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Can 2020 Summer Olympics help Fukushima rebound from nuclear disaster?

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A deserted street inside the exclusion zone close near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Most areas around the plant are still closed to residents due to radiation contamination from the 2011 disaster.
Aug. 12, 2019
FUKUSHIMA, Japan — An hour north of Tokyo by way of bullet train, the land is lush and green, framed by thickly wooded mountains in the distance.
This vast rural prefecture in northeast Japan was once renowned for its fruit orchards, but much has changed.
“There has been a bad reputation here,” a local government official said.
Since the spring of 2011, the world has known Fukushima for the massive earthquake and tsunami that killed approximately 16,000 people along the coast. Flooding triggered a nuclear plant meltdown that forced hundreds of thousands more from their homes.
As the recovery process continues nearly a decade later, organizers of the 2020 Summer Games say they want to help.
Under the moniker of the “Reconstruction Olympics,” they have plotted a torch relay course that begins near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant and continues through adjacent prefectures — Miyagi and Iwate — impacted by the disaster. The region will host games in baseball, softball and soccer next summer.
“We are hoping that, through sports, we can give the residents new dreams,” said Takahiro Sato, director of Fukushima’s office of Olympic and Paralympic promotions. “We also want to show how far we’ve come.”
The effort has drawn mixed reactions, if only because the so-called “affected areas” are a sensitive topic in Japan.
Some people worry about exposure to lingering radiation; they accuse officials of whitewashing health risks. Critics question spending millions on sports while communities are still rebuilding.
“The people from that area have dealt with these issues for so long and so deeply, the Olympics are kind of a transient event,” said Kyle Cleveland, an associate professor of sociology at Temple University’s campus in Japan. “They’re going to see this as a public relations ploy.”
It was midafternoon in March 2011 when a 9.0 earthquake struck at sea, sending a procession of tsunamis racing toward land.
The initial crisis focused on the coastline, where thousands were swept to their deaths.
Another concern soon arose as floodwaters shut down the power supply and reactor cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Three of the facility’s six reactors suffered fuel meltdowns, releasing radiation into the ocean and atmosphere.
Residents within a 12-mile “exclusion zone” were forced to evacuate; others in places such as Fukushima city, about 38 miles inland, fled as radioactive particles traveled by wind and rain.
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The ruined Unit 3 reactor building at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant on Sept. 15, 2011.
The populace began to question announcements from the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) about the scope of the contamination, said Cleveland, who is writing a book on the catastrophe and its aftermath.
“In the first 10 weeks, Tepco was downplaying the risk,” he said. “Eventually, they were dissembling and lying.”
The company has been ordered to pay millions in damages, and three former executives have been charged with professional negligence. Crews have removed massive amounts of contaminated soil, washed down buildings and roads, and begun a decades-long process to extract fuel from the reactors’ cooling pools.
All of which left the area known as the “Fruit Kingdom” in limbo.
It is assumed that low-level radiation increases the chances of adverse health effects such as cancer but the science can be complicated.
Reliable data on radiation risks is difficult to obtain, said Jonathan Links, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins University. And, with cosmic rays and other sources emitting natural or “background” ionizing radiation, it can be difficult to pinpoint whether an acceptable threshold for additional, low-level exposure exists at all.
In terms of athletes and coaches visiting the impacted prefectures for a week or two during the Olympics, Links said the cancer risk is proportional, growing incrementally each day.
The Japanese government has raised what it considers to be the acceptable exposure from 1 millisievert to 20 millisieverts per year. Along with this adjustment, officials have declared much of the region suitable for habitation, lifting evacuation orders in numerous municipalities. Housing subsidies that allowed evacuees to live elsewhere have been discontinued.
But some towns remain nearly empty.
“People are refusing to go back,” said Katsuya Hirano, a UCLA associate professor of history who has who has spent years collecting interviews for an oral history. “Especially families with children.”
Their hesitancy does not surprise Cleveland. Though research has led the Temple professor to believe conditions are safe, he knows that residents have lost faith in the authorities.
“That horse has left the barn,” he said. “It’s not coming back.”
A narrow highway leads west, out of downtown Fukushima, arriving finally at a 30,000-seat ballpark that rises from the farmlands.
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The Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium.
Azuma Baseball Stadium was built in the late 1980s with a modernist design, blockish and concrete. Prefecture officials have begun renovations there.
“We changed from grass to artificial turf,” Sato said. “We’re updating the lockers and showers.”
The work is coordinated from a small office in the local government headquarters, where two-dozen employees tap away at computer keyboards and talk on phones, sitting at desks that have been pushed together.
Tokyo 2020’s initial bid included preliminary soccer competition at Miyagi Stadium, in a prefecture farther north of the nuclear plant. Six baseball and softball games were relocated to Azuma during later discussions with the International Olympic Committee.
“We made a presentation about the radiation situation and how to deal with it,” Sato recalled. “They understood and we think that’s why they got on board with this idea of the ‘Reconstruction Olympics.’ ”
Fukushima has spent $20 million on preparations over the past two years, he said, adding that his office has heard complaints from “a segment of the population.”
With infrastructure repairs continuing throughout the region, evacuee Akiko Morimatsu has a skeptical view of the Tokyo 2020 campaign.
“They have called these the ‘Reconstruction Games,’ but just because you call it that doesn’t mean the region will be recovered,” Morimatsu said.
Concerns about radiation prompted her to leave the Fukushima town of Koriyama, outside the mandatory evacuation zone, moving with her two young children to Osaka. Her husband, a doctor, remained; he visits the family once a month.
“The reality is that the region hasn’t recovered,” said Morimatsu, who is part of a group suing the national government and Tepco. “I feel the Olympics are being used as part of a campaign to spread the message that Fukushima is recovered and safe.”
Balance this sentiment against other forces at work in Japanese culture, where the Olympics and baseball, in particular, are widely popular. Masa Takaya, a spokesman for the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, insists that “sports can play an important role in our society.”
In Fukushima, a city of fewer than 300,000, colored banners fly beside the highway amid other signs of anticipation.
Elderly volunteers, plucking weeds from a flower bed at the train station, wear pink vests that express their support for the Games. On the eastern edge of town, a handful of workers attend to Azuma Stadium.
Dressed in white overalls, they walk slowly across the field, stopping every once in a while to bend down and pick at the pristine turf. Sato remains optimistic.
“Everyone’s circumstances are different,” he said. “Maybe there will be some people who come back to Fukushima because of this.”
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August 16, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Fukushima students speak on 2011 disaster in Berlin

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August 09, 2019
BERLIN (Jiji Press) — Nine high school students from Fukushima Prefecture gave speeches in Berlin on Thursday about their experiences of the March 2011 triple disaster that hit hard the prefecture.
Addressing German high school students, the nine from Fukushima recounted in English what they experienced in the disaster, in which a huge earthquake and deadly tsunami struck, followed by a meltdown accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
An audience of several hundred listened attentively.
Kae Togawa, 15, from Namie, most of which is still in a no-entry zone due to high radiation levels, talked about her experience of being bullied because of the accident, with tears in her eyes.
“I was told such bad words many times [as] ‘You are an evacuee, you get compensation. You bring in radiation,’” Togawa said.
Sumire Kuge, 16, from Koriyama, said: “I can’t forget many foreigners who I watched on the news. They aren’t Hollywood stars or [a] president. But they helped our country.”
“I want to be like them. One thing to learn is if I have courage, I can help someone,” Kuge added. She received big applause.
The speeches were given as part of a high school student exchange project between Fukushima and Germany led by the Japanese nonprofit organization Earth Walkers. Under the project, students from Fukushima will stay in Germany for two to three weeks and learn about renewable energy and other topics.

August 12, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima residents look for Olympic PR boost

July 29, 2019
Sukagawa, Japan – Two softball games and one baseball game in Fukushima next summer may be little more than an 2020 Olympic cameo, but local fans are thrilled to have them, largely in the hopes they will give their prefecture a badly needed public relations boost.
Fukushima was one of the three northeastern Japan prefectures that bore the brunt of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami along with Miyagi and Iwate prefectures and will be part of the focus next year now that Tokyo Olympic organizers have dubbed the games “the Reconstruction Olympics.”
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(Baseball fans stand outside Botandai Stadium in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture after a July 17 game between the Fukushima Red Hopes and the Tochigi Golden Braves. From left to right, Koki Unuma, Kaori Unuma and Yukari Koyama.) 
 
In addition to the games in Fukushima, Miyagi Stadium will be one of the Olympic soccer venues, while all three prefectures will be focal points of the Olympic torch relay — which officially starts in Fukushima.
The 2011 disaster killed over 15,800 people and forced the evacuation of up to 470,000, while triggering a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Even eight years later, Fukushima suffers from the suspicion that food from the prefecture might be contaminated. And locals see the Olympics as an opportunity to show off their region the way they see it.
Koki Unuma, a resident of Koriyama and a baseball fan who follows the local independent minor league club, expressed hope that the Olympics will put Fukushima Prefecture in a good light.
“It’s a chance to show that Fukushima has become vibrant again,” he said at a game in Sukagawa between the Fukushima Red Hopes and the Tochigi Golden Braves. “I wonder how foreign people will view us. I want the place to be packed with foreign visitors, so that people will see we are doing well, and that they tell others. I’m excited to have the games here.”
One man, who declined to give his name but said he had worked until recently not far from the stricken nuclear plant, said Fukushima had largely recovered but felt the symbolism of being included in the Olympics had value.
“There is basically one area that is not back (around the damaged plant), but by and large Fukushima has recovered,” he said. “I think as a symbol the Olympics are a good idea. What they mean by ‘the Reconstruction Olympics’ is a little vague to me. That area around Soma is hard hit, but as a whole Fukushima Prefecture is doing very well.”
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(Former major leaguer Akinori Iwamura, manager of the Fukushima Red Hopes, believes hosting great games at next year’s Olympics can make a difference in a prefecture that is still recovering from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Photo at Botandai Stadium in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, July 17, 2019.)
 
The plight of the prefecture encouraged former major leaguer Akinori Iwamura to help start up the Red Hopes, where he serves in a dual role as manager and team president.
“People living in Fukushima have suffered the most. It’s almost as if they are being treated as wrong doers. The rumors are terrible,” he said in a recent interview with Kyodo News. “Some evacuee children have been bullied in the towns they’ve been relocated to. That is the most intolerable.”
“The (evacuee) kids going back to visit Fukushima might receive some kinds of gifts to take back with them, but some must feel those things, candy and the like, are troublesome, because at rest areas along the expressway people find uneaten candy from Fukushima thrown into the garbage bins.”
“It makes you realize people don’t know how many of the things they hear they can actually believe.”
Iwamura said that consumers outside Fukushima have second thoughts about the safety of the food raised there and local farmers cannot get fair value for their products. But he said the Olympics are a golden opportunity to change peoples’ perceptions of Fukushima.
“For us baseball people here, we want to make the baseball and softball games held here a success,” Iwamura said. “If we can be wildly enthusiastic about them and show that to the people coming from abroad, then they will tell others that Fukushima is safe, that the people here are living good lives.”
Naomi Nukazawa and her daughter Aya are fans of the Red Hopes and are keen to see the local Olympic competition, but so far have been unable to secure tickets.
“We’ll apply again, but right now it is like the people here are getting left out,” Naomi said.
“I work at a hotel. This is a chance to get different kinds of guests, I’m really excited about that. People will visit Fukushima (for the Olympics), but once it’s over that will likely be the end of it. Perhaps some people will be moved by their time here and that will have a lasting impact in some ways.”
“Maybe other Japanese will be influenced by foreigners’ positive responses to us, and will remember us, remember Iwate, remember Miyagi, remember our local specialties, because it seems we’re forgotten now.”
Another Koriyama resident, Yuji Amaha, echoed other locals’ complaints that people outside Fukushima don’t realize that except for a small area around the stricken plant the region is safe from radioactivity.
“Having a big international tournament here in Fukushima Prefecture is getting people excited,” he said. “Iwate Prefecture will take part in the Rugby World Cup, Miyagi Prefecture will have Olympic soccer. In a sense, these things are connected to our recovery and are therefore meaningful.”
“The people who live in Fukushima think it’s safe. I want those people who…question how safe it is to come. I want people who study the data to say it’s safe. Those who doubt the safety should come and see for themselves.”
Iwamura expressed optimism for next year and for the future.
“Most prefectures will have no Olympic sports,” he said. “That Fukushima is going to have baseball and softball is a thrill, something to be really happy about. Twenty or 30 years down the road, nobody will remember what it is like now.”

July 31, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima fishing port reopens 8 yrs after disaster

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July 26, 2019
TOMIOKA, Fukushima (Jiji Press) — A fishing port in the town of Tomioka in Fukushima Prefecture reopened Friday, more than eight years after it was closed due to the March 2011 powerful earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent nuclear accident.
With its reopening, all 10 disaster-hit fishing ports in the prefecture have now become accessible by ships.
Five fishing boats flying flags signifying good catches arrived at the port on the day, and they were welcomed by people concerned.
While noting that false information about radiation persists, Kanji Tachiya, head of a local fishery cooperative, said at a ceremony to mark the port’s reopening, “We’ll try to revitalize the fishery industry as early as possible by appealing safety and security.”
Tomioka Mayor Koichi Miyamoto indicated his hope that the fishery industry will play a leading role in the postdisaster reconstruction.
Before the 2011 disaster, the Tomioka port was known for good landings of expensive fish such as flatfish, but many related facilities were heavily damaged by the quake and tsunami.
In addition, entry to the port area was restricted due to an evacuation order issued by the Japanese government following the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The evacuation order was lifted in April 2017, and work to build and repair seawalls, and fishing facilities and equipment was completed by March this year.
According to the Tomioka town government, eight local fishing boats that have been evacuated to ports in the city of Iwaki and the town of Namie, both in Fukushima, are set to return to the Tomioka port.
In 2012, Fukushima fishers started trial operations in which the amount of catches is reduced and fish that passes radiation tests is put on sale.

July 27, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima village hit by 2011 meltdowns starts raising dairy calves again

Hopefully that milk from these local dairy farms will NOT end up in school lunch…

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A dairy calf is led off a truck in the village of Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, on July 16, 2019.
July 25, 2019
IITATE, Fukushima — Local farmers have resumed raising dairy calves for the first time in over eight years in this village that was hit by radiation following the March 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
Feliz Latte, a dairy company jointly managed by five farmers who were forced to evacuate from areas hit by the nuclear disaster, transported its 22 calves aged 8 months to a cowshed operated by a village-run company on July 16.
The dairy company was established in the city of Fukushima using subsidies from the national and prefectural governments to promote reconstruction in the area following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, which triggered the meltdowns.
The firm plans to raise the calves in the village until they reach 22 months old and then move them to its farm in the city of Fukushima.
Prior to the disaster, the village had a total of 12 dairy farmers who used to raise about 240 dairy cattle. However, all of the farmers evacuated from Iitate due to the disaster. The evacuation order was lifted in 2017 for most parts of the village.
Kazumasa Tanaka, 48, president of Feliz Latte, said, “I hope to help the reconstruction by creating an environment where young people can easily engage in dairy farming when they return to the village.”

July 27, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

Beach in Fukushima Prefecture reopens for first time since 2011 disasters

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Children play in the sea at Kitaizumi Beach in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Saturday.
July 20, 2019
MINAMISOMA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – Kitaizumi Beach in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, reopened Saturday after it was closed following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and subsequent nuclear accident.
After it opened, the beach was filled with the noise of cheering children.
“I was relieved to see the beach crowded with people,” said Saki Yamaki, a 29-year-old Minamisoma resident, who visited the beach with members of her family.
“I couldn’t swim well because the waves were high, but I really enjoyed (my visit),” said Kazuto, Yamaki’s 8-year-old son.
“Seeing the sea makes me feel calm, and the sounds of waves help me forget negative things,” a woman in her 60s who lost a relative in the tsunami. said. “I hope the number of visitors will recover to the pre-disaster level,” said the woman, who also lives in Minamisoma.
Areas of the ocean offshore are well-known surfing spots, and the Japan Pro Surfing Association hosted a surfing competition the same day.
“To dispel harmful rumors (about radiation), we’ve tried to make the beach the safest one in Japan,” said Masahiro Nishizawa, a 49-year-old Minamisoma citizen who played a central role in planning the competition and in work to make the beach safe for people to visit.
“We hope to hold an international surfing competition here in the future,” he added.
A beach volleyball event was also held on Kitaizumi Beach.
Preparations for the beach’s reopening included the construction of a seawall and a public park.
Tests carried out by the Fukushima Prefectural Government in May confirmed that the amount of radiation in the air and the quality of water at the beach were the same as was recorded before the disasters.

July 27, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Growing foreign resident population in Fukushima Prefecture now numbers more than 14,000, says new report

According to a census report released earlier this month, there were 14,047 foreign nationals living in Fukushima Prefecture as of the beginning of this year.
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July 19, 2019
Reflecting a nationwide trend of an increasing number of foreign residents in Japan, Fukushima Prefecture is also seeing its foreign community expand.
According to a census report released earlier this month, there were 14,047 foreign nationals living in Fukushima Prefecture as of the beginning of this year — an increase of 1,263 from the same point in the previous year.
Compared to 2013, when the survey of foreign nationals registering their residency began, the number of foreign nationals in Fukushima has increased by 154 percent. The trend is especially evident in urban areas like Koriyama, Iwaki and the city of Fukushima. As of Jan. 1 Koriyama logged the highest number of foreign residents, with 2,682 — an increase of 205 from the previous year. Iwaki came next, with 2,541 foreigners, and the city of Fukushima was home to 1,925.
As the foreign community continues to expand, the prefecture is tasked with building an environment in which they feel welcome and supported. “With the central government’s policy of increasing the number of foreign laborers, we’re seeing more technical intern trainees working in places like factories,” an Iwaki official said.
The number of foreign laborers — including technical trainee interns — is growing nationwide, and Fukushima Prefecture is no exception. According to the Fukushima Labor Bureau the number of foreign laborers in the prefecture has tripled, from 2,493 in 2011 to 8,130 in 2018.
As the population and availability of workers both continue to dwindle in the prefecture, the need for residents to coexist with foreign laborers is growing.
“The foreigner laborers who work in our town are members of the community and a vital source of labor,” said the chairperson of a supervising body at the Hanawa Chamber of Commerce, in the town of Hanawa in Fukushima Prefecture. The chamber was authorized by the government to take on responsibility for hosting foreign laborers. Opportunities to study Japanese are also being considered as a way to better welcome foreign nationals, whose labor could lead to a revitalization of the region.
According to the Japan Student Services Organization, the number of foreign exchange students in Fukushima Prefecture was about 2.5 times higher in 2018 than in 2012, with the number jumping from 302 to 776.
For foreign nationals living away from their home countries, administrative support is essential. “For those who can’t speak Japanese well, it’s crucial for there to be systems in place to help with communication,” said Chung Hyunsil, a 58-year-old South Korea-born Fukushima resident who serves as the director of a nonprofit called Fukukan Net.
Taking such ne
eds into account, the prefecture is seeking to improve its consultation services. Its plan includes expanding accessibility at the Fukushima International Association from seven languages to 11 by the end of the year, and using social media to promote events and community-building in different languages as well.
Fukushima Prefecture’s International Affairs Division aims to “explore the needs of foreign nationals while building an environment in which they can live comfortably.”
This section features topics and issues from Fukushima covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published on July 11.

July 27, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Theatre for Fukushima: voices from the silence

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July 14, 2019
The bare emotions of the Fukushima nuclear disaster as experienced by children
By Carmen Grau
Where were you and what were you doing on that fateful day, 11 March 2011?
Eight years have gone by, and the then six to eight-year-old children are now high school students who use theatre as a channel for self-expression. Through their performance, they attempt to tell the story of their home towns and cities. It is also a way for them to assimilate the experience that changed the face of an entire region.
Still Life is the name of the play performed by six girls and six boys from the Futaba Future public high school in Fukushima. Aged between 15 and 17, the parts they play are based on their own life experiences. They tell the story of what the children went through, laying bare the complex web of emotions they have been caught in till this day. It is a tangled tale of love, childhood and suicide, seen through the unadulterated eyes of young people, who were just small children when the triple disaster struck. They are the youngest and will therefore be the last generation to keep a memory of those tragic events. And it is important for them to be able to share it.
The brown colour of the sea. A uniform left behind when a school was hastily closed down following the radiation alert. A teddy bear with a broken heart and the incessant ringing of a telephone searching for missing grandparents. Lampposts swaying dangerously on a hill, while children huddle together, remembering the adults’ instructions not to be left on their own. Innocently playing in a classroom with the water and sand spilt by the earthquake and cleaning it all up before heading for safety. Sleeping in the car with all the family when not a space was left in the sports centre. Memories of an earthquake, a tsunami, of radioactivity and the fear surrounding the decontamination process.
Until she was eight, Ayumi Ota lived in Tomioka, a town that was evacuated in the aftermath of the disaster. The 16-year-old actor was inspired to join the school theatre group by her elder brother. They are both part of the cast. With her inquisitive and lively gaze, Ayumi shines in her part as the likeable classmate spurring on the others, despite her own longing for a place to which she knows she will never be able to return. She enjoyed the experience so much that she is considering joining a theatre group: “When I’m acting, it brings back what we went through, although [acting] has not been so hard for me because I want to express myself. We are all interconnected, Fukushima and Tokyo, we’re not that different.”
Seventeen-year-old Minoru Tomonaga comes from the town of Iwaki. He likes to sing and wants to study in a professional academy. He admits that his main motive for taking part in the play is a girl he likes. Minoru found the whole process much harder to handle: “My mind was on overdrive. It was like hitting a wall, because each one of us had our own experiences. It was difficult to cope with all those feelings. But I do hope that we are listened to, in this time of fake news.”
After its debut in Fukushima, in September 2018, the young actors wanted to take the play to Tokyo. Writer Miri Yu, the soul of the play, recalls how, as the performance ended and the curtain went down, the students seemed to be glued to their desks.
“They had grown attached to their roles, so they had to do it. Audiences in Tokyo hadn’t experienced the earthquake, the tsunami and nuclear accident first-hand. How the play would be received was obviously a worry, but something always gets across.”
Art and creativity as a vehicle for comfort and consolation
Miri Yu, who is also a playwright, has won a number of national literary awards, including the prestigious Akutagawa Award (1996). After a string of back-to-back, sold-out performances in Tokyo, Yu explains to Equal Times the importance of art and creation as a source of comfort and consolation.
“The play is a still life that captures the sadness of the disaster-struck children. The pain or suffering we carry deep inside eventually ends up overflowing, like water in a dam. Otherwise, the pain breaks the dam and drags you along with it. To prevent this from happening, I wanted to build a channel in which to pour all this sadness. The play is the vessel in which it is collected. Isn’t sadness what we as human beings have most in common? We all carry certain sorrows in our lives; all of us, in Tokyo too. This play emerged as a beacon of light, a source of solace for young people.”
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Children recalled yearning to play outside, but could not.
 
Kanako Saito works as an English teacher at Futaba Future High School. She is also in charge of the theatre group. This teacher, who supports her pupils and is also part of the cast, explains how theatre helps them.
“Back then, they were just small children and were unable to express themselves. Their parents shielded them from what was happening, be it from the radiation or the decision to move. They weren’t allowed to watch television and had to play indoors, never outside the house. They had no way of venting their feelings.
“Eight years on, they now have the vocabulary to express themselves. As they build the drama, they focus on how they felt, which helps in their healing process. It also helps the families who, by watching their children acting, gain a better insight into what they went through. It helps people to move on,” Saito said.
Starting over
Futaba Future High School has kept the name of the place where it had stood until radioactivity made it uninhabitable. Futaba is one of the towns nearest to the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In 2015, the school relocated to Hirono, a nearby town that was outside the danger zone. Its guiding principle is to prepare global leaders that can contribute to tackling today’s new challenges.
Following the disaster, 470,000 people – which amounts to almost the entire population of cities like Lisbon or Edinburgh – were evacuated. According to the Reconstruction Agency, a body tasked with this unprecedented mission, by February 2019, the number of evacuees had reached 51,778. Places like Namie, Tomioka, Futaba and Okuma were totally or partially evacuated. Their names resonate throughout the play, when the budding actors relive their memories.
“The experience had a strong impact on everyone. The actors, who were little children back then, have barely taken in what they went through. The coast of Fukushima has not yet been fully reconstructed. The young locals and their families continue to be faced with great hardships. They have become displaced persons, constantly being shunted from one place to the next, and even now some of these young actors are still having to live in temporary accommodation,” says Yu.
In 2017, the government lifted evacuation orders – based on the area, the radiation levels and the progress made in the decontamination process – but places like Futaba are still classed as ‘difficult return’ or uninhabitable zones.
The decontamination work has also covered farming areas, 89 per cent of which have been recovered, according to the Reconstruction Agency. Reconstruction tasks have been completed in 64 municipalities over a seven-year period. In Fukushima, an area measuring 371 km², greater than the size of a country like Malta, was affected by the triple disaster.
The writer is currently living in Minamisoma, because of a promise she made and a radio show. In the aftermath of the disaster, under the state of emergency, she started working as a volunteer at a provisional radio station set up by the municipal authority to broadcast information to the population and the armed forces. She used to travel once a week from another part of Japan to do the show. Although only meant to last a year, her stay was successively prolonged until she ended up relocating for good, to fulfil her promise.
Today only 3,000 of the 13,000 residents are still living in her neighbourhood, and more than half of them are over 65 years old. Located 16 kilometres from the nuclear power station, the town now has a bookshop and a theatre. For Yu, culture is an integral part of the reconstruction process.
“In a place where people have lost everything, no one at the neighbourhood meetings organised by the government speaks out to ask for culture. People ask for their basic needs to be covered, such as infrastructure, hospitals or supermarkets. But even if the basic needs are met, can this be called a city? Can this be called reconstruction? Not in my view. Culture is something that enriches you, it is relaxing, enjoyable and valuable in its own right. It can be a book or a secondary role in a play.”
Disasters are also a threat to culture. And yet culture is vital to community identity and expression. In 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2015-2030 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which sees culture as playing a key role in reducing vulnerability to disasters, aiding recovery and building peace.
At the end of the performance, the Japanese audience leaves in solemn silence. A young woman from Tokyo says it was important to listen to them. On leaving the theatre, people buy a copy of the book on which the play is based. A dedication penned by the author and playwright stands out as a declaration of intent from Fukushima: “Speak out from the heart of silence.”

July 16, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Supermarket opens in Fukushima’s Namie town

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July 14, 2019
A supermarket has opened in the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, which was devastated by the nuclear disaster in 2011. It is the first supermarket to operate in the town since the accident. Evacuation orders were partially lifted two years ago.
Major supermarket chain Aeon opened the new outlet in Namie Town on Sunday, drawing many shoppers.
The town now has just over 1,000 residents. That is about five percent of the population before the disaster.
The store stocked items including sake produced by a brewer who was forced to relocate because of the disaster, as well as seafood hauled in at a port nearby.
One shopper said she used to have to travel more than 30 minutes for shopping, and if she bought ice cream it melted on the way home.
Store manager Shunsuke Nihongi said he hopes to support those who have returned to the town and will choose the stock according to their requests.

July 16, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Upper House candidates face cynical voters despite anti-nuclear platforms

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People listen to a campaign speech by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the city of Fukushima on July 4 in preparation for July 21 Upper House election
 
July 14, 2019
FUKUSHIMA – Rival candidates, both women, from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition camp for next Sunday’s House of Councilors election in Fukushima Prefecture are campaigning on platforms to eliminate nuclear power from the prefecture.
But their calls are in conflict with the national energy policy of the LDP and the positions of some opposition supporters.
 
With campaigning in the single-seat prefectural constituency shaping up effectively as a one-on-one race, local voters who were affected by the March 2011 nuclear accident are casting a cynical eye at the race for the July 21 election.
 
“I’m determined to push ahead with reconstruction following your requests,” Masako Mori, the LDP’s candidate for Fukushima, said on July 4, the opening day of the official campaign period, in the prefectural capital of Fukushima.
 
“I’ll do my best to achieve the goal of decommissioning all nuclear reactors in the prefecture,” said Mori, 54, vice chair of the LDP’s Headquarters for Accelerating Reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
 
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also president of the LDP, gave a speech in support of Mori.
 
Reflecting local voter concerns over nuclear power, the LDP’s Fukushima chapter has set goals of scrapping all reactors in the prefecture and building up knowledge and expertise related to decommissioning.
 
In contrast to the prefectural chapter’s position, however, the Abe government’s basic energy program regards nuclear power as an important base load electric power source, while the LDP’s policy pledges for the Upper House election include efforts to reactivate nuclear reactors.
 
The LDP suffered losses in recent national elections in Fukushima Prefecture, home to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the site of the nation’s worst-ever nuclear accident, which resulted from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
 
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Public housing for 3/11 evacuees in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture
 
In the 2017 House of Representatives election, an LDP candidate was defeated in Fukushima’s No. 1 constituency, which includes the prefectural capital. In the 2016 triennial Upper House poll, Mitsuhide Iwaki, the justice minister at the time, lost the election.
 
In their campaign speeches, both Abe and Mori admitted she is facing a tough race.
 
A lawmaker elected from the prefecture said, “Residents in Fukushima have pent-up emotions toward the LDP.”
 
Mori received the party’s endorsement as a candidate in August last year after failing to pass the first round of screenings a month earlier. Explaining the deferred approval, one party source suggested that she was ill at ease with local party members, including prefectural assembly members.
 
She has been helped by delays in the opposition camp’s selection of a candidate, but frustration is smoldering among her supporters, with one city assembly member grumbling that “she does not know how to greet you properly.”
 
Hard to differentiate
Mori’s key opponent in the three-way race is Sachiko Mizuno, 57, who is running as the opposition camp’s unified candidate.
On June 30, standing in drizzling rain in front of a department store in the city of Fukushima, Mizuno told a small crowd, “Reconstruction of Fukushima is still only half done.”
 
Referring to the LDP’s policy pledge, she said the government “has not presented a road map for decommissioning all reactors (in the prefecture).”
 
The candidacy of Mizuno was decided in April by a forum consisting of the prefectural chapters of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Democratic Party for the People and the Social Democratic Party, as well as unaffiliated lawmakers elected from Fukushima and the Fukushima chapter of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or Rengo Fukushima.
 
After the Japanese Communist Party withdrew its candidate and decided to back Mizuno, she became the unified candidate of the opposition camp.
 
With Mizuno calling for a society free of nuclear power, the policy differences with the LDP are blurred. “It’s difficult to differentiate ourselves (from the LDP) in the prefecture,” a senior official in Mizuno’s campaign office said.
Within her camp, there are differing levels of enthusiasm regarding the elimination of nuclear power.
 
Mizuno concluded a five-point policy agreement with the members of the forum that includes the group’s nuclear goals. But Rengo Fukushima, which has under its wing the Federation of Electric Power-Related Industry Worker’s Unions of Japan, opted out, in consideration for union members who work for electric power and electrical engineering companies.
 
Still, Rengo Fukushima issued a recommendation for Mizuno after concluding from her policies as a whole that there was no other candidate it could support.
 
Still, an official with Rengo Fukushima said, “Cheering for her in street speeches and hearing her emphasis on getting rid of nuclear power leaves me confused about my feelings.”
 
Unenthusiastic voters
After the triple meltdown accident, the government issued an evacuation advisory to 11 municipalities around the stricken nuclear plant. Since the advisory was lifted in the eastern part of the city of Tamura in April 2014, the size of the exclusion zone has been reduced in stages.
 
But the advisory remains in place in the town of Futaba, as well as in parts of six municipalities, including the towns of Okuma and Namie. More than 30,000 people still live as evacuees outside the prefecture.
 
“The evacuation advisory has been removed, but I can’t return home,” said a woman in her 60s who lives in public housing for the displaced in the city of Fukushima. “Only a few people have returned home, and I can’t live in my hometown as most of the residents are elderly people.”
 
She had her house in Namie demolished as she had no prospects of returning.
 
In Namie, more than two years after the evacuation advisory was lifted for most of the town in March 2017, just over 1,000 people have returned. Of people who are still registered as residents of areas for which the advisory was removed, only some 7 percent have returned.
 
In regard to the Upper House election, the woman in public housing said in a weary voice, “Regardless of whoever wins, nothing will probably change in our situation.”

 

July 16, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Japanese Mothers Find High Levels of Radiation in Food Post-Fukushima Disaster

The “Mothers’ Radiation Lab” in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture is staffed by local mothers who test foods, water, soil and other local materials for nuclear radiation.
In the aftermath of the 9.1-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that caused the nuclear power plant in Fukushima to leak radioactive materials, a group of Japanese mothers work to ensure local food is safe to eat. Despite lacking a scientific background or university education, they are passionate about informing keeping the public informed. 
Although levels of radiation have declined since the 2011 incident, these mothers know the struggle for safe food and water is not over. “Mothers’ Radiation Lab” staff has found Shitake mushrooms, which are often included in Japanese cuisine, have the highest noticeable levels of radiation.
“How do you fight these invisible threats? The best way is to measure them,” says Kaori Suzuki, director at Mothers’ Radiation Lab.

July 16, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

A Fukushima Ghost Town Seeks Rebirth Through Renewable Energy

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Construction of a hydrogen power plant near Namie is nearly complete
 
July 12, 2019
NAMIE, Japan—Fukushima prefecture, a place synonymous in many minds with nuclear meltdown, is trying to reinvent itself as a hub for renewable energy.
 
One symbol is just outside Namie, less than five miles from the nuclear-power plant devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. At the end of a winding road through miles of barren land, construction is nearing completion on one of the world’s largest hydrogen plants.
 
The government hopes to show that hydrogen, a hard-to-handle fuel that hasn’t been used for large-scale power generation, can supplement intermittent solar and wind power.
 
“Namie has suffered due to nuclear energy,” said Naka Shimizu, its head of industry promotion. “Today, Namie is using renewable energy to stand up again and begin re-creating itself.”
 
There is still a long road ahead. Fukushima prefecture relies on government funding and subsidies for its revival plan. Even under optimistic scenarios, turning hydrogen into an everyday energy source could take decades.
 
In a region prone to earthquakes, Mr. Shimizu said, some citizens are concerned about the construction of a hydrogen plant. During the 2011 disaster, a hydrogen explosion damaged the roof and walls of one of the reactors.
 
Small amounts of liquid hydrogen can be explosive when combined with air, and only a slim amount of energy is required to ignite it. Namie officials said every precaution is being taken to prevent hydrogen leaks. The plant will be equipped with detectors that immediately halt operations if a leak is detected.
 
Until 2017, Namie was abandoned because of its exposure to radiation. Weeds grew through cracks in the pavement and shop windows were boarded up. When radiation levels were deemed safe, people were allowed to return. But the town’s population, about 1,000, is only 5% of its predisaster level.
 
Few shops or homes illuminate the streets at night. On the main road, the darkness is broken by the glow of streetlights that run on used electric-car batteries charged during the day by solar power.
 
“Nuclear energy harmed this region, but in many ways we were indebted to it. People in this area supported families on the money it provided,” said Kenichi Konno, head of planning in Namie. The Fukushima nuclear plant employed many of Namie’s residents and supported its local businesses, officials there said.
By 2040, Fukushima aims to cover 100% of its energy demand with non-nuclear renewable energy. Since 2011, the prefecture’s generating capacity from renewable energy, excluding large-scale hydropower, has more than quadrupled. More than a gigawatt of solar-energy capacity has been added—the equivalent of more than three million solar panels—while other projects are under way in offshore wind power and geothermal energy.
 
The problem, especially with solar panels, is the unreliable nature of the electricity they generate. While batteries can store electricity for use at night, the cost is so high that even some in the green-energy camp say 100% renewable energy isn’t realistic for now.
 
That is where the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy
The facility, which Namie officials estimate will require total operating costs of more than $90 million in public funds, is set to begin test operations over the next few months and enter full operation by July 2020.
 
Whether or not hydrogen is counted as a renewable energy depends on the source of energy used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The Fukushima plant runs mostly on solar energy from an on-site field of solar panels, but also draws on energy from the grid.
 
The Namie plant aims to ship hydrogen south to Tokyo to power the Olympic athletes’ village at the 2020 Summer Games. It will also produce hydrogen for fuel-cell buses and vehicles. The eight hydrogen tanks on site could fill 240 vehicles like the Toyota Mirai that run on hydrogen, Namie officials estimate. The Toyota Mirai has a range of 312 miles per tank.
 
Fukushima hopes to follow the lead of Japan’s port city of Kobe, which built a thriving biomedical industry after an earthquake and fires left parts of the city in ruins in 1995. Some economists say there is a tendency for regions that suffered major disasters to grow more quickly over the long term, perhaps because the disasters spur greater investment in new technologies.
 
Fukushima is “ahead of the curve in the transition to renewable energy in Japan,” said Daniel Brenden, an analyst at Fitch Ratings. “The grass-roots energy movement you see in Fukushima—changing the perspective of how electricity can be generated—that really sets in motion the transition that you have seen in places like Germany.”
 
Still, the transition is costly for Japan’s taxpayers. Solar-power producers nationwide sell output at above-market prices to electric companies, which pass their costs onto consumers. That is adding some $22 billion to electricity bills in the current fiscal year, according to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
 
In the absence of significant nuclear power, Japan is relying heavily on coal. It is following in the footsteps of Germany, which pledged to shut its nuclear plants by 2022 in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Although it has rapidly built out wind and solar power, Germany has largely fallen back on coal to fill gaps in alternative energy sources.
 
On weekdays, Namie buzzes with some 1,000 workers brought in to build the hydrogen plant. One recent weekday night, a few of them gathered at a restaurant in town serving Namie yakisoba, a stir-fried noodle dish for which the town is known. Shop owners say they close on weekends when the workers return home.
 
“A time will come when the country stops providing subsidies,” said Aoi Ogawa, a manager at the Japan Industrial Location Center who advises companies on relocating to Fukushima. “But if facilities and new technologies keep growing as they have, we hope to see cities rebuild around them. The goal isn’t just to return to predisaster levels, it’s to come back better.”

July 16, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

Torchbearer application for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay opens Monday

The first 3 days of the 2020 Olympic Torch Relay to start and go thru Fukushima prefecture.
Quote from Robin Lawrence: “The route seems like a ridiculously cynical one. Doublespeak played out before a watching world.
No one would conduct such a relay in the Chernobyl exclusion zone but this? The IOC, the Japanese government and the UN hierarchy would endorse turning a blind eye into farce.
The civilisation that this symbolism represents exhibits no heart or care for our future wellbeing. A facile attitude.”
olympic torch race relay course
Torchbearer application for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay opens Monday
The torchbearer application for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay opened Monday, which is the relay that brings the Olympic flame from Olympia, Greece, to Tokyo, Japan, for the beginning of the Summer Games.
June 17th 2019
Megan Marples and Katia Hetter, CNN – The torchbearer application for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay opened Monday, which is the relay that brings the Olympic flame from Olympia, Greece, to Tokyo, Japan, for the beginning of the Summer Games.
About 10,000 torchbearers, half of which will be members of the public, will wind their way through all 47 Japanese prefectures to safely deliver the flame to the Olympic cauldron.
Each leg of the relay is about 200 meters (656 feet), although one leg could be longer than the other. The route was designed to be easily accessible for almost everyone in Japan, with 98% of the population being within an hour car or train ride away from the route.
The relay will begin on March 26, 2020, at the J-Village National Training Centre in Fukushima Prefecture and will last 121 days.
The application says that all people are eligible to apply, regardless of nationality, age, gender or impairment. Applicants must be born on or before April 1, 2008. Children 17 and younger on March 1, 2020, will need a parent or guardian’s permission to participate.
“In 2020, the Olympic flame will not only symbolize the sunrise of a new era spreading the hope that will light our way, but will also serve to spread the joy and passion of the Japanese around the Olympic movement as the Games approach,” the Tokyo Organising Committee said in a statement.
Three categories are outlined in the application to describe the selection approach.
The first is “spirit of reconstruction and perseverance,” which applies to people who have demonstrated the ability to overcome great adversity.
The second category is “tolerance to embrace diversity” for people who have united a diverse group of individuals.
The third category is “unity experienced through the celebration” for people who can bring together a community by acting as torchbearers.
In honor of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, there will be a special display called “Flame of Recovery” before the official relay begins. It will begin on March 20, 2020, and last for two days each in the Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures.
Daisuke Obana, the torch relay uniform designer, commented on the significance of the display.
“In Japan, these Games are being referred to as ‘the Recovery Games’ and so the Olympic flame will start its journey from an area affected by recent natural disasters. I hope that the Olympic flame that is transported to Japan will bring with it the encouragement and thoughts of people from all over the world,” Obana said in a statement.
Application details can be found here. Successful applicants will be notified on or after December 2019.

June 20, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | 1 Comment

First 3 Days of 2020 Olympic Torch Relay Race Route Thru Fukushima

olympic torch race relay course

 

By Kolin Kobayashi
June 19, 2019
The Tokyo Olympic Committee has published the Olympic torch relay race route. It is clear that they are trying to “normalize”, and sweep “the traces of the Fukushima disaster.
The Tokyo Olympics are the denial of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. We will not let them do this unopposed.

June 19, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

At Fukushima’s ground zero, a town slowly comes back to life

The orchestrated delusion that people can live with radiation
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Akiyoshi Fushimi and his wife, Teru, carry a painting of hollyhocks into a new housing unit for evacuees in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on June 1.
June 16, 2019
Shigeru Niitsuma moved back into Okuma’s Ogawara district on June 1 — the first day residents were allowed to move into disaster-relief housing since the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant forced them to leave town in 2011.
“I feel at home in Ogawara, where I was born and raised,” said the 70-year-old, who carried a washing machine and TV set into his new home.
It makes him smile to water the marigolds and other flowers in his new garden.
The evacuation order for the neighborhood was lifted in April after decontamination work lowered radiation levels there.
Before the crisis, he was a farmer who grew rice and vegetables. Now he lives in the unit alone while his family remains in Takahagi, Ibaraki Prefecture, where they fled during the nuclear crisis.
The house where he used to live in Ogawara had to be demolished because of damage caused by boars, dogs and mice.
Niitsuma still visits it from time to time to tend to his flowers and vegetables and participate in neighborhood watch duties.
“It will be best if young people come back, which will revive the town,” he said. “In the meantime, I want to show everybody that it’s safe to return.”
Akiyoshi Fushimi, 68, and his wife, Teru, 66, moved into their disaster-relief unit from Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture. The Great East Japan Earthquake struck just three months after they had built a house in Okuma, which co-hosts the now-defunct power plant.
Though they can’t return to their former home, which remains in a no-go zone, it still brings them joy to live nearby.
As they entered their new home, the couple brought in a painting of hollyhocks made by Teru, taking a moment to appreciate the work.
The couple said it was difficult to be happy while thinking about those unable to return, but they agreed it was important for those able to return to do so.
The disaster-relief housing in Ogawara includes 40 shared units and 50 two- or three-bedroom units with kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms. Workers were still coming and going on June 1 to get them ready and help people move in.
As of Friday, the town was still recruiting potential residents for the shared units.
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In the meantime, to cater to residents and construction workers in the area, a convenience store opened on June 3 right in front of Okuma’s new town hall.
Yamazaki Shop sells about 700 products including bread, bento, instant noodles, snacks, alcohol, cigarettes, general supplies and newspapers. With about 30 sq. meters of floor space, the tiny store is intended be a makeshift facility until a commercial complex under construction in Ogawara is finished.
For now, the store is scheduled to operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturdays. It will be closed on Sundays except for special events.
On the first day, residents and construction workers came in to search for lunch.
“I want to build up this store together with customers,” said the manager, Takashi Akama, 29. “If there’s a product people want, they should feel free to let me know.”
This section features topics and issues from Fukushima covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture.

June 19, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , , | Leave a comment