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Japan’s govt urges Fukushima evacuees to return – in drive to promote 2020 Olympics

Fukushima: Despite health threats, the Japanese government urges residents to return. Families who fled nuclear meltdown in Fukushima are being urged to return to their homes ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
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Families claim the government is speeding up return ahead of Olympics
Aug 4, 2019
Alarming levels of radiation up to 20 times higher than official safety targets have been recorded in areas where locals are being encouraged to go back. We found ghost towns eight years after three reactors went into meltdown at Daiichi power plant 140 miles north east of Tokyo in March 2011. Tokyo 2020 is being hailed as the “Reconstruction Olympics” signalling new hope following the earthquake and tsunami that triggered the disaster and left more than 18,000 people dead. 
Now evacuees are being urged to return as the global spotlight focuses on the recovery of the region. The government has lifted most evacuation orders and all but a handful of hot spots have been declared safe. 
But parents believe their children are in danger, saying officials are downplaying the dangers and safety is compromised in a cynical attempt to convince the world the crisis is over. 
Families have accused the government of speeding up their return to showcase safety standards ahead of the Olympics. 
We found once-vibrant communities now post apocalyptic wastelands like something from a Hollywood movie after the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. 
Schools, shopping malls, supermarkets, libraries and petrol stations lie decaying along with thousands of homes. Many are set behind guarded barricades in exclusion areas known officially as “difficult to return to zones”. 
Others lie in areas which the government says are safe to live in but whose few residents – wild boar and monkeys – demonstrate signs of mutation. Along roadsides sit giant black bags containing contaminated soil. 
In Tomioka, five miles from the power plant, a school sports hall is scattered with footballs left when children fled. 
It’s in stark contrast to arenas being built for the £20billion Games. Fukushima is hosting the first event, a softball match on July 22, two days before the opening ceremony. 
The Japanese leg of the torch relay starts on March 26 at a soccer training centre 12 miles south of the crippled plant. The J Village, a base for emergency workers, only fully reopened last month. 
In Okuma our Geiger counter sounded furiously, recording four microsieverts an hour. The government safety target is 0.23 microsieverts per hour. 
It came days after evacuation orders were lifted for parts of the town which had 10,000 residents. The centre remains a no-go zone and just 367 former residents have registered to go back. 
Ayako Oga, 46, who suffered a miscarriage, says: “The Olympics are putting lives in danger. The government is forcing people to leave the public homes they have been in. They are putting a heavy burden on people still suffering mentally and financially.” 
In Namie, which had 21,000 residents, evacuation orders were lifted in 2017. It is said 800 people returned but we found desolation, only traffic lights working. 
The Wild Boar bar last served a drink on disaster day. Owner Sumio Konno, in a group legal action against the government, says his son, who was five, still suffers nosebleeds. “He is sick all the time,” he says. “Every month he needs to go to the doctor.” 
Ryohei Kataoka, of the Citizens Nuclear Information Centre, says: “The government’s insistence in lifting evacuation orders where heightened radiation-related health risks undeniably exist, is a campaign to show that Fukushima is ‘back to normal’ and to try to make Japan and the world forget the accident ever happened.” 
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August 12, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

‘We were driven out’: Fukushima’s radioactive legacy

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In March 2017, the government lifted its evacuation order for the center of Namie.
“This is the worst time, the most painful period.” For the people of Namie and other towns near the Fukushima plant, the pain is sharpened by the way the Japanese government is trying to move beyond the tragedy, to use the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a symbol of hope and recovery, a sign that life can return to normal after a disaster of this magnitude.
If we give up, we would lose our town, and as mayor, I will work with all my heart to prevent that.” But many residents say the central government is being heavy-handed in its attempts to persuade people to return, failing to support residents’ efforts to build new communities in places like Nihonmatsu, and then ending compensation payments within a year of evacuation orders being lifted.
In other towns around the nuclear plant, people have complained that arbitrarily decided compensation payouts — more for people deemed to have been in radiation-affected zones, far less for tsunami victims, nothing for people just a mile outside the zone most affected — have divided communities and caused resentment and friction.
“This is a place desperate to attract people to return, but this reduces our attractiveness for young people,” said Riken Komatsu in the fishing port of Onahama, who is working to rebuild a sense of community and raise awareness about problems with the reconstruction effort.
The biggest tragedy now is the high rate of suicides.” Kazuhiro Yoshida, the embattled mayor of Namie, said fears about radiation are not the only reason people aren’t returning; many complain the deserted town lacks amenities.
“The scale of the problem is clearly not something the government wants to communicate to the Japanese people, and that’s driving the whole issue of the return of evacuees,” said Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace.
It says radiation levels in parts of Namie where evacuation orders have been lifted will remain well above international maximum safety recommendations for many decades, raising the risks of leukemia and other cancers to “unjustifiable levels,” especially for children.
In the rural areas around the town, radiation levels are much higher and could remain unsafe for people beyond the end of this century, Greenpeace concluded in a 2018 report. Greenpeace has been taking thousands of radiation readings for years in the towns around the Fukushima nuclear plant.
“The idea that an industrial accident closes off an area of Japan, with its limited habitable land, for generations and longer — that would just remind the public why they are right to be opposed to nuclear power.”
Four-fifths of Namie’s geographical area is mountain and forest, impossible to decontaminate, still deemed unsafe to return.
When it rains, the radioactive cesium in the mountains flows into rivers and underground water sources close to the town.
Komatsu says reconstruction has been imposed from above, a problem he says reflects, in a broader sense, what Japan is like.
Today, Namie’s former residents are scattered across all but one of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
“For the past eight years, we have seen the destruction of the area, the destruction of the community, and it will be difficult to bring people back,” he said.
With young people moving away, the elderly, who already feel the loss of Namie most acutely, find themselves even more alone.
Now, the damage is more severe because young people are not returning. The elderly who come back feel pessimism and depression.
Six Olympic softball games and a baseball game will be staged in Fukushima, the prefecture’s bustling and radiation-free capital city, and the Olympic torch relay will start from here.

February 11, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan’s government refuses UN call to stop returning evacuees to irradiated areas of Fukushima

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Japan rejects UN call to stop returns to Fukushima

 
Japan’s government lifted its standard for the acceptable level of radiation to 20 millisieverts per year from 1 millisievert after the Fukushima disaster
 
27 Oct 2018
Japan’s government on Friday (Oct 26) rejected calls from a UN rights expert to halt the return of women and children to areas affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster over radiation fears.
UN special rapporteur Baskut Tuncak on Thursday warned that people felt they were “being forced to return to areas that are unsafe, including those with radiation levels above what the government previously considered safe.”
In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Japan’s government lifted its standard for the acceptable level of radiation to 20 millisieverts per year from 1 millisievert.
It has been urged to revise that level back down again, but has rejected calls to do so, a decision Tuncak called “deeply troubling.”
“Japan has a duty to prevent and minimise childhood exposure to radiation,” he said.
But Japan’s government rejected the criticism, saying Tuncak’s comments were based on “one-sided information and could fan unnecessary fears about Fukushima,” a foreign ministry official told AFP.
Japan’s government has gradually lifted evacuation orders on large parts of the areas affected by the disaster, which occurred when a massive tsunami sent reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant into meltdown in March 2011.
But other areas remain under evacuation orders because of continued high levels of radiation.
Japan’s government has pushed hard to return affected areas to normal, but has faced criticism that what it refers to as “safe” radiation levels are not in line with international standards.
Around 12,000 people who fled their homes for fear of radiation have filed dozens of lawsuits against the government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant.
The Fukushima disaster was the worst since Chernobyl in 1986, though there has only been one death linked to it. More than 18,000 people were killed or left missing in the tsunami that prompted the meltdown.

October 27, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Stop forcing the return of women and child evacuees to radioactive parts of Fukushima – UN’s call to Japan

Cathy Iwane:
3 Things:
1. International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) has ALWAYS recommended 1 mSv per year to be ‘safe’ for human living conditions.
2. Japan arbitrarily INCREASED this level 20 TIMES to 20 mSv per year AFTER Fukushima Daiichi blew. Science proves this level DANGEROUS for women & children; thus, the UN calling out this human rights abuse.
3. Japan is funding billions of dollars for 2020 Olympic venues & athletes’ housing in Fukushima; BUT ending support for Fukushima évacuées, forcing many to return to dangerous radiation exposure.
 
 
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Students from Fukushima High School ride a bus and are told by Tokyo Electric Power Co. executive Yoshiyuki Ishizaki, right, about the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant’s No. 1 reactor, which just had a cover removed from its building, in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Nov. 18, 2016.

Stop sending women & children back to Fukushima fallout zone, UN expert tells Japan

26 Oct, 2018
A UN human rights expert has urged Japan to reconsider its policy of returning women and children to areas still high in radiation after they were displaced by the Fukushima meltdown.
Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on hazardous substances, criticized the Japanese government’s decision to resettle citizens in areas with radiation levels above one millisievert per year, the threshold of health risk to groups particularly sensitive to radiation, including children and women of childbearing age.
“The gradual lifting of evacuation orders has created enormous strains on people whose lives have already been affected by the worst nuclear disaster of this century,” he said.
Tuncak presented his findings to a General Assembly committee meeting in New York. “Many feel they are being forced to return to areas that are unsafe, including those with radiation levels above what the government previously considered safe,” he added in a news release.
The Japanese government dismissed his concerns, blaming one-sided information and expressing concern that the statement could stoke “unnecessary fears” about the site of the March 2011 nuclear disaster.
After the earthquake and subsequent power plant meltdown, the Japanese government raised its acceptable radiation levels to 20 millisieverts. The UN last year issued a recommendation to return the level to pre-meltdown standards, but Japan ignored the request.
Over seven years later, radiation levels around Fukushima remain high, as has the apparent level of denial within the Japanese government. They recently announced plans to release about a million tons of wastewater contaminated with radioactive elements into the Pacific Ocean, claiming high-tech processing had reduced the contaminants to safe levels, but was forced to admit that 80 percent of the water remained contaminated after local residents protested the dumping plans.
The government has been removing evacuation orders gradually and plans to repeal all of them within five years, regardless of the contamination level in the areas. Japan was slow to enact the evacuation orders initially – only residents within a 3km radius of the meltdown were told to evacuate immediately after the accident, and four days later, residents 30km away were still being told to shelter in place. However, it was already allowing resettlement in areas within 20km of the plant by 2014.
Tuncak has clashed with the Japanese government before. In August, he and two other UN human rights experts criticized them for putting at risk the lives of those involved in the Fukushima clean-up. An earlier UN report showed that 167 plant workers had received radiation doses that increased their cancer risk.
Only last month did the Japanese government admit that even a single plant worker had died as a result of radiation exposure. The unnamed man, whose job included measuring radiation levels immediately after the meltdown, was exposed to about 195 millisieverts of radiation and developed lung cancer after leaving his job in 2015.
 

UN envoy: Halt children’s return to Fukushima

October 26, 2018
A UN envoy has urged Japan to halt the return of children and young women to nuclear accident-hit Fukushima, calling the government’s radiation exposure limit too lax. But the Japanese side is refuting the advice.
Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur Baskut Tuncak on Thursday was speaking to a committee of the UN General Assembly.
The government set the exposure limit at 20 milisieverts per year as a condition for lifting evacuation orders issued for parts of the prefecture after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident.
Tuncak criticized the government for not taking into account the council’s recommendation that the limit be one milisievert.
A Japanese delegate countered by saying the limit is based on a 2007 recommendation by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
He also said the government has been consulting Japanese experts on the matter, and that Tuncak’s reports give Fukushima a negative reputation.
But Tuncak said the experts recommend that the annual limit be one milisievert in normal times. He added that risk remains as long as radiation levels exceed this threshold.
Tuncak urged Japan to apply the principle to children and women of reproductive age.

UN rights expert urges Japan to halt returns to Fukushima

October 26, 2018
GENEVA (Kyodo) — The Japanese government must halt the return of women and children displaced by the March 2011 nuclear disaster back to areas of Fukushima where radiation levels remain high, a U.N. human rights expert said Thursday.
The special rapporteur on hazardous substances, Baskut Tuncak, also criticized in his statement the government’s gradual removal of evacuation orders for most of the irradiated areas as well as its plan to lift all orders within the next five years, even for the most contaminated areas.
“The gradual lifting of evacuation orders has created enormous strains on people whose lives have already been affected by the worst nuclear disaster of this century. Many feel they are being forced to return to areas that are unsafe,” he said.
An official of Japan’s permanent mission to the international organizations in Geneva refuted the statement, saying it is based on extremely one-sided information and could fan unnecessary fears about Fukushima.
Tuncak expressed concerns about people returning to areas with radiation above 1 millisievert per year, a level previously observed by Japan as an annual limit so as to prevent risks to the health of vulnerable people, especially children and women of reproductive age.
“It is disappointing to see Japan appear to all but ignore the 2017 recommendation of the U.N. human rights monitoring mechanism to return back to what it considered an acceptable dose of radiation before the nuclear disaster,” he said.
In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear incident, the Japanese government heightened the annually acceptable level of radiation to 20 millisieverts, raising concerns for the health of residents.
In August, Tuncak and two other U.N. human rights experts jointly criticized the Japanese government for allegedly exploiting and putting at risk the lives of “tens of thousands” of people engaged in cleanup operations at and around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a claim Tokyo dismissed.

October 27, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Japan must halt returns to Fukushima, radiation remains a concern, says UN rights expert

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GENEVA (25 October 2018) – A UN human rights expert has urged the Japanese Government to halt the ongoing relocation of evacuees who are children and women of reproductive age to areas of Fukushima where radiation levels remain higher than what was considered safe or healthy before the nuclear disaster seven years ago.
The UN Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, will present a report to the General Assembly in New York today, highlighting key cases of victims of toxic pollution brought to his attention in recent years that demand global action. The expert said the Japanese Government’s decision to raise by 20 times what it considered to be an acceptable level of radiation exposure was deeply troubling, highlighting in particular the potentially grave impact of excessive radiation on the health and wellbeing of children. 
“It is disappointing to see Japan appear to all but ignore the 2017 recommendation of the UN human rights monitoring mechanism (UPR) to return back to what it considered an acceptable dose of radiation before the nuclear disaster,” he said.
Following the nuclear disaster in 2011, which was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami, Japan raised the acceptable level of radiation for residents in Fukushima from 1 mSv/year to 20 mSv/year. The recommendation to lower acceptable levels of exposure to back to 1 mSv/yr was proposed by the Government of Germany and the Government of Japan ‘accepted to follow up’ on it, according to the UN database.  However, in the expert’s view, the recommendation is not being implemented.
Japan has a duty to prevent and minimise childhood exposure to radiation, added the UN expert referring to his 2016 report on childhood exposure to toxics. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Japan is a Party, contains a clear obligation on States to respect, protect and fulfil the right of the child to life, to maximum development and to the highest attainable standard of health, taking their best interests into account. This, the expert said, requires State parties such as Japan to prevent and minimise avoidable exposure to radiation and other hazardous substances.
The Special Rapporteur said Japan should provide full details as to how its policy decisions in relation to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, including the lifting of evacuation orders and the setting of radiation limits at 20mSv/y, are not in contravention of the guiding principles of the Convention, including the best interests of the chid.
Tuncak has expressed his concerns at the Human Rights Council in recent years, accompanied by explicit requests and pleas by concerned organisations for the Government to invite the mandate to conduct an official visit. The Japanese Government has a standing invitation to all mandate holders but has not to date invited the mandate on hazardous substances and wastes to conduct an official country visit.
Seven years after the nuclear disaster, actions for the reconstruction and revitalisation of Fukushima are in full implementation process, with evacuation orders lifted for most of the areas, and with plans in place for lifting evacuation orders in even the highest contaminated areas during the next five years. In March 2017 housing subsidies reportedly stopped to be provided to self-evacuees, who fled from areas other than the government-designated evacuation zones.
“The combination of the Government’s decision to lift evacuation orders and the prefectural authorities’ decision to cease the provision of housing subsidies, places a large number of self-evacuees under immense pressure to return,” Tuncak said. 
“The gradual lifting of evacuation orders has created enormous strains on people whose lives have already been affected by the worst nuclear disaster of this century. Many feel they are being forced to return to areas that are unsafe, including those with radiation levels above what the Government previously considered safe.”
ENDS
The presentation of the thematic report at the General Assembly today will be live-streamed on the United Nations Web TV. 
Mr. Baskut Tuncak is Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. As a Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
For more information and media requests, please contact: Ms Lilit Nikoghosyan (+41 22 9179936 / lnikoghosyan@ohchr.org) or Mr. Alvin Gachie (+41 22 917 997 1/ agachie@ohchr.org) or write to srtoxics@ohchr.org
For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)
This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org

October 27, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Six years after Fukushima – women and children still suffer most

The Japanese government is trying to get back to normality after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but the crisis is far from over for women and children, says Greenpeace. Thousands of mothers have sued the authorities.

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Six years ago, the triple disaster – earthquake, tsunami and meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant – took the lives of almost 20,000 people and displaced more than 160,000 people from their homes. More than 80,000 people are still living in temporary accommodation.

The disaster had an enormous impact on all members of the affected communities, but to this day it is women and children who “have borne the brunt of human rights violations resulting from it,” according to a report by Greenpeace.

While some injustices faced by women and children were caused by policy failures in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, other women’s and children’s rights violations are a direct result of the current government’s plans to resettle residents to “heavily contaminated ares in Fukushima,” says Greenpeace.

In an effort to get back to normality as quickly as possible, the Japanese government is set to lift evacuation orders at the end of March and allow evacuated residents to return to areas close to the Fukushima power plant.

37864007_401Employees clean an elementary school in Fukushima. It’s scheduled to re-open in April.

 

Greenpeace warned, however, that radiation levels are still dangerously high and called on the government not to “pressure” residents to return to their contaminated homes, under threat of losing financial support. A year after an area is declared safe, the government will stop paying compensation to evacuees. 

In March, Japan will also cut housing support for people who decided to move out although they were not under a government evacuation order.

“Cutting off housing support for self-evacuees threatens more than 10,000 households, potentially forcing many people back to contaminated areas against their will,” says Kendra Ulrich, Global Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace Japan. Ending compensation payments “even though radiation levels far exceed the long-term targets in many areas […] amounts to economic coercion and is a deliberate violation of the law and survivors’ human rights.”

“Atomic divorce” 

The resettlement plans create a dilemma for those who refuse to go back to their former homes but are dependent on financial support, especially single mums. After the disaster, a lot of women separated from or even divorced their husbands, who chose to stay in contaminated regions because of their work, and evacuated with their children.

There are no official numbers on how many families split as a result of the disaster. But the phenomenon is common enough to have a name, “genpatsu rikon” – literally meaning “atomic divorce”.

37871613_401These mothers evacuated with their children from Fukushima prefecture.

 

Mothers are now faced with the choice between losing housing support or moving back to unsafe areas. In order to speed up the return of evacuees, the government decontaminated corridors and islands instead of entire areas, effectivley creating “an invisible, open-air prison for citizens to return to,” says Greenpeace. 

Decontaminated zones often consist of 20 meter strips along roads, around houses and agricultural fields. This poses a health threat as the returnees would be surrounded by contamination.

Mothers are worried about their health and the development of their children. Noriko Kubota, a professor of clinical psychology at Iwaki Meisei University, believes that living in “safe zones” could have a long-lasting negative impact on kids.

“If children need to stay inside and cannot run around outside freely, that would impact their psychological development, more specifically their skills of interacting with each other and controlling their emotions among others,” Kubota told DW.

Mothers sue government

Women are, however, not only silent victims in this disaster. Thousands of mothers have together filed lawsuits against the Japanese government to fight for the continuation of housing support and fair compensation. They also demand accountability for the disaster from the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the company running the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

37868371_401Ms Horie is sueing the government for fair compensation.

 

“I never imagined becoming a plaintiff myself. I’m going to court now for my children and for the next generation,” Ms Horie told Greenpeace. She moved with her children from Fukushima to Kyoto, where she filed a class action suit together with other mums. “Back then, they said on TV that the accident wouldn’t affect our health immediately, but it might affect my kids in the future. That’s why I decided to evacuate.”

Women who left contaminated areas have been “labeled as neurotic or irrational,” says Greenpeace. Their concerns were dismissed both by their partners and the government. The lawsuit is not only about financial compensation but also for moral satisfaction.

“I want to stand in court, knowing that I am right to evacuate my child,” says Ms Sonoda, who moved with her child from Fukushima to England. “We are right.”

http://www.dw.com/en/six-years-after-fukushima-women-and-children-still-suffer-most/a-37871135

April 15, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima continuing | , , | 2 Comments

As I See It: Support for ‘voluntary evacuees’ insufficient but not too late to start

Kurumi Sugita: “I do not agree with the following part of the article.

“Radiation levels in Fukushima Prefecture dropped significantly shortly after the outbreak of the disaster, and in some areas, radiation levels are not much different from those in the Kansai region, where I live. “

There exists at least three problems which are related to each other:
1) you shouldn’t base your judgement only on airborne radiation measurements. We should look at the soil radio contamination density which is more reliable.
2) the official figures of airborne radiation measurements are average figures, which annihilates the problem of hotspots.
3) the governments do not acknowledge the risk of internal radiation and its health hazards.

All in all, the so-called “voluntary” evacuees have good reasons to keep evacuated and it is their basic human right.”

 

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Friends help an evacuee (foreground) move in Osaka’s Suminoe Ward, ahead of the cutoff date for free housing, on March 18, 2017.

 

As I See It: Support for ‘voluntary evacuees’ insufficient but not too late to start

So-called “voluntary evacuees” who fled Fukushima Prefecture due to the ongoing nuclear crisis were cut off from free housing services at the end of March.

Since last fall, I have been reporting on the issue of termination of free housing for “voluntary evacuees” — those who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture out of radiation concerns, even though their places of residence did not come under the government’s evacuation orders — and have met many evacuees who faced termination amid straitened circumstances and with no prospects of living independently.

Six years have passed since the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, and I believe that insufficient assistance provided by the central government, the Fukushima Prefectural Government, and the municipalities to which Fukushima Prefecture residents evacuated led to the current state of affairs.

Following the onset of the nuclear crisis at Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011, some Fukushima Prefecture residents who did not live in areas designated by the central government as no-go zones “voluntarily” evacuated to other areas of Fukushima Prefecture and beyond. The Fukushima Prefectural Government regarded the homes such evacuees chose to live in as “temporary housing” provided to victims of disasters, and covered their rent. Unlike evacuees from areas designated as no-go zones, most “voluntary evacuees” have not been eligible for compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, leaving payment for housing from the Fukushima Prefectural Government as the only assistance such evacuees received. In June of 2015, however, the prefectural government announced that it would be terminating such assistance at the end of March 2017, saying that “an environment for leading everyday life in Fukushima is in the process of coming together.”

Radiation levels in Fukushima Prefecture dropped significantly shortly after the outbreak of the disaster, and in some areas, radiation levels are not much different from those in the Kansai region, where I live. However, many former Fukushima prefectural residents are still concerned with radiation, and among some families, children do not want to move back to Fukushima because they’ve made friends where they live now. As of October 2016, there were approximately 10,000 households of “voluntary evacuees” from Fukushima Prefecture. This spring, many of those households were faced with the difficult question of whether to move back to their hometowns, or pay out of pocket in order to continue life where they are.

What I took from reporting on the issue is the polarization of “voluntary evacuees.” Those who have been able to adapt to life where they’ve evacuated to and rebuild their lives said they wanted to leave behind their status as “evacuees.” Some even said they’d become leaders of neighborhood community associations.

Meanwhile, others said they couldn’t sleep at night because they were unable to find affordable housing, or that they didn’t have the funds to move. Among the latter were those with family members who have disabilities, or members who are from other countries and do not speak Japanese well — in other words, families who were vulnerable even before the outbreak of the nuclear disaster. I learned of cases in which people’s lives turned for the worse after they evacuated. For example, there have been cases of divorce that resulted after mothers evacuated with their children, leaving the father behind. Meanwhile, other evacuees developed mental illness or suffered strokes. Such evacuees needed assistance that was finely tuned to their individual needs in the areas of employment, medical care and education. However, there were many instances in which I felt they were not receiving sufficient care.

A 57-year-old man who “voluntarily” evacuated from the city of Fukushima to an Osaka municipal residence, remained isolated in a corner of the massive city for 4 1/2 years after the outbreak of the disaster. The man has a visual impairment that has qualified him for level-1 physical disability certification. He is not completely blind, but to read documents, he must step out onto the veranda for natural light and use a magnifying glass. With his disability, it is nerve-racking for him to go out alone in an unfamiliar city. His South Korean-born wife, 62, who helps him with his everyday life, does not read or write Japanese well. Because of this, he rarely obtained information from documents that were delivered to him from administrative offices or support organizations.

He thus remained unable to receive assistance, and was bogged down by debt that he incurred from moving and purchasing household furnishings. He didn’t even learn about the termination of free housing until six months after the Fukushima Prefectural Government made the announcement. Subsequently, based on the advice of a supporter who visited him at his home, he transferred his residency registration to the city of Osaka, and began receiving the city’s support services. However, he still has mixed feelings toward administrative agencies. “They had to have known about my visual disability. Whether it be the Fukushima Municipal Government or the Osaka Municipal Government, if someone had made the effort to inform me, I wouldn’t have had to suffer as much as I did,” he said.

In fiscal 2016, the Fukushima Prefectural Government and the municipalities to which Fukushima prefectural residents evacuated made individual visits to “voluntary evacuees.” They should have made the visits an opportunity not only to listen to residents’ concerns about housing after they were cut off, but also to help map out plans for households under straitened circumstances to become independent. But that was not necessarily the case.

A woman in her 50s who, with her child, evacuated from the Fukushima Prefecture city of Koriyama to a Tokyo public housing complex, was emotionally beaten down after constantly being reminded by housing management that she and her child were to leave by the end of the 2016 fiscal year. The woman said that she was even told that she could be hit with a lawsuit if she did not move out of the building.

The dedication with which local governments took the effort to visit evacuees differed from municipality to municipality, and at least one municipal government did not send staff to visit evacuees until three months before the free housing service was brought to an end. To make matters worse, many municipal governments were sending staff not from their welfare departments, but from their public housing departments to make the visits. Under such circumstances, criticism against municipal governments for lacking a commitment to provide comprehensive support to evacuees is hard to refute.

Another thing that caught my attention as I covered this issue is that a large number of evacuees are apprehensive about going on public assistance. A mother and child who evacuated to the city of Osaka declined advice to apply for welfare. They said they did not want to become a burden to the state, and eked out a living on an 80,000-yen monthly income. However, public assistance exists precisely for people like this family. Municipalities that have dispatched staff to make individual visits to evacuee households, and are abreast of which households are in dire straits, should actively try to dispel misperceptions and prejudice about welfare, and help those people receive the assistance they need.

I believe that the evacuees’ original municipalities of residence and the municipalities to which they evacuated are both responsible for the fact that they were unable to receive sufficient support before free housing was shut down. The Fukushima Prefectural Government assumed that the provision of housing assistance would suffice, while municipalities to which the residents evacuated had a latent notion that the evacuees weren’t “real” residents of the municipality.

It’s not too late, though. Both parties should collaborate and commit to closely assisting those facing grave hardships achieve self-reliance.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170413/p2a/00m/0na/012000c

April 15, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

3 Schools Return From Nuclear Exile

Two generations of Fukushima children sacrificed in the name of political expediency…

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Students from two elementary schools and a junior high school attend the joint opening ceremony for a new school building in the town of Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, on Thursday. The schools moved to makeshift venues in 2011 to escape radioactive fallout during the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Naraha sees three schools return from nuclear exile in Fukushima

FUKUSHIMA – Two elementary schools and a junior high school returned to their hometown in Fukushima Prefecture on Thursday six years after being forced to flee radiation spewed by the March 2011 nuclear disaster.

Around 90 students attended the joint opening ceremony at the new building housing the junior high school in Naraha, most of which is within a 20-km hot zone centered on the heavily damaged Fukushima No. 1 plant. The evacuation order for Naraha was lifted in September 2015.

Our school life in Naraha, which we have long awaited, begins today. One day, I want to do something for my town,” 11-year-old Hina Moue of Naraha Minami Elementary School said at the ceremony.

The two elementary schools will hold their classes in the junior high school building for the time being.

Since January 2013, the students had been studying at a makeshift facility further south in a university in Iwaki.

The junior high school building was under construction when the 2011 mega-quake and tsunami triggered the man-made nuclear crisis.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/04/06/national/naraha-sees-three-schools-return-nuclear-exile-fukushima/

 

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Children are seen getting on a school bus at JR Hirono Station in Fukushima Prefecture on April 6, 2017, to attend classes in the town of Naraha.

Fukushima schools reopen for 1st time in 6 years after nuclear evacuation order lifted

NARAHA, Fukushima — All of the three public elementary and junior high schools here resumed classes on April 6 for the first time in six years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster broke out.

The whole town of Naraha was subject to an evacuation order in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant. While the order was lifted in September 2015, only about 10 percent of local residents have returned to the town.

This is the first time schools reopened in a municipality that was subject to evacuation orders in its entirety.

Students of the two municipal elementary schools and one junior high school had been studying at a makeshift school in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki, where many Naraha townspeople evacuated. They will now attend classes held at the Naraha Junior High School building. In the meantime, only 105 students, or 20-plus percent of those who would be able to enroll in these three schools, will be going to school there.

There are a total of 22 children who are commuting from Iwaki, approximately 30 kilometers away from the town. On the day that Naraha schools reopened, some of these children took a 25-minute train ride from JR Joban Line’s Iwaki Station and got on a school bus at a station in the neighboring town of Hirono. Since Naraha remains fairly empty even after the evacuation order was lifted, almost all the 105 students will take school buses between the train station and their school out of safety concerns.

Mineo Yokota, 52, who owns a restaurant in Naraha and commutes to his workplace from Iwaki by car, decided he would send his eldest daughter, a second-year junior high school student, to the school in his family’s hometown. She had transferred school three times since the nuclear disaster, due to evacuation.

“I had planned to drive her to school, but my daughter decided on her own to commute by train after talking to some of the upperclassmen. I’m relieved to learn that the kids have made their own community,” Yokota said.

Naraha Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto said at the opening ceremony that the municipal government had prepared for this day “with the determination that ‘there is no future for a town without children'” even though reopening schools in Naraha “seemed impossible at one point.”

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170406/p2a/00m/0na/015000c

 

April 8, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

Reconstruction minister lashes out over remaining Fukushima evacuees

Japan’s disaster reconstruction minister said Tuesday displaced people yet to return to areas of Fukushima Prefecture deemed safe to live in are “responsible for themselves,” before snapping at the reporter whose question prompted the remark.

Masahiro Imamura made the comment at a press conference explaining the government’s efforts for the reconstruction of areas hit by the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

Housing subsidies ran out last month for those who had left areas other than government-designated zones around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Citing a court decision last month that the central government and the plant’s operator were liable in the nuclear disaster in the first ruling of its kind since the crisis, a reporter asked what the state is doing to help the “voluntary evacuees.”

Imamura responded that the central government has delegated such matters to prefectural authorities, which are more knowledgeable about local conditions.

“It’s their own responsibility, their own choice,” he said when pressed further, pointing out that other evacuees have managed to go back to the areas.

The reporter said some of those still displaced have found themselves unable to return, and asked whether the state should take more responsibility for looking after those people.

“We are taking responsibility. Why are you saying something so rude?” Imamura shouted, slamming his podium.

Pointing a finger at the reporter, he then yelled, “Take that back! Get out of here!”

“You’re the one who’s causing problems for the evacuees,” someone called out as Imamura walked away from the podium, to which the minister responded “Shut up!” before leaving the room.

“The minister has informed me that he became emotional and was unable to remain calm for part of today’s press conference,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a subsequent press conference.

Suga, the government’s top spokesman, said the matter is one for Imamura himself to “handle appropriately.”

The disaster reconstruction minister apologized later Tuesday, telling reporters he had “become emotional.”

Imamura, 70, was installed in his post in a Cabinet reshuffle in August last year.

https://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2017/04/467033.html

April 5, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

Reconstruction Disaster: The human implications of Japan’s forced return policy in Fukushima

 

Suzuki Yūichi interviewed and with an introduction by Katsuya Hirano with Yoshihiro Amaya and Yoh Kawano

Transcription and translation by Akiko Anson

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Suzuki Yūichi (56) was born to a farming family in Namie, Fukushima in 1960. Namie was one of the areas most devastated by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, as well as the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. Besides 565 deaths from the earthquake/tsunami, because the town was located within the 20 kilometer exclusion zone around the damaged nuclear power plant, the entire town was evacuated on March 12. The government of Namie continued to operate in Nihonmatsu-city 39 kilometers from Namie. At the time of the nuclear accident, Mr. Suzuki was working in the Citizens’ Affairs Division of Namie and was immediately assigned to the Disaster Management Division established to assist citizens in finding missing family members, locating temporary housing, and evacuating families. Suzuki was subsequently responsible for decontamination efforts, return policies, and establishing clinics for prospective returnees. In the summer and the winter of 2016, I visited Namie with my colleagues Professor Yoshihiro Amaya of Niigata University and Yoh Kawano, a PhD candidate at UCLA, to interview Mr. Suzuki. Mr. Suzuki contends that the majority of former residents of Namie are unlikely to return to the town even after the Japanese government lifts the restriction on residency in certain areas on March 31, 2017. Many families have already settled in new villages, towns and cities in and outside Fukushima and continue to fear internal radioactive exposure and other dangers associated with decommissioning the damaged reactors. As a city official who led decontamination efforts and return policy, Suzuki remains skeptical of Japanese government programs for “reconstruction” or “revival” of the affected areas. He anticipates that the area will become a “no man’s land” after the elderly returnees pass away. Namie’s population was 21,400 at the time of the nuclear accident. He estimates that 10 percent or less will return. The interview is an important testament to the ongoing rift and dissonance between Tokyo and Fukushima over the policies and slogans of “reconstruction” and “return”. K.H.

 

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Hirano: Mr. Suzuki, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. You have been promoting decontamination work as a town official until recently since the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

It is said that even after decontamination is completed, the radiation level will rise again. Do you think that “residents’ return (kikan, 帰還)” and “reconstruction (fukkō, 復興)” are possible under such conditions? For example, through experimental planting of rice and vegetables, the possibility of reviving agriculture has been explored in Namie. How many people do you think plan to return here to resume agriculture?

Suzuki: I used to work in the decontamination control division, and as far as I know from what I learned there, once decontamination work is completed, radiation levels should not return to the high levels prior to decontamination effort. However, I have heard various doctors voicing concerns about whether the dose rates, even after decontamination, have actually dropped to safe levels, so I personally feel uncertain about this although I am not a specialist in the field.1

I believe, however, that as long as radiation levels stay below 0.2 – 0.3 microsieverts per hour in Namie, there may not be much difference between the evacuation areas and Namie. In fact, in Nihonmatsu, where my family and I are now living, the radiation level is 0.2 or 0.1 and many people are living there.

5024-03The Japanese government has announced that it is lifting evacuation orders in the green and orange zones on March 31, 2017. This image is taken from the website of Fukushima Prefecture.

 

Hirano: Some people claim that decontamination is not very effective.

Some evacuees from Namie currently living in my hometown in Ibaraki prefecture made a one-day trip to Namie last October, and were joined by a group of professors from Ibaraki University, who have been collecting and monitoring data on radiation doses in that area. They sampled soil in the area around one of the evacuees’ houses, which had been declared decontaminated. In some areas the level had dropped to the national and international standard (1 millisieverts per year or 0.23 microsieverts per hour), but in the backyard and in a forest area just behind the house, the radiation level was actually extremely high.2

Suzuki: It seems that it has not yet been completely decontaminated . Well, I have to say, we can’t decontaminate forest areas. That would require cutting down all the trees and then scraping up all the topsoil. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see any effect. But as far as areas around houses are concerned, all the soil has been stripped away, so the radiation level has dropped significantly. For example, my parents’ house is in a so-called “zone in preparation for lifting the evacuation order.” At first the radiation level was 3.0 microsieverts per hour, but after decontamination, it has dropped to less than 0.5.

Hirano: I see. But the entire contaminated region in Fukushima is richly forested– it’s all surrounded by forest, not just Namie. If it is impossible to decontaminate forest areas, it means that radioactive material could easily blow in from the forest, causing radiation levels to increase in decontaminated areas. Some residents say that the radiation level has in fact risen since the decontamination. So does it mean that decontamination is effective only in urban areas where there are few forests? In other words, there is a gap between places where decontamination has been working well and places where it has not.

Suzuki: It is okay in areas where the soil has been properly stripped away, but nobody has done anything in mountain areas behind homesurayama, 裏山). We town officials have been asking the Ministry of the Environment to decontaminate such areas properly as well, since they are not just nameless wooded hills. Rather, they are Satoyama (里山), wooded areas surrounding people’s homes that are a part of their everyday lives. We’ve said that if we don’t decontaminate those areas we wouldn’t be able to bring people back home.

5024-04.jpgHouses in wooded areas (satoyama) are not decontaminated. Radiation levels remain high and residents are not allowed to return.

 

However, if we cut all of the trees down in order to decontaminate, we will lose water retention capacity, which could result in a natural disaster. So that’s another reason we can’t clean up mountains and forests. We have considered just asking people to stay away from forest areas. If you take a radiation dosimeter and find 0.2 in your garden and then that same dosimeter indicates 1.0 in another place higher up, you will have to acknowledge that you have a hotspot and stay away from it. People will have to make those judgments as they go about their lives.

Hirano: It sounds psychologically stressful, doesn’t it? We have to live our lives constantly telling ourselves it is okay here, but not there.

Suzuki: I know what you mean, but that is all we can do to deal with the Satoyama areas. And then there are rivers. Before the nuclear accident, we used to go to a river to pick up pebbles or take our kids there to play in the water, but the Ministry of the Environment doesn’t deal with rivers so they decided not to decontaminate rivers. They have not done anything to remove radiation from them. I’m talking rivers that have a levee on either side. Their reasoning probably is that once a river is flooded, it will be contaminated again. That is my guess. But rivers are also a part of everyday life, so we have been asking that they be properly decontaminated as well, but…

Hirano: Do they have a plan in place?

Suzuki: Probably not. I don’t think so.

Hirano: Well, so is your town planning to prepare for residents who return, such as setting up public signs for high radiation areas to warn people not to come close to those areas? Or is it something like ‘let’s leave it up to people’s “common sense” once they return home’?

Suzuki: I think it will likely be left up to their common sense. That’s why I believe it is necessary that schools give children radiation awareness training, so that they can learn how to avoid internal radiation exposure by measuring doses of what they eat, or they can learn to stay away from dangerous places where they live. Now, this is not limited to only Fukushima, but should apply to people throughout Japan.

Hirano: In other words, from now on this kind of so-called self-responsibility will become an essential part of life in Fukushima, won’t it? Later I would like to return to this topic and ask about education on the risks of nuclear power plants, and external and internal radiation exposure.

But I would like to ask you a little more about the “return policy”. When I interviewed you last summer, you mentioned that under the return policy probably less than 10% of residents would come back. Has your estimate changed?

Suzuki: No. It is about the same. Regarding the estimate, we briefly had a program called “special case overnight stay” (tokurei shukuhaku, 特例宿泊) to allow former residents to stay in Namie during the month of September for 26 days. The only participants after all were elderly couples and some single guys, who really wished to return. That was about it.

 

5024-05Namie town center. Decontamination work has been completed and the streets have been cleaned up. However, it is expected that most shops will not reopen. I saw about a dozen people preparing to move back during my visit to Namie in the winter of 2016.

 

Also we have begun a program called “preparatory overnight stay” (junbi shukuhaku, 準備宿泊) since November, which allows residents who notify us to stay in evacuation areas until the evacuation orders are permanently lifted. It is still going on, but the only participants in the program have been elderly couples. We have set up a temporary emergency clinic, but only the elderly couples, who participated in both programs, the special case overnight stay and the preparatory overnight stay, visit the clinic when they’re feeling sick.

We are building a medical facility now that will be opened once the evacuation order is lifted in Namie, but it will provide nothing beyond primary and secondary medical care, so we won’t have an actual inpatient facility. It means that anyone who needs to be admitted to a hospital, will have to go to a neighboring town, but these hospitals are already struggling with a shortage of doctors and nurses, so I am doubtful that they will be able to accept outside patients any time soon.

In my opinion, if you remain wherever you’ve evacuated to, you can always be admitted to a hospital and receive necessary medical care. I always tell people to think about these things before they decide to return home. The clinic doctor also explains this to his patients, but elderly couples really want to come back to Namie. The doctor believes they should individually decide. I ask them, “so after you return to Namie, what are you going to do if you feel sick and need to be hospitalized? You won’t have a place to go.” They say, ”I will go to a hospital in so-and-so town.” Then I ask, “what if they can’t admit you there? Even after you are discharged from a hospital, where are you going?” “I am going to a nursing home.”

But in reality, even the nursing homes are understaffed and unable to accept new patients. There are facilities, but there isn’t enough staff to run a facility and give adequate care.

When I ask what they are going to do, they have no concrete answers. They just have a vague idea about going there and maybe being admitted to a hospital. They just want to come back home. That is their strongest feeling. It seems that they just don’t want to stay where they have been since evacuation. That was the case of an elderly couple I dealt with recently.

Hirano: Had they been living in temporary housing for quite a while then?3

Suzuki: Yes. Also lack of employment opportunities for a generation of breadwinners is another reason why I think that less than 10% of evacuees will come back. In addition, many have children attending school in the places they evacuated to, so it is not possible to think about returning.

I had my children with me when the evacuation order came, and I ended up sending them to school in the town where we settled. As you know, I did it not because they wanted to change schools but because they had to. It is possible for my children to graduate from the schools they are currently attending. No matter how much you say that it’s safe, that it’s okay to go back, parents need to think about the considerable burden placed on children by switching schools, as this poses another risk to children.

Also it’s been almost six years since we were forced to leave our town. The reality is that children no longer have friends from Namie. This is the same with my children. All of their friends are the ones they met after we evacuated to Nihonmatsu, and once they go to high school, they only hang out with friends from their high school. At the time of the evacuation, one of my children was a 4th grader in elementary school, but she does not see any of her classmates from that time. She has no connection with other children from Namie. Even if you move back here, you will need to find a job, but there will be no employment other than reconstruction-related work.

Hirano: While we’re on that subject, would you say something about lifting the evacuation orders? I understand this applies only to limited areas of the town and not to the entire town.

Suzuki: Yes, the town is divided into three areas, the “zone in preparation for lifting the evacuation order,” “restricted residence area,” and “difficult-to-return zone.” This is divided according to radiation levels, and according to the government report submitted to the town, there are plans to lift evacuation orders in the first two zones sometime in March 2017. As for the third zone, the difficult-to-return zone, no plan has been announced.

Hirano: Does it mean that residents who have a house or property in the town except for the difficult-to-return zone, are allowed to return if they wish?

Suzuki: Yes, that is right.

Hirano: But as you mentioned earlier, even in the areas designated safe to return, various facilities, which returnees will need to restart their lives, are not in place yet, so they are likely to face multiple hardships. But if they choose to return no matter what, the municipal government will support them. Is this the current situation?

Suzuki: Yes. We have been working to restore infrastructure to its pre- earthquake and tsunami state. Concerning the water supply goes, restoration work is nearly complete, and the sewer system has been restored in areas where the evacuation orders are expected to be lifted to the point that we can operate, although I can’t say it is 100% yet.

Concerning infrastructure, a few businesses such as commercial and medical facilities, the post office, and a banking facility have resumed operation. One financial institution opened a branch office in Namie sometime last year, however it’s not as though everyone uses that one bank, so I don’t know what to say about that.

Hirano: A moment ago Mr. Kawano and I stopped by the temporary shopping arcade, which is set up next to the town hall. It houses 11 stores now, and we spoke with some of the owners. They are truly concerned about the prospects for their businesses. They believe that only a few will come back to town and that they won’t be able to sustain their businesses.

Right now they keep their stores open experimentally with financial support from the local government, but they know that the support won’t last forever. They seem to be struggling with the long-term prospects for their businesses. I wonder what the point of this trial exercise is without a prospect for the future.

Suzuki: Well, more than a trial exercise, it is rather to show people that there are at least places to buy food, hardware, daily commodities, dry cleaning. It is to show that we have a place to at least get basic necessities, though these stores are very small.

The prosperity of these stores will probably depend on how many people eventually move back. I don’t think evacuees will bother coming here all the way from where they are currently staying to go shopping. But when you drop in at Namie, as long as there is a convenience store, you can get almost everything, except for hardware. They have drinks, food, first-aid kits, laundry detergent and even cigarettes and some little luxury items. There are also some small restaurants, and I heard that they are the top-selling businesses. And the Lawson convenience store in the temporary shopping arcade carries a bit of fresh food.

I have a feeling that even the participants of the preparation stay program brought a lot of food with them when they came back. So among the 11 stores in the temporary arcade, I heard that only the restaurants have been successful. Instead of buying food and cooking, people will get a box lunch from a convenience store or order meals for home delivery. It seems that this is the current situation.

Kawano: The store owners at the shopping arcade I spoke to also said that considering the lack of enthusiasm for the movement to return in town, it is hard to believe that the evacuation orders will be lifted sometime in March here in Namie.

Suzuki: Yeah. We have some estimates that 500 or 1,000 residents might move back, but even if they do come back, they are likely to feel that they are the only ones or the only families living in Namie since they can’t expect to have many neighbors around them. Especially at night, you usually see lights on in every house by 7pm or 8pm, but you won’t be able to see that. So if you have next-door neighbors on both sides when you return, you might feel as if you’ve finally returned to your hometown, but the reality is that with people evacuated to locations all over the country, it is not easy to coordinate your return with other families.

The best way might be to move into public housing built for evacuees or disaster recovery public housing. All of the units might not be filled, but you would have some other families living in the same complex, so it might feel more reassuring.

But I don’t think it will be that easy. In fact, it has been a year since neighboring towns, such as Hirono-machi, Naraha-machi, and Odaka-ku of Minami Sōma, lifted their evacuation orders, but most evacuees who have returned are elderly people.4 Some of them have been encouraging others to return, something like “oh, so and so is back, so we should return, too.” Watching how those other towns are going, I feel it might be possible for some evacuees from Namie to decide to return home encouraged by their pioneering neighbors.

It is also true, however, that while such efforts are being made, some elderly evacuees will probably pass away in 10 or 15 years. Elementary or junior high school students at the time of evacuation will be almost in their 30s, won’t they? Namie will be just a place for a little bit of memory and nostalgia, “oh, I remember there used to be a house I used to live in when I was little,” but no more, no less. That’s why it will be extremely difficult to bring people back to town after all these years. I am not surprised at all if places like Namie-machi or Odaka-ku will become a “no man’s land” 20 or 30 years later. 

Hirano: In Odaka-ku, where decontamination work has been completed, some farmers have begun experimentally planting a few crops and exploring the possibility of reviving agriculture. How many farmers are really thinking about returning to restart agriculture? How likely are they to be able to sell their rice or other crops once they prove to be free of radioactive substances? Also does the government have any plans to support these farmers?

Suzuki: In order to eliminate harmful rumors (fūhyō higai, 風評被害) against produce from Fukushima, the governor has been disseminating information about safety of food from Fukushima to the whole country. Our mayor has also been promoting safety of our produce by taking rice grown here to the Ministry of the Environment for testing.5

But the farmers participating in this test planting are all elderly people. After all, there are few young farmers in Namie, and the majority of people engaged in agriculture here are older people. Before the accident, their adult children used to help in the field as part-time farmers, but they had to abandon their fields due to the evacuation, and as a result they have ended up losing their connection with agriculture.

I believe those who want to come back and resume agriculture now will be mostly retired people, the elderly, so I am not sure how long they will be able to continue with agriculture considering they won’t have help from the younger generations. Even the younger people I am talking about here, who might consider returning to engage in agriculture, will probably be in their 50s, so I would say most farmers will be 75 or older.

Hirano: So it sounds like even if the experimental planting succeeds, these farmers are not actually pursuing an operation to make a living. Like the elderly couples you mentioned earlier, these farmers really want to return home and as long as they can grow enough to feed themselves, they will be happy.

Suzuki: That’s what I think. They feel terrible about leaving the land they inherited from their ancestors unattended for such a long time. The decontamination work has been completed, and all the weeds in their fields have been pulled. Now that their land is back to normal again, they probably want to at least cultivate it and harvest crops they can eat in the land their ancestors passed on to them.

 

5024-06Nemoto Sachiko and Kōichi run organic farms in Odaka of Minami Sōma. They moved back to their home as soon as the government took Odaka off the designated hazard zone in April 2012. The Nemoto family has been farming land here since the early 17th century. Kōichi has been working with researchers at Niigata University to grow rice and vegetables since 2012 and his crops have been confirmed free of radiation. Their neighbors and friends have not returned, and they think that they will not return. .

 

Of course, I cannot say for sure that they have no intention of earning income by selling their produce. I am sure it will make them happy if they can do so, but I don’t think that it will be a high priority in their mind right now.

Speaking of rice produced through test planting, as long as it is certified to be safe, it is can be sold in the market. It is true that the rice is tested on a bag-by-bag basis to ensure the radioactive cesium level does not exceed the limit, and the contaminated soil has been treated with zeolite. The deep plowing method has also been applied to the soil so that the upper layer soil can be replaced with a lower layer.

In my opinion, however, some radioactive substances still remain in the soil. It means it is possible that there are still some risks of farmers being exposed to radiation in their fields. Right now there is no technique that has been established to remove zeolite from the soil. The best way would be to scrape off the soil completely, but this would also remove the compost, which would probably affect soil fertility and crop growth. In fact, rice yields have decreased considerably compared to before the accident. So I guess we need to figure out how to deal with these problems associated agricultural land in the future.

Amaya: I believe it is very important to establish control measures to minimize radiation exposure to farmers.

Suzuki: I also think the government needs to properly communicate the risks, educating farmers about the risks caused by radiation instead of giving them a go-ahead based only on whether or not radioactive substances are detected in their produce. For example, before the accident it was not uncommon for them to roll up their trousers and enter a rice paddy barefooted if they needed to fix some small thing. But now they need to be advised to avoid doing so because radioactive substances may still remain in the soil. Although the level of airborne radioactivity has been reduced, it does not mean the substances have been completely removed. The radioactive compounds have been buried deeper in the soil by deep plowing and also remain with zeolites in the soil.

Amaya: What zeolite does is absorb radioactive cesium in the soil, so it makes crops less likely to absorb cesium, but as long as zeolites stay in the soil, radioactive substances will remain in the soil as well.

Hirano: Is there any way to remove zeolites from the soil?

Amaya: As far as I know, there is no way to remove zeolites that have absorbed radioactive cesium from the soil selectively or efficiently at low cost.

Hirano: The only option is to leave them in the soil.

Amaya: Some researchers have been trying to develop technology to remove radioactive cesium from zeolites. In fact, it is possible in principle to dissociate cesium absorbed into zeolites with acid, but you would need a lot of equipment to treat a large amount of soil, and a facility to store radioactive cesium. The cost for all of this might pose a big problem. Also during the process of dissociation, mineral nutrients in the soil are likely to be removed, so it might also become a problem when it comes to growing crops.

Hirano: That means that we have to remove all the soil, doesn’t it? It sounds like it may be extremely difficult to revitalize agriculture, which had been the mainstay of Fukushima.

Suzuki: Well, it won’t be easy for sure. First of all, we need to figure out how to solve the problem of manpower. I think we can recruit people, but as I have mentioned before, those who are interested in engaging in agriculture and actually have the agricultural skills to do it are mostly elderly people in their late 60s and 70s. It will be hard for them to remain active for the next 10 or 20 years. So the future of agriculture is an open question. I don’t think it will be easy to revive it.

Hirano: Namie has wonderful mountains and ocean, and before the nuclear accident, it was known as a place where you could harvest not only rice but any food you want. It used to be surrounded by rich, beautiful nature.

According to surveys of city dwellers before the accident, Fukushima was always one of the most ideal places to move to enjoy the country life in retirement. In your view, what had most attracted people to Namie before the disaster?

Suzuki: Well, to put it briefly, a lot of it is the rustic atmosphere. Namie is not really urban, but it’s not just a narrow-minded backwoods town, either. We have traditional crafts like Obori Soma ceramic ware, and both fishery and forestry were active. There were farmers who grew pears and other fruit. Rice, fish, fruits, seasonal foods like mushrooms and vegetables– all these were within our reach. Namie was a comfortable and easy place to live.

5024-07Obori Sōma Ceramic Ware

Hirano: All such things have been destroyed, haven’t they? That’s where things stand now in Namie.

Suzuki: That’s right. There is no doubt that the nuclear industry was one main factor that made this town prosperous. All the regions throughout Japan where nuclear power stations were located, were very poor. There was nothing to develop. This was true for Namie where Fukushima Daiichi (Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Station) and Daini (Fukushima No.2 Nuclear Power Station) are located.

But remember, we were always lectured with the myth of nuclear safety, and I was taught it since I was little. We visited the nuclear energy information center on a social studies school trip and learned about how it would work and how beneficial it would be, like how it could create energy at a low cost. I do not recall any discussion about radiation at all. That’s why we never thought it could cause such a danger.

That’s how we grew up here. It is also true that we had a low unemployment rate in this town because there were a quite a few people engaged in nuclear power-related work. Our tax revenue also had been going up, and the nuclear industry had promoted our local economies significantly. So economically the town and the industry maintained a mutually beneficial relationship.

 

5024-08Namie High School before the Nuclear Disaster

Hirano: So residents here had a very positive impression of the economic effect brought by the nuclear industry?

Suzuki: I think they did. At least I did.

Hirano: So while the safety myth had been accepted widely by residents, neither the central government nor TEPCO had explained anything about nuclear related risks.

Suzuki: No, they didn’t talk about risk. We were told that accidents could not happen.

Hirano: That means they didn’t explain that if an accident were to happen, how serious a disaster it could cause, or even how much of the community could be destroyed. Nothing like that at all…

Suzuki: I don’t think so. There is a PR facility nearby the power stations, and there might have been some kind of explanation concerning nuclear risks there, but I don’t remember it, even if they had anything. So I think probably not at all. This must be true for other communities with nuclear power plants nationwide.

Hirano: I agree with you. My hometown is close to Tokai-mura, and I heard the same thing from residents there, as well. This is probably how the safety myth spread through all these communities. The residents were told how it would bring positive economic effects and significant wealth to their community. That it’s nothing but a win-win situation. This was how they came to accept the nuclear power plants in their community. Was it the same in Namie?

Suzuki: Yes, I think it was the same here. At least that’s how I feel. I am 56 years old, and I was 50 at the time of the accident. I believed what they had told us.

I did not even realize that a cooling system failure could cause the kind of situation that it did. So at the time of evacuation, I imagined that the accident at the power plant would lead to an explosion, that is, an explosion like an atomic bomb. That was the image I had then about the accident.

However, at the time of the accident, plant workers I talked to said that the loss of power supply and the failure of cooling system in one unit would cause problems with all four units. They all said that. Obviously those who were engaged in the plant work knew so much more about radiation, such as the limit of radiation exposure, since they worked in a strict radiation-control environment. I am sure they had been educated well through numerous lectures about radiation.

I have a feeling that only a handful of officials in local government had knowledge about radiation at that time. I gradually learned all about how much exposure we received, and about radioactive substances Cesium 134, 137, Strontium, etc. I came to learn these things after the nuclear disaster. I had no knowledge whatsoever before then.

Hirano: Let me ask you some specific questions. What was the percentage of Namie residents who worked at TEPCO or its affiliated companies before the accident? You mentioned that the industry stimulated the local economy.

Suzuki: I would say at least 50% if we include all its subcontractors’ businesses, and factories, and all the companies below them. In fact, my uncle also ran a small subcontracting company, which was about two or three steps down from the general contractors. My uncle’s company dispatched workers, and he himself worked with them to make a living. So if we include all the businesses related to the TEPCO operation, such as catering, entertaining, and gift-giving, I would say at least 50% of residents here had worked for TEPCO and related industries.

Hirano: I would guess that many companies located in Namie relied heavily on TEPCO.

Suzuki: I think many of them did. I can’t give you an exact proportion, but many businesses were affiliated with TEPCO.

Hirano: I would like to ask about the return policy. Are there are any discrepancies between plans at the national, prefectural, and local level regarding the policies for “residents’ return” and “reconstruction”?

Suzuki: My feeling is that right after the disaster, the central government was willing to listen to us and to try to help with whatever we needed, but recently I feel that they have turned everything toward lifting the evacuation orders.

Their attitude is “we’ve heard you enough, and we’ve dealt with you enough during the concentrated reconstruction period. (2011~2015) What else do you want? More money?” You might remember a cabinet member (Ishihara Nobuteru) saying, “the bottom line is they want money.”6

The government should just contribute money – this was the feeling I got. I understand that it isn’t that easy for them to dispatch officials to a local government at the spur of a moment just because we had an emergency and needed more people and help. I know the central government hires many officials as needed, so it is hard to deal with our request for more people to handle the extra work related to the evacuation.

However, it is easier to provide funds to the disaster-stricken areas. That’s why they had such strong preferences for coming up with a budget rather than sending staff.

Also I feel that people who haven’t been the victim of a disaster, including politicians and bureaucrats, won’t be able to understand the predicament of the evacuees who were forced to flee. Here we thought that victims of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 must have resumed normal lives after a few years of living in temporary housing.7 To me that was just something that happened far away in the Kansai area. Unless you experience it yourself, it’s difficult to understand what it’s really like.

Hirano: What the media has been saying is that for Namie, in particular, after lifting its evacuation orders, full-scale reconstruction can begin. I feel that what the Japanese government is trying to do is to send the message that the nuclear crisis in Fukushima has been finally settled. The government believes that it is necessary to do so in order to create an image of Japan rising like a phoenix from the ashes at the Tokyo Olympics of 2020. That’s what it hopes to achieve by putting aside the thorny predicament of more than 100,000 evacuees and the difficulty of rebuilding communities.

I don’t feel that the Japanese government is looking at reality from the standpoint of the locals. That’s why they simply can’t accept how much the pre-accident life in Namie has fundamentally been destroyed, as you described earlier, and that, even for residents wishing to return, the current situation here is far from ready for them to come back and that there is no way to fix the situation. Mr. Suzuki, how do you feel about this sense that the government has conveyed that the situation in Fukushima is now under control, that reconstruction has been going well, and the return policy has been successful?

Suzuki: Well, I don’t think it will be possible for the reconstruction to be completely finished even 100 years from now. We can say the reconstruction is 100% complete only when everything has been restored to the way it used to be before the evacuation. But of course, there is no way to really restore the life we had before.

So I don’t think 100% reconstruction will be possible, but I think it would be nice if each family passes on its own stories of what Namie used to be like from generation to generation, from mothers and fathers to sons and daughters, and to their children, including lessons of what we learned from this nuclear accident. In fact, some NPOs and other organizations have been working hard to facilitate events so that stories about Namie may continue into the next generation.

Also, since the budget from the central government won’t last forever, I think they want to lift the evacuation order to continue the next step of settling the other remaining issues in the next few years. Considering the fact that money comes from limited financial resources and the burden falling on taxpayers, I understand the situation even from the standpoint of a beneficiary.8

The most important thing we need to do, I think, is to figure out how to support evacuees who are struggling to put their lives back together. More than people like me who have been able to keep a job, I’m concerned about people without jobs and unable to work because of various health issues, and those who have lost their homes to the earthquake or tsunami and have no place to return to and no idea what to do.

They have managed to live so far with the compensation they receive from TEPCO for mental stress, but it is vital now more than ever to think about how to financially support these people.9 For example, instead of giving the same flat amount of financial support to all evacuees, we need to establish a system to grant support based on individual needs and circumstances. Unfortunately it is true that there are some who are not willing to support themselves even though they are capable, and are using the compensation to lead an idle life.

We appreciate the compensation since those who have been affected by the disaster have been suffering mental distress, but I think the time has come to reach out to and focus on the people in real need of help. Those capable of working should get jobs and stand on their own feet.

Hirano: So you think it is necessary and important to carefully differentiate individual needs and give assistance and support on a case-by-case basis.

Suzuki: Yes, I believe so.

Hirano: Have there been any discussions about this between the central and local governments?

Suzuki: No. Well, as the local government, I think it is very difficult to pursue. There will be residents who will complain, “so you are going to cut our compensation. You are going to abandon us. We are all residents of this town.” We will have to deal with problems like this, so it’s not going to be easy. I think it would be difficult for the local government to carry out such a policy.

If it is really true that it is now safe to return and restart life, as the central government has said, I believe they should come up with a policy to encourage people to return by creating employment in Namie. If they do and provide job opportunities, I do think that more people would come back.

The best way to do so would be, I think, for the Japanese government to build national facilities in the evacuation areas, in Namie and elsewhere. Then former residents will be assured that the government decision to build indicates the safety of the area. But in reality there no government facilities have been built in this town. Since the accident, not a single facility has been built here. That leads residents to think that it is still not safe to live here, especially with Fukushima Daiichi not yet decommissioned. They feel that the absence of government facilities confirms this.

Hirano: It makes sense. If the central government insists that it is safe to return, if Prime Minister Abe’s pledge that Fukushima is under control is true, they need to take the initiative to show people that in fact it is now a safe place to live. Otherwise residents won’t be convinced.

Suzuki: Exactly. They should buy land from the town and actively start building government facilities to conduct research or to work on developmental plans. They should build housing for national government employees. Residents would then be reassured. I am not sure if it has something to do with evacuation orders or instructions, but right now there is a branch office of the Ministry of the Environment in Minami Soma city, far north of our town. The nearest office to the south is in Hirono town.

Hirano: In addition, as you mentioned before, it is also important to implement policies to educate people about the risk of nuclear power. In order to achieve that, both the central government and TEPCO need to end their cover-up culture. They need to explain all the possible risks to residents who wish to return, and let them decide. Is that what Namie town local government hopes to do for its residents?

Suzuki: Yes, exactly. Part of what we call “risk communication” (risukomi,リスコミ) is, in a way, to give people some “negative” information. The government has been reluctant to pursue this, but it is crucial for people to be informed of any risks even if it has a potential negative impact on them, so that they can make their own decisions. We had been fed only positive information, but if something bad happens, we will know what to expect.

But as long as the reconstruction plans come from a Tokyo-centric perspective, Namie will have neither hopes nor dreams. As I’ve said many times, the only people coming back to town are elderly. Without young people, I believe, a town can’t be revived and reconstructed. The current policy seems to focus on merely bringing back people, but unless government can recreate a safe environment for young people, including children, beginning with complete decontamination, it’s hard to see any future. I’m not even sure, to be honest with you, if it’s possible to actually create a safe environment. Remember, it was the central government that told us that it would take responsibility to decontaminate and reconstruct.

For the local government that was forced to evacuate, it would have been much better and less stressful if we had been told not to live in this area for, say, the next thirty years and to find some other place to start a new life. They could have given us some money to cover initial cost of moving and later compensation for losses. That way, we could transfer our resident certificates to a new town and receive full public services and benefits like other residents there. It would have been much better financially, as well.9

But the central government that took the initiative to promise that it would take full responsibility for decontamination and would bring us back to our hometowns. That’s why I believe it should put itself in the position of evacuees and take responsibility for what they are supposed to do to the end, instead of relying on the power of money.

Hirano: The evacuation orders will be lifted at the end of March 2017. This interview has revealed that there is still much more work to be done and many problems to resolve, and that the prospect for the future still remains unclear. It also gave us a chance to think again about for whom and for what the policies and slogans of “reconstruction” and “return” exist. We greatly appreciate your valuable time and opinion.

Related articles

Arkadiusz Podniesinski, Fukushima: A Second Chernobyl?

David McNeill and Androniki Christodoulu, Inside Fukushima’s Potemkin Village: Naraha

William Johnston with Eiko Ootake, The Making of “A Body in Fukushima”: A Journey through an Ongoing Disaster

Notes

1

In April 2013, two years after the disaster, the Japanese government changed the limit of radioactive exposure dose from one milli-sievert per year (mSv/yr) or 0.23 micro-sievert per hour (μSv/h) to 20 mSv/yr or 3.8 μSv/h. This standard was roughly 6 times higher than that for “Radiation Controlled Areas.” The Labor standards act prohibits those under the age of 18 from working under these conditions. This new standard has been used only in Fukushima for determining evacuation zones as well as school grounds, buildings, and residential areas. The policy of zoning left (607) 743-2421out over 260 “spots” in areas such as Minami Sōma-city, Date-city, and Kōzu-village whose radiation levels exceeded 20 mSv/yr. The government initially announced that the new standard would be used as an emergency measure and soon be lifted. Contrary to this announcement, however, 20 mSv/yr has virtually become the new standard for safety measure and return policies.

On December 28, 2014, the Japanese government removed 142 areas in the city from the list, noting that annual radiation exposure had fallen below the 20 mSv/yr threshold. On April 17, 2015, some 530 residents of Minami Sōma filed a lawsuit demanding that the government revoke a decision to remove their districts from a list of radiation hot spots. This decision meant the ending of their entitlement to receive support in the form of subsidized medical treatment and “consolation” money. The plaintiffs argued that by international standards, the upper limit for radiation exposure was 1 mSv/yr, and thus the government’s decision to delist the hot spots based on a 20 mSv/yr standard betrayed its responsibility for protecting the safety of citizens. The government insisted that its decision was based on scientific findings.

The government is now carrying out the return policies based on the same rationale. Evacuees who have lived in areas that are under 20 mSv/yr and expressed concerns about safety are regarded as “voluntary” and thus can receive very little financial support and compensation. With the lifting of evacuation orders in parts of Namie, Ōkuma, Iitate, and Tomioka at the end of March, 2017, they will not be allowed to stay in temporary housing. Even those who were originally ordered to evacuate will be considered “voluntary” after March 31, losing Fukushima prefecture’s financial aid for housing. Many critics refer to the government’s return policy as “forced return policy” as well as “kimin seisaku” or the “policy of abandoning people.” See more details, Hino Kōsuke, Genpatsu Kimin (原発棄民), (Tokyo: Mainichi News Press, 2016).

2

When I visited Namie in the summer of 2016 with a group of researchers of Niigata University, the radiation level in some backyards and a forest area ranged from 5~10 microsieverts per hour.

3

In 2012, Fukushima prefecture promised to build “reconstruction public housing” (fukkō kōei jūtaku, 復興公営住宅) in Iwaki-city, Minami Sōma-city, and Fukushima-city for evacuees. The temporary housing (kasetsu jūtaku, 仮設住宅) was originally expected to be in use only for 2 years until the construction of public housing. But due to central government hesitation to implement this plan as well as the increase in the cost of construction materials and worker outflow from Fukushima to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics, the construction of the public housing was delayed and over 30,000 people are still living in the temporary housing. As reported in many media outlets, the conditions of temporary housing are far from desirable. The walls are paper-thin, and apartments are small. Furthermore, about 50,000 people are either living with relatives or renting apartments, unable to find new homes. According to the 2015 survey conducted by Fukushima prefecture, 62.1% of the 80,000 evacuees have health problems. 61.6 % are worried about the wellbeing of their families and themselves, 43.2% about their housing, 42.7% about their mental conditions, and 39.0% about the uncertain future and financial problems. When I interviewed evacuees from Namie at one of the temporary housing sites in Nihonmatsu, they expressed similar concerns. Now, with the lifting of evacuation orders, they will be forced to decide whether to return to their hometowns or find a new home within or outside Fukushima.

4

Hirono-town is about 20 kilometers from Fukushima-Daiichi. The Japanese government lifted the evacuation order in 2015. As of 2017, 2,897 out of 5,490 people have returned. Naraha-town is 16 kilometer from Fukushima-Daiichi and the evacuation order was lifted in September, 2015. 767of 8,011 Haraha residents have retuned to the town. Odaka-ku of Minami Sōma-city is also 16 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi. The order was lifted in July, 2016. 1,329 of 12,842 Odaka-ku returned to the area.

5

The so-called “damages created by rumors” have become a major point of political contention since the nuclear disaster. Many farmers and businesses, not only in relatively unaffected areas of Fukushima but in other prefectures in northeastern Japan, have suffered substantial financial loss due to widespread concerns about being exposed to radiation. On the other hand, Liberal Democratic Party politicians and conservative media outlets have used the “rumor-caused damage” charge to silence criticism, warning against discussion of the real danger of external and internal radioactive exposure. Residents of Fukushima continue to live under the pressure of being accused of encouraging rumor-caused damage even though their concerns are legitimate and their efforts to raise awareness about radiation should be taken very seriously. Some right-wing internet bloggers call those who raise concerns about radiation “unpatriotic” or “anti-Japanese.”

6

Ishihara Nobuteru, a son of former Tokyo mayor Ishihara Shintaro, then Minister of the Environment, made the infamous remark in June, 2014 during a Q and A session at the House of Councilors with regard to slow progress in persuading towns and villages to build intermediate nuclear waste storage facilities.

7

The Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake occurred on January 17, 1995 in the southern part of Hyogo prefecture, Japan. It measured 6.9 on the earthquake magnitude scale, claiming 6,434 lives, most of which were in Kobe, a major urban center with a population of 1.5 million.

8

In 2016, the Abe administration has decided to use taxpayer money for decontaminating affected areas in Fukushima. The decision marks a fundamental shift from the current policy that obliges TEPCO to pay for the decontamination work.  The 2017 decontamination work is estimated to cost 30 billion yen. Behind the adminstration’s decision for the use of taxpayer money is the rapidly expanding expense of decontamination, with the latest estimate rising from the original 2.5 trillion yen to 4 trillion. This estimate does not include the no-return zones. The government expects the planned work in those areas to cost roughly 300 billion yen over five years. The Abe administration’s decision not only increase people’s financial burden but also blur TEPCO’s responsibility for the irretrievable damages it caused.

9

Each person receives from 100,000 to 120,000 yen per month as compensation for mental anguish in addition to compensation for the loss that varies significantly. The former compensation will end in 2018.

10

As stated in note 2, the Japanese government was reluctant to support the building of “reconstruction public housing.” This was mainly because it was concerned that this would slow the return of evacuees to their hometowns and home villages. Hino Kōsuke writes in Genpatsu Kimin that Tokyo’s reluctance indicates it is prioritizing the return policy over respecting evacuees’ needs and concerns. Suzuki Yūichi’s statement here expresses the same view.
http://apjjf.org/2017/07/Hirano.html

 

April 4, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

As I See It: Flawed gov’t policies betraying Fukushima disaster victims

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A demonstration takes place at Hibiya Park in Tokyo in March 2016, at which protesters express their distrust of the government which has failed to listen to the voices of Fukushima nuclear disaster victims.

Six years have passed since the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, and the government’s policies for helping affected people are reaching the end of a chapter.

The government provision of housing to voluntary evacuees is coming to an end, and with the exception of a few selected areas, evacuation orders have been lifted or scheduled to be lifted soon. Compensation payments for such evacuees are scheduled to end, too — as these were given out in tandem with the evacuation orders.

With this kind of reality in mind, the “accelerated recovery” that was promoted by the government now just appears to be a hasty attempt to draw a curtain over the issue of evacuation from Fukushima. Government policies related to evacuation are seemingly one-way, and given that these policies have failed to gain the acceptance of affected residents, it can be said that they are corroding away at the core of democracy.

Over the past few years, I have continued to cover the situation in Fukushima using data such as health surveys, polls of voluntary evacuees, housing policies, and decontamination — with the aim of chasing after the real intentions of the creators of government policies. And yet, even though the government organizations and bureaucrats that are in charge differ depending on the issue, discussions go on behind closed doors, after which decisions are forced on the public that are completely out of touch with the needs of those affected. These kinds of policymaking procedures are all too common.

There are also cases of double standards. For example, the government had set the maximum annual limit of radiation exposure at 1 millisievert per year for regular people but immediately after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the figure was raised to 20 millisieverts per year as the yardstick for evacuation “because it was a time of emergency.”

Later, in December 2011, a “convergence statement” was released by then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in which he announced that the “emergency period” was over. Restructuring of the evacuation orders was subsequently carried out, and then the new criteria for relaxing such instructions were discussed in private.

From April 2013 onward, closed-door discussions continued to take place among section chiefs and other officials from organizations such as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Reconstruction Agency. They then waited until after the House of Councillors election in July 2013 to announce that areas where the annual radiation exposure was less than 20 millisieverts per year would be exempted from the evacuation orders. A source told me that the timing of the announcement was set as “not to trouble the government.” In other words, the level of 20 millisieverts per year had switched from “the time of emergency level” to “the ordinary level,” and it was as though the previous 1 millisievert annual level for ordinary situations had been banished from history.

Nearly four years have passed since then. At an explanatory meeting for evacuees from the Fukushima Prefecture towns of Namie and Tomioka, hardly anyone agreed with the lifting of the evacuation order this coming spring. It’s clear in the term “unnecessary exposure to radiation,” often used by the Fukushima evacuees, that there is absolutely no reason for local residents to endure radiation exposure caused by the nuclear disaster. And it’s understandable that they have difficulties accepting policies that ignore the voices of those from the affected areas.

Another problem is government bodies’ practice of blurring responsibilities by deleting inconvenient elements in records of the closed-door decision making process, thereby making it impossible for third parties to review the process afterwards.

The government was planning to complete the majority of the decontamination work by the end of fiscal 2016. In June 2016, the Environment Ministry devised a plan for reusing the contaminated soil whose volume has ballooned due to the cleaning work. In a closed-door meeting with specialists, the ministry also set the upper contamination level limit for reusing the soil at 8,000 becquerels per kilogram. However, with regard to the reuse of waste generated from decommissioning work such as iron, the upper limit is set at 100 becquerels. What officials talked about in that closed-door meeting was how to make that kind of double standard appear consistent.

In June 2016, the Mainichi Shimbun reported this matter, and as a number of freedom-of-information requests were filed, the Environment Ministry decided to release the relevant records. Ministry officials claimed that they were making all the information public. However, they had deleted statements by the bureaucrats in charge; statements that suggested the entire discussion had been undertaken with the 8,000 becquerel limit as a given.

Speaking on the issue of helping affected people, politicians and bureaucrats have repeatedly spouted rhetoric such as “staying beside disaster victims.” Despite this, however, there have been cases where senior officials from organizations such as the Reconstruction Agency have shown their true feelings through abusive statements via social media such as Twitter. In August 2015, Masayoshi Hamada, the then state minister for reconstruction, stated in private about the housing provision for Fukushima evacuees, “Basically, we are accepting residents based on the assumption that we don’t support those who evacuated voluntarily.”

Hamada was promoted to the position of state minister in December 2012 — at the same time as the launch of the second Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and he was put in charge of supporting voluntary evacuees. For these evacuees, the housing provision policy was anticipated the most. Hamada’s irresponsible remarks, however, were almost equal to saying that the agency had no real intention of helping those who had evacuated of their own accord. I cannot help but wonder if politicians such as Hamada do in fact want to “stay beside disaster victims.”

The victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster have always been kept on the other side of the mosquito net. The majority of policy discussions among the state and local governments concerning the affected people have taken place behind closed doors, and the records that have been released afterward have often been censored in order to conceal certain elements, with excuses such as “making these documents public could cause confusion.” In some of those closed door meetings, officials even talked about “how not to leak information.”

It might be stating the obvious, but unless information concerning policies is made public and there is transparency surrounding the decision making process, democracy cannot function. The way that the government has one-sidedly carried out its national policies by ignoring the voices of the Fukushima disaster victims, as well as people across Japan, poses risks to the very foundation of democracy. In some ways, this is one major part of the damage caused by the nuclear disaster.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170401/p2a/00m/0na/002000c

April 1, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

SIX YEARS AFTER: 4 more districts in Fukushima set to be declared safe to return to

28 feb 2017.jpg

 

Evacuation orders will be lifted shortly for four more municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, but the prospect of residents returning to their old homes in huge numbers seems unlikely.

The restrictions, in place since the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, will be lifted by April 1.

About 32,000 residents will be affected, but there is no guarantee that all will soon, if ever, return.

In similar past situations, evacuated residents came back in dribs and drabs, and many never returned.

Authorities in Namie on Feb. 27 decided to accept the central government’s proposal to lift the evacuation order for the town on March 31.

This means that orders for the municipalities of Kawamata and Iitate will be lifted the same day, and for Tomioka the day after.

Naraha and Katsurao are among five municipalities that are no longer subject to evacuation orders.

However, only 11 percent of Naraha residents and 9 percent of Katsurao residents have returned.

One reason for the low rates is that evacuees have already established new domiciles elsewhere. Others are concerned about the availability of medical workers in areas where evacuation orders will be lifted.

In the aftermath of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, the central government ordered the evacuation of 81,000 residents in 11 Fukushima municipalities.

In 2012-13, the evacuation region was redesignated into three zones: one where returning would continue to be difficult; another where residential areas would be limited; and lastly, where preparations would be made for former residents to return.

In June 2015, the government decreed that all evacuees from the two latter zones should be allowed to return by March 2017. Efforts were made to decontaminate land affected by radiation fallout and to restore social infrastructure.

The next step involves the 24,000 former residents of the zone where returning continues to be considered difficult.

The government intends to pay for the decontamination of certain areas within that zone so former residents can return.

According to one estimate, the program would only cover about 5 percent of the entire area that is designated as difficult to return.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201702280051.html

February 28, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , | 1 Comment