and ordered damages paid to a majority of the plaintiffs. But the victims and their lawyers deemed the amount and scope of the damages inadequate and opted to appeal. TEPCO and the state have appealed the ruling as well.
The case now moves to the Sendai High Court. “Ultimately, we’re demanding that Fukushima Prefecture be restored to the way it was before the nuclear accident,” Managi explains. “At the same time, we’re fighting to end the use of nuclear power.”
Managi stresses the importance of mobilizing a large number of victims. “Unless you get together a big group of plaintiffs, their case won’t resonate with the judges,” says Managi. “The number of people involved in litigation and the intensity of public sentiment are key. I believe the real battle takes place outside the courtroom.”
In organizing victims into large class-action suits, Managi and others lawyers are following the same playbook that helped turn the tide against big industrial polluters in the 1960s and 1970s, when victims of Minamata disease (mercury poisoning) and itai-itai disease (cadmium poisoning) succesfully banded together to seak legal redress. Whether the current movement will have a comparable impact remains to be seen.
Lawyer Managi Izutarō is representing 4,200 former Fukushima residents in a class-action suit against the state and Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Fighting Nuclear Power, One Plant at a Time
On a different but related front, citizens’ groups and other plaintiffs are vigorously pursuing lawsuits and injunctions aimed directly at shutting down nuclear power plants around the country.
Efforts to block nuclear energy development through legal action date all the way back to the 1970s. Prominent among these early cases was a citizens’ suit challenging the legality of the license granted to Shikoku Electric Power Co. to build and operate the Ikata Nuclear Power Station in Ehime Prefecture. In that case, lawyers called into question the fundamental safety of the facility, given its location near the Median Tectonic Line fault zone. The case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which finally ruled against the plaintiffs in 1992.
Safety concerns are at the core of the 30-odd “anti-nuclear” suits and injunctions currently before the nation’s courts (as of January 2018). Most cite the potential danger from major earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or tsunami, while others are calling for suspension of operations on the grounds of inadequate evacuation planning. While a few of these cases date back to the pre-Fukushima era, the majority were filed in the wake of the accident.
In December last year, the Hiroshima High Court issued an injunction suspending operations of the number 3 reactor at the aforementioned Ikata Nuclear Power Station. In its decision, the court cited the danger posed to the Shikoku facility from a massive eruption of Mount Aso, all the way across the sea in Kyūshū. Although an eruption on this scale has not occurred in recorded history, the court opined that the risk was sufficient to make the site unsuitable for a nuclear power plant. The decision did not go down well with the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which had cleared the plant for resumption of operations under new, post-Fukushima safety standards.
At present, almost all of Japan’s operable nuclear power plants are in the midst of some kind of litigation. In one case, the plaintiff is a local government: The city of Hakodate in Hokkaidō has filed a lawsuit to block the construction and operation of the Ōma Nuclear Power Station across the Tsugaru Strait in Aomori Prefecture.
Status of Japan’s Operable Nuclear Reactors
Note: All six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station were decommissioned between 2011 and 2014.
Lawyers on a Mission
Lawyers Kawai Hiroyuki and Kaido Yūichi have been key figures in the fight against nuclear power since before the Fukushima accident. In the wake of the disaster, they founded the National Network of Counsels in Cases against Nuclear Power Plants, a group that has been pursuing legal action against nuclear facilities on behalf of citizens and other plaintiffs nationwide.
Kawai and Kaido are also representing the shareholders of TEPCO, who are suing the company’s former executives for an unprecedented ¥5.5 trillion. In addition, as lawyers for the Complainants for the Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, the two attorneys are working alongside the prosecuting team in the criminal case against three TEPCO executives, which parallels the civil suit in terms of arguments, evidence, and testimony.
Even so, the trial—which officially opened last June and is expected to continue at least through the coming summer—is expected to attract intense media coverage as witness examinations begin this spring. More than 20 witnesses are scheduled to testify. The case also involves a massive volume of documentary evidence, including records of interviews conducted by the government’s Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station, along with countless pages of emails, internal memos, meeting minutes, and reports. Will all this information shed new light on the human factors behind the Fukushima accident? The nation will be watching closely.

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Seven years after meltdown, Fukushima’s recovery still decades away

March 12, 2018
by Charles Digges
Seven years ago, on the afternoon of March 11, 2011, one of the biggest earthquakes ever measured sent a wall of water rolling toward Japan’s northeastern coastline and into the six reactors of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
In the seven years since, the name of the plant has become synonymous with Chernobyl for connoting disaster, radioactive contamination, massive human migration and other calamities of biblical proportion – a name that requires no further description to understand the scale of the disaster it connotes.
It’s become another point on the compass at which the world can contemplate its own end – a catastrophe that still casts more shadows than light, continues to beg confounding questions, and which will continue to press the limits of understanding for decades to come.
On Sunday, Japan marked the anniversary with a nationwide moment of silence at 2:46 pm, the moment when, on that Friday in 2011, the waters breached the Fukushima plant and triggered a triple nuclear meltdown.
In the days that followed the quake, uranium fuel melted down inside three of the six reactors. Hydrogen explosions burst through the roofs of three of the reactor buildings, sending radioactive iodine, cesium and other fission by-products belching into the environment. Millions of liters of water were pumped from the ocean to cool the overheating reactors, cascading contamination into the sea.
The meltdowns forced the evacuation of 160,000 people from the rural and agrarian prefecture, 73,000 of whom have yet to come anywhere near home again. Food and livestock were poisoned. In the aftermath, Japan shut down its 42 remaining nuclear reactors, only three of which have come back online under the country’s stringent new safety codes, which were rewritten nearly from scratch in the disaster’s aftermath, severing a source of 30 percent of Japan’s power.
Seven years on, troubling questions about the plant’s condition remain, and addressing them will mean decontaminating an area almost as big as Hawaii without unleashing yet more radiation into the environment.
As this year’s anniversary approached, Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco, which owns the plant, reported that that the reactors at Fukushima are now stable, but many are having trouble believing that. Since the beginning of the disaster, Tepco delayed and obfuscated reports on the state the plant, costing critical evacuation days, and the company is now struggling to overcome a lack of public trust as it forges forth in the cleanup.
The sheer vastness of the cleanup operation seems nearly impossible to bring to heel. At the plant alone, it’s estimated to take another 50 years before decontamination and clean up is complete. Tepco, estimates it will finish the job by 2050. Others in the government admit the cleanup could go on far beyond that.
Meanwhile the extent of the toll on human health remains unknown. Of the 20,000 workers who were exposed to radiation in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, only about 7,000 have received any sort of ongoing health testing and observation.
And people are reluctant to return to homes that fell within the evacuation zone. Japanese broadcasters report that some 70,000 continue to live in government supported evacuation housing, leery of retiring to areas where radiation levels are only debatably safe.
While the Japanese government said last year that decontamination costs would reach $75.7 billion, think tanks in Japan have said the final bill could be more than eight times that – closer to $470 billion to $660 billion, according to Japan’s Center for Economic Research,
Whatever the amount, Japan is paying for daring engineering to handle thousands of damaged and melted nuclear fuel rods and tons of mangled reactor debris.
One of the main problems is what to do with millions of tons of water, which is coursing through the reactors to keep them cool. This water, once contaminated, collects in tanks Tepco has built at the site to hold it. There are 1,000 of these tanks, but the volume of irradiated water they have to handle grows by 100 tons daily.
What will become of that water, Tepco has not yet decided, and efforts to clean it of radioactive isotopes have been only partially successful. While Tepco says it can scrub it of cesium, strontium and 50 other radionuclides, it can’t remove its tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
Other issues are posed by rain water seeping into the ground at the stricken plant. It is feared this water could drain contamination into the sea, and Tepco last year built a wall of frozen soil to contain it. But this year they reported it wasn’t working as hoped, and that because of this failure, some 500 tons of water is being contaminated daily at the site.
Yet the biggest challenges remain with the stricken reactors themselves.
During the disaster, uranium fuel overheated and dripped through the bottoms of the No 1, 2 and 3 reactors, forming molten pockets beneath them. Radiation levels inside the reactors are searing. Inside reactor No 2, for instance, levels still reach reach 7 to 42 sieverts per hour – enough to kill humans after just a short period of exposure. Only robots can reach the fuel.
The robots are trying to map the location of the melted fuel, sending out 3-D imaging allowing workers to discern the location of pebbly deposits thought to be molten uranium. Yet even when the fuel is found, operations to remove it won’t come before 2021 – when engineers will devise a way to get out.
When that begins, it will add to the 200,000 tons of nuclear waste that is in in storage at the disaster site. Japan has not yet agreed on where all of this will finally be buried, and popular resistance to hosting the waste fuels that uncertainty.
While Tepco did manage to remove all 1,533 fuel bundles from the plant’s unit No. 4 reactor before December 2014, it still has to do the same for the hundreds of rods stored at the other three units.
This will mean clearing rubble, installing shields, dismantling the building roofs, and setting up platforms equipment to remove the rods. In February a 55-ton dome roof was installed on unit No. 3 to facilitate the safe removal of the 533 fuel bundles that remain in a storage pool there. And while removal of fuel at reactor No 3 may being before April of 2019, the fuel at units No. 1 and 2 will not be ready for transfer before 2023.
What Fukushima may look like decades from now, Tepco will not venture to guess. In some reports, the company is quick to say it won’t go the same route as Chernobyl, where an enormous containment structure now covers the remains of its exploded No. 4 reactor. But the road to totally rehabilitating Fukushima, and making it inhabitable again, still appears to be longer than anyone might have guessed.

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

7 Years On, 40 Pct of Fukushima Evacuees to Niigata Have No Plans to Return

March 12, 2018
Niigata (Jiji Press)–Nearly 40 pct of evacuees from nuclear accident-hit Fukushima Prefecture to Niigata Prefecture have no plans to return to Fukushima, a Niigata government survey has shown.
According to the survey, 39.7 pct of respondents, including those who initially came to Niigata but moved out of the central Japan prefecture later, do not plan to return to Fukushima, home to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Including respondents unable to decide as yet whether or not to return, the proportion of evacuees who are not eager to go back home reached some 70 pct.
As reasons, worries about residual radiation’s health effects were cited by 60.6 pct, followed by concerns about children’s future and difficulties in finding jobs.
The survey results illustrate how it is difficult to rebuild people’s lives in nuclear disaster-hit areas, pundits said.


March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

Remembering Hitoshi Yoshioka, who fought gov’t nuclear policy from inside

March 12, 2018
“I feel sorry for the next generation that they must take on the burden of Fukushima. What we have been doing is something we must feel embarrassed about,” said Hitoshi Yoshioka at a symposium following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Those words still linger in me.
Yoshioka was a strong opponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policy. At 43 years old he took a spot on the committee that decided the government’s nuclear policy. He was a unique presence in that he continued to criticize the government from the inside, raising questions over Japan’s policy of forging ahead with nuclear power. Perhaps his regret that he was unable to prevent the Fukushima disaster before it unfolded was behind his statement above.
Yoshioka passed away on Jan. 14, 2018, of a hepatic neuroendocrine tumor. He was 64. He studied physics at the University of Tokyo, but upon meeting Tetsu Hiroshige, a history of science expert known for his criticism of the sciences, Yoshioka shifted his focus to the history of science as well.
From the late 1980s, Yoshioka devoted himself to research on nuclear energy. He continued raining down scalding criticism of the civilian use of nuclear energy as a power source, saying that Japan’s system was “second-class at best and undeveloped” and that “what the government really wants (with nuclear power) is to maintain the structure of vested interests and the potential capabilities for nuclear weapons.” Yoshioka’s book “Genshiryoku no Shakaishi” (The social history of nuclear energy) remains as a sort of bible to those related to the industry.
“Public policies (like nuclear power) do not belong solely to politicians and bureaucrats,” Yoshioka would expound. “I would like everyone to do their own investigative research and participate in policy formation.” He hoped for the effort of every single citizen to reform government policies. Even when I, someone he barely knew, came to him asking for advice about wanting to summarize my experiences covering the Fukushima nuclear disaster into a dissertation three years ago, he readily provided me with guidance.
As the chairman of the Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy, Yoshioka fought for the reconstruction of the lives of those in Fukushima affected by the disaster as the nation’s top priority. Also concerned about the global unrest surrounding nuclear weapons, Yoshioka said that nuclear power was just the outer moat, and the total elimination of nuclear arms was the castle keep.
Aiming for a future coexisting with science that could create a “fair society,” Yoshioka fought to the very end as an opponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policies.
(By Shinji Kanto, Saga Bureau)

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

‘You’re Contaminated’: The Stigma Against Japan’s Fukushima Survivors

Mar 12 2018
A 2011 quake and tsunami led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, killing thousands and displacing more. Two ‘nuclear refugees’ explain why returning home is more complicated than it seems.
Akiko Kamata and Keiko Owada.
This month marks the seventh anniversary of the triple disaster that hit the east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, when a 9.1 magnitude quake and tsunami led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Almost 16,000 people were declared dead.
While the nuclear disaster is becoming a distant memory for most Japanese, for some others it is their everyday reality. Nuclear refugees and evacuees face discrimination, separation from loved ones, and in some cases, they are even forced to return to the former evacuation zone.
The government, worried about people getting exposed to radiation, declared a 20-km evacuation zone around the plant and uprooted close to 165,000 people. As of today, there are still 50,000 people who haven’t returned to Fukushima.
Keiko Owada, 66, is one of them. When I meet her in Tokyo, she refers to the Japanese capital as her home for the past seven years. That will soon change due to the government’s decision to withdraw her free housing subsidies.
Because decontamination work has made progress and food declared safe from radiation, it has been deemed safe to return to most villages within the evacuation zone. The same goes for Owada’s village Naraha, where the evacuation order was lifted two years ago.
Owada is not excited about the prospect of returning to Naraha. “Would I continue to get financial support for my apartment here in Tokyo, I would have stayed here, yes. I’ll tell you why: there is no hospital in Naraha, only a small hospital for first aid. There is no supermarket, only a small convenience store. And the reason is simple: only a few people have returned.”
Life as an evacuee hasn’t always been easy, Owada explains. “It wasn’t like people were treating me any different, but my neighbors never greeted me. I think it’s because of the compensation I received and the free housing. They knew I was from Fukushima, that’s why.”
According to Owada, some of the other evacuees in Tokyo she knows have faced harsher treatment. “I know of others whose cars were damaged on purpose because they had a Fukushima license plate. That’s why I never parked my car in the middle of the parking lot, but always in a corner, so no one could see it.”
If anything, Owada’s story illustrates how many evacuees continued to live in fear. Displaced from their homes, dropped in a new community—the disaster is anything but over for them.
As an evacuee in Tokyo, Owada went back to Fukushima on numerous occasions. She can still recall her first time back in June 2011. The town of Naraha was still a no-go-area, and she and her family only had one hour to visit. “We wore protective clothes against radiation, with only a small plastic bag for gathering some personal belongings. We had too little time, and the bag was too little for our entire family. But I can remember the smell—[there were] rats everywhere and small animals’ feces.”
Keiko Owada.
Of course, there are things she misses about her old town, like growing vegetables and fruits on her land. But it doesn’t take away the concerns she has about the dangers of radiation exposure, despite the government’s reassurance that it is safe to live there.
“Even though the streets and houses are decontaminated, they didn’t even touch with mountains and forests. Radiation hasn’t been cleaned everywhere. My house is right next to the mountains, so my house might get contaminated.”
Akiko Kamata, 66, still remembers how she was surprised by the alarm warning for a tsunami in her village of Odaka. When I meet her at a Tokyo café, she recalls how she sheltered in Fukushima the first few weeks after the disaster. “I still remember taking my first bath after 10 days, it felt so good.”
When Kamata got in touch with relatives living in other parts of Japan, she was shocked to hear one sister-in-law’s initial response. “After the disaster, I wanted to flee to Chiba [a prefecture next to Tokyo], my sister-in-law picked up the telephone and told me I didn’t have to come to their house. ‘You’re contaminated,’ she told me.”
An aerial view of damage to Sukuiso, Japan, a week after the earthquake and tsunami devastated the area.
Eventually she did manage to find a place in Chiba, the region she grew up in as a child. “People were nice to us in Chiba. But still I noticed some skepticism. After I asked the regional authorities for financial support their answer was, ‘No, people in Chiba are victims of the earthquake as well.’”
Kamata did receive a one-off compensation payment from TEPCO: 7 million yen per person, or just over $65,600. Her husband received a similar amount.
Although Kamata is thankful for the financial support, they have not been compensated for the loss of income from their family business in Odaka. “I’m thinking about calling in the help of an organization that specializes evacuees with these type of claims,” she says.
Kamata has decided not to return to Odaka. Her husband’s illness (he suffers from a nerve disease that makes him reliant on Kamata’s support) got worse during the evacuation. She fears that it might worsen if they move back to Fukushima.
As Kamata remembers what life was like back in Fukushima, she uses a handkerchief to wipe a tear from her cheek. She barely speaks to her friends anymore.
“The disaster divided our communities, both physically as well as mentally. People got separated. One friend of mine in Chiba is thinking about divorcing her husband. He wants her to come back to Fukushima, but she doesn’t want this. One reason is exposure to radiation, but there are more reasons, such as her child’s school and the fact that they’ve gotten used to life in Tokyo.”
There is one more story she would like to share, Kamata says while crying. “One friend of mine is a farmer in Odaka. She had 10 cows. They evacuated to Chiba just like me and couldn’t go back to Fukushima to feed the cows. Once they could return for the first time to check on the animals, only three of them were still alive. The others died from starvation, and they were all looking at the same direction—the road the farmers would come from to feed them.”

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

Fukushima’s forgotten souls

Feb. 22, 2017 shows a warning sign at Okuma near the Fukushima Daiichi.jpg
Photo taken on Feb. 22, 2017 shows a warning sign at Okuma near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan
March 11, 2018
by Jon Day
TOKYO, March 11 (Xinhua) — “Everyone used to call her ‘Grandma.’ She was one of the sweetest, kindest and most generous people you could ever hope to meet, especially under such appalling circumstances in Fukushima,” Kana Fujimoto, a Tokyo-based volunteer recalled, sadly.
The 31-year-old volunteer for the Save Minimisoma Project referred to a senior widow, who she came across, in the project hosting the victims of the massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami and nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011.
However, “Grandma” has already passed away.
“She had a toothy smile that could warm you from the inside out, words of wisdom that would provide pause for thought in such a time of sheer turbulence and, there was always a handful of candy available to kids, whose lives had also been uprooted and turned upside down,” Fujimoto told Xinhua.
The project has run its course providing emergency relief supplies to the thousands who were somewhat unceremoniously dumped into small “temporary shelters” in Fukushima Prefecture comprising rows of camp-like wooden huts, since the disasters took place seven years ago.
A contingent of Tokyo-based volunteers like Fujimoto, joined with local outreach groups and continued their work since then.
In recent times, essentials such as food, fresh water and vegetables were no longer the priority and the majority of those placed in shelters had been moved into regular subsidized accommodation.
For the elderly victims of the disasters, however, the real crisis for them was still unfolding on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, with the ultimate conclusion being the very bleakest imaginable.
Many individuals and families from the hardest hit areas like Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima, even if they had to do a stint in temporary accommodation, through family and work connections had managed to restart their lives in other parts of the country.
“And while the disasters for many will forever haunt their memories, they’re safe in the knowledge that now, life is as normal as it can be and they are fully-functioning members of society,” anthropologist and sessional lecturer, Keiko Gono, told Xinhua recently.
“But for the elderly people who did not have the resources or the will, for that matter, to fully leave their hometowns and for some even on a psychological level, it meant they have been permanently displaced albeit physically and/or mentally,” Gono explained.
While it is hard to quantify because there is no pathology for “death by isolation,” “or death by loneliness,” she firmly believes that a staggering number of seniors passed away before their time simply due to a lack of social care, connection and sense of community.
For an 87-year old like “Grandma,” for example, to be told that she had no choice but to leave the home she built with her husband, the family farming business, the neighbors and broader community she so fondly associated with, and suddenly find herself in an emergency shelter resembling an internment camp, the psychological effects would be damaging beyond belief.
According to the latest statistics conducted between December and February this year, in the seven years after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, only 4 percent said they had recovered their community bonds, while just 15 percent from the hardest-hit areas said they had regained their communities, but only to some extent.
Gono explained that these numbers were probably just the tip of the iceberg, as typically speaking and as per Japanese culture and norms, Japanese seniors would be far less likely to complain about their situation if it meant a trouble to others.
This area has been one of the government’s biggest failings, and the phenomena of senior social isolation and death from loneliness have been allowed to slip through the cracks, said the anthropologist.
The fact that professional counseling and mental health services are woefully lacking for these seniors who have lost spouses, seen families relocate and barely visit, and, bluntly speaking, are utterly isolated with all dreams of ever returning to their homes dashed, is nothing less than shameful for the government here.
“Without serious intervention, these dear old people, through no fault of their own, will literally die alone,” Gono said.
The statistics underscore this seemingly forgotten social injustice.
The numbers of people who lost everything in the disasters and died alone after being placed in temporary housing hit a record-high just last year.
According to official accounts, 63 people living unattended lost their lives in temporary accommodation. Of those 52 were in Miyagi and 11 of the isolated deaths were in Iwate prefecture.
The number of unattended deaths, unfathomably, rose by 27 cases when compared to the previous year, according to the statistics.
Since the disasters in 2011, officials figures showed that 235 people died in complete isolation and more than 80 percent of these possibly preventable deaths happened to people aged over 60.
“Grandma did everything she could to help others. For a while she could do her own shopping and when her shopping arrived there was always an extra radish or some tangerines for her neighbors, snacks for the kids, and, perhaps, most importantly, a smile for everyone that seemed to say ‘you’ll be ok. We’ll be ok. We’re in this together’,” said Fujimoto.
“But the cruel irony of the situation was the older and more immobile Grandma became, the less people would see her. She was placed a long way from her friends, and if she didn’t have the energy to go to the local store, she could go weeks without any human interaction,” she explained.
Fujimoto added that there were a lot of good charities and outreach groups doing the very best they could to create inclusive environments, particularly for the youngest and the oldest who needed it most. But, funds were always short, and not all the volunteers lived in the area.
Fujimoto herself was commuting from Tokyo once or twice a week soon after the disaster, but had to scale back her volunteering due to the expense of traveling and her own family needs.
More recently, she managed to get there every other week as something was “different” about Grandma.
“She’d started saying things like she was lonely and wanted to be with her friends and that her husband had told her that she didn’t need to live like this and that he was waiting for her with a smile,” said Fujimoto.
“The last time I saw her, I could sense she could no longer battle the loneliness. From being such a vibrant community member to a forgotten soul was just not livable for her and heartbreaking for me,” she said.
A few minutes passed as Fujimoto wept silently for the loss of a life that had meant so much to her and many other people.
There should have been more care available. Similar-aged people could be housed together with carers helping them interact, she said.
“This country should have done better,” she said.

Feb. 22, 2017 shows a warning sign at Okuma near the Fukushima Daiichi.jpg

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment