SIX YEARS AFTER: Fukushima decontamination near-complete in evacuated areas
Decontamination work in areas covered by the evacuation order from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster is expected to conclude this month, paving the way for evacuees from the affected communities to return home.
With the project’s completion, the government’s focus will shift to the cleanup of heavily contaminated areas near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and infrastructure building.
The areas covered in the Environment Ministry’s decontamination project constitute those in 11 municipalities, including Okuma and Futaba, the two towns co-hosting the nuclear complex.
The decontamination project got under way there in fiscal 2012 to remove soil, fallen leaves and other materials contaminated by radioactive substances primarily in residential areas, roads, and rice paddies and fields.
But the areas collectively known as the difficult-to-return zone where annual radiation doses were estimated to exceed 50 millisieverts as of the end of 2011 and still estimated at more than 20 millisieverts five years after the disaster were excluded from the decontamination work in those 11 local governments.
The cleanup in nine municipalities has already been completed, while the project in the remaining two is expected to finish this month, according to the government.
The completion of the project comes after the Cabinet approved a policy to finish decontamination by the end of March 2017 at a meeting in March 2016.
The evacuation order for Okuma and Futaba will remain in place even though the cleanup project will soon be over.
But the government expects to lift the order for people from the remaining nine municipalities, except for residents from the difficult-to-return zone, by April 1.
That will make the total area remaining under the evacuation order 30 percent of the size six years ago.
According to the ministry, decontamination operations have been carried out in 99 local governments in and outside of Fukushima Prefecture, costing about 2.6 trillion yen ($23.56 billion) over the past five years.
Although the government initially covers the costs of decontamination, it sends the bill to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator.
Despite the cleanup project, many evacuees will likely remain anxious about radiation exposure when they return because forests and woods except for those close to residential areas have not been decontaminated.
The government envisages setting up hubs for rebuilding the difficult-to-return zone by carrying out an intensive cleanup to make the areas habitable by 2022.
Of the 11 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture which came under evacuation orders after the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdowns, five do not have evacuation plans in case a nuclear accident occurs again, even though no-entry orders are gradually being lifted.
The central government requests local municipalities located near nuclear power plants to draw up evacuation plans in case of a nuclear emergency. According to central government policy, local governments should issue immediate evacuation orders to residents living within 5 kilometers of a plant in case of a “full-scale emergency” — situations including the loss of cooling power at nuclear reactors.
As a basic rule, those living between 5 and 30 kilometers from a plant are subject to indoor evacuation, and when a radiation dose of 20 microsieverts per hour is detected, evacuation should be completed within one week. Immediate evacuation is recommended when the dose hits 500 microsieverts per hour.
A representative of the village of Katsurao, whose residents have started moving back, told the Mainichi Shimbun that the municipal government has not created its evacuation plan because “there are only two officials in charge of the matter.” The official added, “We don’t have expert knowledge (about nuclear evacuations) and we can’t handle it with all the other work we have to do. Neither the state nor the Fukushima Prefectural Government is giving us advice.”
An official from the village of Iitate, where the evacuation order will be lifted at the end of March, said in addition to a workforce shortage, “it’s difficult to make a plan before examining how many residents will come back.” The city of Tamura, whose residents have started coming back, and the towns of Futaba and Okuma, where it remains unknown when residents will be able to return, do not have evacuation plans.
Meanwhile, the towns of Namie and Tomioka have mapped out their plans, which take the basic principle of evacuating all townspeople in case of a full-scale emergency — more drastic measure than central government policy requires — saying that just following the state’s evacuation policy will not protect their residents’ safety. Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba told the Mainichi, “Residents don’t believe they would be safe if they remain inside a building.”
With regard to local evacuation plans, a support team for nuclear accident victims at the Cabinet Office points out that while such plans are not requirement for the state to lift evacuation orders, local governments should prepare disaster prevention measures.
The stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant is different from other nuclear stations in the country as decommissioning work is in progress for all its six reactors. At the same time, a rough road is expected for the project to remove melted fuel, and the estimated hourly radiation dose inside No. 2 reactor is as much as 650 sieverts.
According to an opinion poll by the Reconstruction Agency targeting residents of the city of Tamura, 61.5 percent of those who said they wanted to live in other municipalities than Tamura cited concerns over decommissioning work and management of the nuclear plant as reasons for not wanting to come back.
Hirotada Hirose, professor emeritus at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University and an expert in nuclear disaster prevention, commented, “The condition of melted nuclear fuel (at the Fukushima plant) is unknown and aftershocks are still continuing in Fukushima Prefecture. It’s a problem that evacuation orders are being lifted while local governments have not come up with their evacuation plans.”
Workers move big black plastic bags containing radiated soil. Fukushima prefecture, near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Soil from the Fukushima prefecture may be used as landfill for the creation of “green areas” in Japan, a government panel has proposed, facing potential public backlash over fears of exposure to residual radiation from the decontaminated earth.
The advisory panel of the Environment Ministry on Monday proposed reusing soil that was contaminated during the Fukushima nuclear meltdown of 2011 as part of future landfills designated for public use, Kyodo news reported.
In its proposal, the environmental panel avoided openly using the word “park” and instead said “green space,” apparently to avoid a premature public outcry, Mainichi Shimbun reported.
Following an inquiry from the news outlet, the Ministry of the Environment clarified that “parks are included in the green space.”
In addition to decontaminating and recycling the tainted earth for new parks, the ministry also stressed the need to create a new organization that will be tasked with gaining public trust about the prospects of such modes of recycling.
To calm immediate public concerns, the panel said the decontaminated soil will be used away from residential areas and will be covered with a separate level of vegetation to meet government guidelines approved last year.
In June last year, the Ministry of the Environment decided to reuse contaminated soil with radioactive cesium concentration between 5,000 to 8,000 becquerels per kilogram for public works such as nationwide roads and tidal banks.
Under these guidelines, which can now be extended to be used for the parks, the tainted soil shall be covered with clean earth, concrete or other materials.
Such a landfill, the government said at the time, will not cause harm to nearby residents as they will suffer exposure less than 0.01 mSv a year after the construction is completed.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered a blackout and subsequent failure of its cooling systems in March 2011, when it was hit by an earthquake and a killer tsunami that knocked out the facility, spewing radiation and forcing 160,000 people to flee their homes. Three of the plant’s six reactors were hit by meltdowns, making the Fukushima nuclear disaster the worst since the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986.
Gov’t proposes reusing Fukushima’s decontaminated soil on green land
The Environment Ministry on Monday proposed reusing decontaminated soil from disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture as landfill for parks and green areas.
At a meeting of an advisory panel, the ministry also called for launching a new organization to map out plans on how to gain public understanding about the reuse of decontaminated soil, ministry officials said.
The proposals come at a time when Fukushima Prefecture faces a shortage of soil due to the decontamination work following the 2011 nuclear meltdown.
Kids say the cruellest things: A girl bullied at school with the taunt ‘You’ve got the radiation!’ (right) sits at her home in Chiba Prefecture, where she moved after fleeing Fukushima Prefecture in the wake of the March 2011 nuclear disaster
Radiation is a fearful thing. Colorless, odorless, undetectable except by special instruments, it’s one of those evils you can dismiss from your mind altogether, until the special instruments start registering. Then suddenly it’s everywhere, or seems to be — a ubiquitous and ineradicable contaminant.
Children, as we all know, say and do the damnedest things. They mean no harm, they just know not what they do, sometimes. Their innocence is terrifying. Sometimes innocence looks anything but innocent. But all societies recognize it.
Children are not legally responsible for their actions. Parents and teachers may punish them in order to teach them responsibility. But it’s a long process. Until it’s complete, the evil they do, when they do evil, gets filed under “mischief,” in recognition of the spirit in which it was — probably — committed.
When Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant cracked under the strain of a tsunami six years ago and irradiated large swaths of Fukushima Prefecture, refugees streamed out of the stricken area, settling where they could. Forty thousand of them remain out-of-prefecture, 5,100 in Tokyo. Most of them will never go home again. Will they ever be at home where they are?
Josei Seven magazine raises the issue of “nuclear bullying.” Children too young, one might think, to even know the word “radiation” picked it up under the circumstances, and flung it with what seems like gleeful malice at disoriented new classmates who had enough to cope with already. Six years on, says Josei Seven, they’re still flinging it.
“It started immediately,” says one refugee, recalling her son’s transfer to a Tokyo elementary school in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. “‘Fukushima kids are weird,’ they’d shout at him. Kids would crawl under his desk and jab his feet with pencils. In the mornings he began saying he wasn’t feeling well. At the time, frankly, I was too traumatized myself to take much notice.”
Lawyer Yukio Yamakawa, director-general of the Tokyo Disaster Support Network, takes up the story with an account of other children he’s spoken to. What starts with name-calling (“Hey, Radioactive!” “Hey, Bacteria!”) easily escalates into what’s hard not to call torture. One kid is forced to drink a bottle of ink. Another has his shoes tossed into the toilet. A third is met in the corridor by classmates poised as if brandishing guns: “Radiation! Bang! Bang!” A fourth suffers extortion of what adds up over time to ¥1.5 million: “You can afford it, your family gets (disaster victim) compensation payments!”
Yamakawa reports this taunt making the rounds: “Fukushima kids won’t live past junior high school anyway, so you may as well die now.”
“Tanaka-san,” as we’ll call the mother cited above, began to fear her son might commit suicide. A poem he wrote contained the line, “Oh, to be able to go to heaven.” Fully focused now, she transferred the boy to another school. The peace that followed was short-lived. Name-calling, exclusion — it started all over again. The homeroom teacher was well-intentioned and put a stop to it — what she could see of it. What went on behind her back was beyond her control. A lot did, its viciousness increasing.
“I’d been bullied myself as a child,” Tanaka says, incidentally reminding us that the problem is neither new nor necessarily nuclear-related. “I understood what he was going through.”
She transferred him again. That seems to have ended the ugliest persecution, but, once a victim, you don’t simply get over it. The boy as a small child had dreamed of being a botanist when he grew up. Now he simply says, “I have no dreams.” Fukushima No. 1 destroyed much that is quantifiable — lives, property, livelihoods — and much that isn’t.
What to make of little kids who inflict this torment on other little kids? Can innocence itself be evil? Or fictitious? One hypothesis Josei Seven raises is that children merely absorb what they hear from their parents. Lacking critical faculties and adult inhibitions, they act where grown-ups merely talk.
The energy and imagination they put into it make it hard not to suspect they enjoy it. Enjoyment of other people’s sufferings is a well-attested human trait, exploited for mass entertainment at least as far back as the Roman circuses. Nothing has happened since to root it out of us, and if radiation stimulates it today, in that respect at least it breaks no new ground.
Naked fear is a factor too. Radiation, unseen, unheard, is the most fearful of stalkers. Might school kids seriously believe their Fukushima classmates are contagious? If so, the rational response would be to stay away from them, but fear and hatred merge, short-circuiting rationality and generating “Radiation, bang, bang!”
Radiation today, tuberculosis a century ago, different causes producing similar effects. Novelist Ayako Miura (1922-1999), herself a sufferer, made what might be called “tuberculosis bullying” a sub-theme of her novel “Shiokari Toge” (Shiokari Pass), set in late-19th-century Hokkaido: “It was an age when sufferers of tuberculosis were so hated and feared that they were even forced to leave the neighborhood.” A character who innocently brings up the subject arouses horror in his listener: “Mr. Nagano, even if you only mention the name of that dreadful disease it makes your lungs rot!”
“Radiation, bang, bang!” Last July a 26-year-old man slipped into a facility for disabled patients in Kanagawa Prefecture and slaughtered 19 of them, his apparent intention being to free the world from the scourge of disability. Disability, bang, bang. In February Satoshi Uematsu was declared fit to stand trial. A psychiatric evaluation found in him symptoms of a personality disorder but not of incapacity to distinguish right from wrong.
The disorder in question, writes psychiatrist Rika Kayama in the weekly Spa!, amounts to an extreme form of self-love. “Of course,” she writes, “we all love ourselves; we all at one time or another fantasize about being king or queen of the world …” We’d all, in short, be insane, more or less, if we let our fantasies rule our actions. Most of us know when to stop.
Uematsu’s self-love, Kayama hypothesizes, took the form of a conviction of having a mission, a destiny to fulfill. Maybe we all have that too, to some degree. Adults usually stifle it. Children often don’t.
FUKUSHIMA–Even after six years, lingering concerns over radiation loom large over the lives of evacuees from a village in northeastern Tohoku ravaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear disaster in 2011.
Residents have agonized over whether to return to their homes in the village of Iitate, one of the most heavily contaminated areas, since evacuation orders are to be lifted on March 31.
Masanobu Akaishizawa, 67, head of an administrative district of Iitate, expressed his concerns at a recent symposium held here in mid-February.
“Experts say radiation doses don’t affect us as long as we stay home,” he said. “But I wonder about the quality of my life if I can neither go to the mountains nor the river.”
Iitate was in the direct path of radioactive materials that spewed from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., following the triple meltdown due to the earthquake, tsunami as well as the government and TEPCO’s shortcomings on March 11, 2011.
Ahead of the lifting of the evacuation order for most of the village of Iitate on March 31, researchers and journalists, who have conducted field surveys since immediately after the accident, shared their views on radiation effects on health and avoiding health risks with villagers at the symposium.
The symposium, titled “Think about the future of Iitate villagers,” was hosted by the Iitate-mura Society for Radioecology, which comprises academics and citizens who committed themselves to continue their support for residents through their expertise.
During the session, Tetsuji Imanaka, a researcher at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, estimated the annual average radiation exposure to residents if they immediately return to the area after the evacuation orders are lifted. He put the figure at approximately 5 millisieverts of radiation.
“How can residents come to terms with the health risks caused by radiation exposure? That’s the issue,” Imanaka said.
Katsumi Furitsu, a doctor at the Hyogo College of Medicine, highlighted the government’s responsibility.
Furitsu has conducted research in the areas devastated by the crippled Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine, site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986.
“Low-dose radiation exposure also has health risks in accordance with the amount,” Furitsu said.
“Offering appropriate health management and medical benefits (for the disaster victims who have been exposed to radiation) is the government’s minimum responsibility just like it issued ‘hibakusha’ (A-bomb victims) health books in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Furitsu emphasized.
Hibakusha health books have been awarded to those certified by the government as radiation victims of the 1945 atomic bombings, making them eligible for special health-care benefits, including allowing them access to free medical assistance.
Such a book could also become a powerful weapon to force the government to take responsibility for Fukushima evacuees for future damage to their health potentially related to radiation exposure.
Villagers expressed, however, concern that this could lead to possible future discrimination.
“We understand the necessity of issuing the radiation exposure record books to protect victim’s health,” said one resident. “But high school girls have fears and worries about possible future discrimination that is likely to be caused by possessing the books by posing such questions as, “Can we get married?” or “Can we have children?”
In response to those poignant voices from the disaster victims, Furitsu said, “In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the same concerns were expressed. However, unjustified discrimination occurred not because of the health book, but because those who should take responsibility didn’t take it.”
“The government should take measures that help residents who had been burdened with unnecessary risks,” Furitsu said, referring to such matters as providing health management, medical benefits, education and other activities to raise awareness of discrimination against disaster victims, especially if they have been exposed to low-dose radiation.
Yoshinobu Ito, 73, a farmer who moved to Iitate before the disaster, was especially worried about the risk radiation could have on children when they return to the village.
He released the results of measurements of radiation levels around his house that he has taken since the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
“Although the levels of radiation dose have dropped, they are still 10 times higher than the figures before the disaster. Even if I return to Iitate, rebuilding agriculture is a hardship,” said Ito.
The effects of radiation also cast a shadow over Japanese cattle farmers such as Kiyomi Shigihara, 62, of Nagadoro in the southernmost section of Iitate. Nagadoro was designated as the only “difficult-to-return zone” in the village.
With regard to the government policy of decontaminating only reconstruction base areas and then lifting an evacuation order after five years, Shigihara said, “Under these circumstances, even if I return home, there’s nothing I can do.”
Unable to repress his emotions, Shigihara wiped tears from his eyes.
Eighty percent of households who fled but were not forced to evacuate from Fukushima Prefecture after the 2011 nuclear disaster do not intend to return even after their free housing allowance ends this month.
According to the survey results released March 21, 3,722 households, or 80 percent of 4,673 households who had evacuated outside the prefecture, said they had no intention of returning.
As for the 4,010 households who fled but remained inside the prefecture, 949 households, or 24 percent, gave the same response, while 67 percent, or 2,674 households, planned to eventually return to their hometowns.
The statistics are based on responses from 8,683 households that evacuated out of 12,000 contacted by the Fukushima prefectural government.
The central and prefectural governments have provided free housing for evacuees from outside the designated evacuation zone since the nuclear accident triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and catastrophic tsunami.
It was announced in June 2015 the housing program would end this month.
Prefectural officials said part of the reason for the high ratio of people unwilling to return to Fukushima Prefecture is partly because they are uninformed about the rebuilding situation.
“Their resolve to stay away from the prefecture is firm due to concerns about radiation and other factors in the first place,” an official said. “In addition, it appears that they don’t have good access to information on what is going on in the prefecture.”
The number of people that had evacuated to locales inside and outside of Fukushima Prefecture on a voluntary basis totaled 30,000 as of October 2015.
Support groups have demanded the continuation of the housing program.
Whereas 97 percent of the total households contacted, or 11,896, replied that they have already decided on where they would live from April, 2 percent, or 227 households, responded otherwise as of March 10.
Masahiro Imamura, Minister for Reconstruction, wants to launch a large-scale campaign, to correct the incorrect information about radioactive contamination of agricultural, forestry and fisheries products from Fukushima Prefecture; as an effort to tackle the issue of “misinformation about radioactive contamination” crippling Fukushima foods. That means more propaganda to come, more lies to hide the real risks of radiation to the people’s health. As if propaganda, to brainwash the people with a large-scale campaign would be the solution to make radiation disappear.
Reconstruction chief Masahiro Imamura
Reconstruction chief praises efforts in Tohoku, flags information campaign on radiation risks
Minister for reconstruction Masahiro Imamura has praised efforts to rebuild the devastated Tohoku region but says a large-scale information campaign is needed to share accurate information about radiation six years after the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Imamura outlined the plan in a recent interview in response to what he said was incorrect information about radioactive contamination of agricultural, forestry and fisheries products from Fukushima Prefecture.
It also comes as a growing number of children who evacuated from the prefecture fall victim to bullying.
Massive amounts of radioactive substances were emitted from the plant soon after it was knocked out by massive tsunami from the 9.0-magnitude March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake, which hit hardest in Fukushima and the nearby prefectures of Miyagi and Iwate.
Asked about the degree of progress in reconstructing areas hit by the disaster, Imamura said, “Acquisition of land and other procedures needed for the restoration of damaged infrastructure initially took time, but the pace of construction work was very rapid once it was launched.”
“From now, we should focus on the rebuilding of Fukushima,” he said, noting that medium- to long-term measures should be promoted, including decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 plant and decontaminating areas polluted with radioactive fallout.
“We want to encourage evacuees to return to their hometowns in Fukushima by presenting future visions for the communities through improving the living environment and accelerating the revival of local industries,” Imamura added.
On how to tackle the incidences of bullying targeting evacuated Fukushima children, Imamura said, “We’ll strengthen information-sharing about radiation. All government agencies should jointly work to compile and launch a campaign for that purpose, while obtaining cooperation from private companies.
“This is an issue for not only children, but adults,” he said. “We’ll prepare documents and other materials that are easy to understand in order to eliminate prejudice against evacuated people.”
Imamura said the campaign would also be an effort to tackle the issue of “misinformation about radioactive contamination crippling Fukushima foods.”
“I’ll seek cooperation from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well,” he said.
Imamura said he believed the Reconstruction Agency’s efforts to date to rebuild areas affected by the March 2011 disaster have been praised to a certain degree. Still, he pointed to the importance of re-examining whether information on what affected areas need has been properly conveyed to the Reconstruction Agency and other government bodies.
Imamura said Japan’s aging population and low birthrate were also contributing to shrinking communities across the nation — something he described as a structural problem.
“It’s important to build a system that generates profits through stepped-up use of information technology and the modernization of factory equipment, even if human resources are limited,” he said.
“We need to check again whether communities will be able to smoothly help one another in times of disaster, although lessons from the March 2011 disaster were effectively utilized in a series of powerful earthquakes that mainly hit Kumamoto Prefecture in April last year, and the October 2016 strong quake in Tottori Prefecture,” Imamura added.
Chiho Sato and Lucas Rue, the film directors
Yesterday, Saturday March 18. 2017, I went to watch for the second time The silent Voices, a documentary film directed by Chiho Sato and Lucas Rue, a screening organized by the French-Japanese Asuka association, an association founded by Kyoko Kugawa-Albu after the March 11. 2011 with the purpose to inform the general public about the Fukushima catastrophe.
I was very happy to meet again and spend some time with the two young movie directors, a very nice, sincere and talented couple, and with Kyoko Kugawa-Albu an antinuclear friend of mine.
This second time watching the movie confirmed my first impression, this movie is definitely the best documentary which has been made about Fukushima in the past 6 years, and you can believe it as I have watched many.
It is the best because of its unique approach, as Chiho Sato is herself from Fukushima she has been able like no one else to enter the intimacy of the Fukushima people by interviewing her own family members and her family close friends.
Chiho Sato was able to make them open up and talk about what usually nobody wants to talk about, as to talk about the catastrophe and its consequences has become kinda taboo among the Fukushima people, who never talk about it as different opinions could caused conflict, antagonism and create divisions. So after 6 years of an ongoing unresolved nuclear catastrophe, today nobody talks about it and everyone keeps it buried deep inside.
Chiho Sato for the first time succeeded to make those silent voices to talk, about the problems resulting from the catastrophe in their everyday life, their present and future inner fears.
Watching it for the second time, convinced me that I really need to write an article about it, to come in the coming weeks, because this film contains some very important testimonies that everyone should hear.
Let me introduce this pro-nuclear article and pro-revitalization; because it directs the spotlight on a scientific study _ itself hijacked? Or does “it find only what is sought”? … on the causes of the increase in cesium 137 in the air and that without reminding the reader of the slightest rule of prudence, which would be, however, the least of all things. Worse, instilling lies like “even if one inhaled the air not far from these mushrooms, it will never have any effect on health”.
The scientific conclusion is twofold: wild mushrooms absorb cesium, concentrate it and then release it into the atmosphere via their spores. This would explain why, so they pretend, in the mountains northwest of Namie, in a difficult return zone, the Cs137 radioactivity measured in the atmosphere is multiplied by 5 in summer compared to winter, whereas elsewhere it is the reverse, in the city of Fukushima for example, (they say) Cs increases in winter …
In the end, the “scientists” say and repeat that in any case, the levels of Cs that circulate in the atmosphere because of these damn mushrooms, “it’s three times nothing” (sic!), and the Asahi will put, at the end of the article, a BIG lie:
“Last summer, levels of cesium concentration in the atmosphere, in the mountains and forests of Namie, which are planned to be decontaminated (sic!), were almost identical to those measured 1 km further in an area that had been decontaminated … ”
Note from the author who wishes to stay anonymous: Decontamination is impossible.
The propaganda spiel to prepare the public opinion for the lifting of the evacuation orders in ALL the zones, including those most uninhabitable, is in full swing!
SIX YEARS AFTER : Wild mushrooms to blame for the spread of cesium in Fukushima
Radioactive cesium released after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant’s triple meltdown in 2011 is continuing to contaminate the environment through wild mushrooms, scientists say.
It turns out that the fungi absorb cesium and then release it through their spores after concentrating it.
But the amount of cesium in the environment is minuscule and poses no threat to human health, say the researchers, who are primarily with the Meteorological Research Institute of the Japan Meteorological Agency, Ibaraki University, and Kanazawa University.
The new findings indicate that cesium is released into the environment again by mushroom spores in mountains and forests in zones designated as difficult to return to because of high contamination levels after the nuclear accident triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
Radiation levels in the air are measured at monitoring posts and disclosed to the public. Those measurements are taken at a designated height to measure radiation from the ground and in the atmosphere.
In a separate effort, a team of scientists from the Meteorological Research Institute and other bodies measured the radioactivity concentration of cesium-137 by collecting airborne particles 1 meter above ground in Fukushima Prefecture.
The team’s survey showed that cesium levels in a mountainous area in the northwestern part of the town of Namie rise five times in summer compared with winter. The region is part of the difficult-to-return zone.
The increased cesium level during summer is equivalent to less than one ten-thousandth of the radiation dose of 2.1 millisieverts, which the average individual is naturally exposed to each year.
The latest findings were in marked contrast to studies covering the prefectural capital of Fukushima and elsewhere that showed cesium levels were higher in winter than summer.
Initially, the researchers considered the possibility of cesium on the ground’s surface being kicked up by clouds of dust. But they found no clear association between the cesium level and dust.
Teruya Maki, an associate professor of microorganism ecology at Kanazawa University, analyzed genes of airborne particles gathered in forests and mountains in the northwestern part of Namie from August to September 2015.
The results showed that many of the particles were derived from mushrooms.
Between June and October last year, more than 10 kinds of wild mushrooms were gathered on 10 occasions in the region’s forests and mountains. The radioactivity concentration levels in the spores measured up to 143 becquerels per gram.
When multiplying the cesium concentration per spore by the number of collected spores per cubic meter, the result roughly matched the measured cesium concentration for the area.
“Spores in which cesium was concentrated were likely released into the atmosphere, raising the airborne concentration,” said Kazuyuki Kita, an air environment science professor at Ibaraki University, who was involved in the analysis of cesium levels.
The amount of cesium contained in a spore of sampled mushrooms was extremely small.
“Even if people inhale the air in areas where mushroom spores containing cesium are spreading, that could never affect human health,” said Kazuhiko Ninomiya, a researcher of radiochemistry at Osaka University, who is a member of the research team.
The researchers are also trying to ascertain the extent to which the mushroom spores spread. They are planning more studies to figure out if the distances involved could be several kilometers.
Last summer, airborne cesium concentration levels for mountains and forests in Namie that have yet to be decontaminated were almost the same as those for an area 1 kilometer away that has been decontaminated on a trial basis.
That indicates cesium is likely spreading in the air, according to the scientists.
TOKYO, March 17 (Xinhua) — Representatives from the organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics said here Friday that the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima Prefecture would be used as an additional venue for baseball and softball events during the 2020 Games.
In an effort to support areas in Japan hardest-hit by the quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in March 2011, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved the use of the 30,000-seater Azuma Stadium, in Fukushima City, the organizers said.
The announcement came after the IOC agreed to the proposal earlier Friday in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The 31-year-old Azuma Stadium in Japan’s northeast, which will now have to be renovated, won unanimous approval by the committee ahead of two other stadiums in Fukushima, including the Kaiseizan Stadium in Koriyama and the Iwaki Green Stadium.
The stadium will likely be used for Japan’s opening games, officials here said. They added that the location of the events is hoped to ensure the plight of the people of Fukushima remains in the international spotlight, as well as give hope to and encourage the people who live in the disaster-hit prefecture.
According to government statistics, around 150,000 people were displaced as a result of the multiple meltdowns, which took place at the Daiichi plant following an earthquake-triggered tsunami on March 11, 2011.
The ongoing disaster at the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO), remains the world’s worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl accident.
South Korea, on Friday, expanded its ban on Japanese fisheries products over concerns of contamination from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). The government in Seoul accuses Japan of not providing enough information on the crisis.
Consumption of fish products in South Korea has dropped sharply in recent weeks as concerns grow that workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi NPP struggle to contain leaks.
Fukushima Daiichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitted that “up to 300 tons of mildly contaminated groundwater is making its way into the Pacific Ocean every day”; a situation that has been going on for years. Moreover, TEPCO recently admitted that “highly toxic water made its way into the Pacific Ocean”.
South Korea previously imposed an import ban on dozens of Japanese fisheries products produced in Fukushima and sever other prefectures following the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP following a massive earthquake and a subsequent tsunami in 2011.
The government in Seoul has now widened the ban to all fisheries products from Fukushima prefecture as well as the prefectures of Ibaraki, Gunma, Miyagi, Iwate, Tochigi, Chiba and Aomori. South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries issued a statement stressing that:
“The measure comes as our people’s concerns are growing over the fact that hundreds of tons of radiation-contaminated water leak every day from the site of Japan’s nuclear accident in Fukushima. … The government has concluded that the information provided by Japan so far has failed to make it clear how the incident will develop in the future. … Under the new measure, all fisheries products from this region will be banned regardless of whether they are contaminated or not.”
The Ministry also urged the government in Tokyo to immediately provide full and accurate information on leaks of contaminated water. A growing number of radiation and environmental health experts stress that the claim that dilution of the radioactive water in the “vast Pacific Ocean” would make it safe to ingest fish caught off shore is right-out wrong and misleading because:
The bio accumulation of radioactive nuclei in fish;
The ingestion of one single isotope may, depending on what isotope it is and where it is lodged in the human body, cause various forms of cancer.
Eating fish from a batch that passed a “Geiger counter” test is in other words still like “participating in a fishy cancer lottery”.
However, in Tokyo on Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga challenged South Korea over the ban and claimed:
“We are carrying out strict safe management on foods, including fishery products, based on international standards. We would like the South Korean government to respond, based on scientific evidence.”
What Suga conveniently omitted was that Japan, following the nuclear disaster in 2011, changed its regulations – apparently because Japanese experts suddenly realized that the human body (and the Japanese economy) can “safely tolerate much higher doses” than thought before the disaster. Moreover, the contamination in Japan is according to many independent observers so bad that one would have to probe each single food item separately to be “relatively safe”.
Earlier this week Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged global concerns over the “haphazard” management of the crisis by TEPCO and said his administration will step in with public money to get the job done. Abe didn’t specify how this “public money” should be spent, how much will be made available, how Japan wants to end the “haphazard approach” to the crisis, and maybe most importantly, who the recipient of this money would be.
In November 2015 former Japanese Ambassador to Switzerland, Mitshei Murata called on the President of the International Olympic Committee to move the 2020 Olympics from Tokyo or to cancel the games over together.
In May 2016 private activists in Japan accused Tokyo of “cooking data”. Radiation readings conducted by private activists, 40 km from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility are about eight to ten times higher than those published by authorities, said Yoichi Tao who majored in physics.
Research by Toshihide Tsuda, professor of environmental epidemiology at Okayama University, showing that the rate of children suffering from thyroid cancer in Fukushima Prefecture was as much as 20 to 50 times higher than the national average as of 2014 is being dismissed as based on “over diagnosing”.
Moreover, Japan has introduced strict legislation that can be used to put anyone who publishes not officially approved data about Fukushima or anyone who “leaks” information rather than radiation behind bars for up to ten years. This includes investigative journalists.
In 2014 independent journalists like Mako Oshidori received a thinly-veiled threat from TEPCO when she reported about the death of Fukushima cleanup workers, and who stressed she was “intimidated by police“. Mako courageously reported that she discovered a TEPCO memo, in which the Fukushima Daiichi operator TEPCO instructs officials to “cut Mako-chan’s (questions) short, appropriately”. Mako Oshidori was enrolled in the School of Life Sciences at Tottori University Faculty of Medicine for three years.
Mako revealed that TEPCO and the government cover-up the death of Fukushima workers and that government agents began following her around after she began investigating the cover-up. Mako said:
“I heard about it from researchers who were my friends as well as some government officials. I will show you a photo I secretly took of the agent, so you know what kind of surveillance I mean. When I would talk to someone, a surveillance agent from the central government’s public police force would come very close, trying to eavesdrop on the conversation….
“I would like to talk about my interview of a nurse who used to work at (the) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (NPP) after the accident. .. He was a nurse at Fukushima Daiichi NPP in 2012. He quit his job with TEPCO in 2013, and that’s when I interviewed him. …
“As of now of now, there are multiple NPP workers who have died, but only the ones who died on the job are reported publicly. Some of them have died suddenly while off work, for instance, during the weekend or in their sleep, but none of their deaths are reported. …
“Not only that, they are not included in the worker death count. For example, there are some workers who quit the job after a lot of radiation exposure, such as 50, 60 to 70 mili Sieverts, and end up dying a month later, but none of these deaths are either reported, or included in the death toll. This is the reality of the NPP workers”.
TEPCO memo, advising to “cut short” Mako Oshidori’s questions, e.t.c
However, the new legislation that “empowered” the government to impose ten year prison sentences for “unauthorized” journalism and dissemination of unauthorized information about the Fukushima Daiichi NPP and related issues for reasons of “national security” has since then largely silenced Mako, and many other journalists, experts in health, environmental health, environmental studies, radiation studies …
Is Seoul “over reacting” and is Tokyo’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga right when he claims: “We are carrying out strict safe management on foods, including fishery products, based on international standards. We would like the South Korean government to respond, based on scientific evidence”? What evidence, sampled by whom, analyzed on the basis of ??? . …
Voluntary evacuees granted only small awards in Fukushima nuke disaster damage case
While the March 17 Maebashi District Court ruling acknowledged that both the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) are liable for the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, it dealt a harsh blow to those who voluntarily evacuated their Fukushima Prefecture homes in the wake of the meltdowns.
The court awarded a total of 38.55 million yen in damages to 62 of the 137 plaintiffs who fled from Fukushima Prefecture to Gunma Prefecture and elsewhere — about one-fortieth of the complainants’ total compensation demand of approximately 1.5 billion yen. This was because the court acknowledged to some extent the rationale behind the government-set “interim guidelines” for TEPCO’s compensation payment standards. The court rejected claims made by over half of the plaintiffs, saying that the amount of compensation they are entitled to does not exceed that which has already been paid by TEPCO.
The interim guidelines were set by the education ministry’s Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation in August 2011 to ensure swift compensation to cover damages common to many residents in the nuclear disaster-hit areas. Based on the guidelines, TEPCO set up standards for compensation payments, such as a monthly payment of 100,000 yen per person for those from evacuation zones and, as a rule, one-off payments of 80,000 yen for each voluntary evacuee. Voluntary evacuees in nuclear disaster class-action suits across the country are arguing that 80,000 yen is too small an amount, considering that leaving Fukushima Prefecture was a reasonable decision.
Some experts have criticized the district court decision, saying that it only confirmed the legitimacy of the interim guidelines. At the same time, the ruling was based on the court’s own calculation for deciding the compensation amount for each plaintiff, which set five “emotional distress” categories to be considered including the feeling of losing one’s hometown.
Nevertheless, the compensation amounts in the ruling differed greatly between the plaintiffs from evacuation zones and voluntary evacuees. Nineteen plaintiffs who used to live in areas under evacuation orders were awarded compensation payments of between 750,000 yen and 3.5 million yen each, while 43 voluntary evacuees were granted awards of between 70,000 yen and 730,000 yen.
One of the plaintiffs who had voluntarily left the city of Iwaki was awarded about 200,000 yen in damages for the 10-day period right after the March 2011 meltdowns. However, the ruling denied that the same woman’s decision to flee Fukushima Prefecture again two months after the meltdowns was rational, saying that high radiation doses were not detected in Iwaki and no other particularly concerning circumstances were present.
Attorney Tsutomu Yonekura of the national liaison association of lawyers representing Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees said of the Maebashi District Court ruling, “The amount of compensation provided for in the ruling remains at the same level as that set in the interim guidelines, even though the court claimed to have independently calculated the compensation payments. It’s not enough as judicial redress.”
Fukushima nuke disaster evacuees disappointed by court’s compensation award
Fukushima Prefecture evacuees in a class action suit over the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster were disappointed by the 38.55 million yen in total compensation awarded on March 17 by the Maebashi District Court, as the amount was just one-fortieth what they had been seeking.
“I was expecting to hear a ruling that would support us more,” one of the plaintiffs said after the verdict, which came 3 1/2 years after they filed the suit and six years after the disaster’s onset.
“We have made the court recognize the responsibility of the central government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO). I am honestly happy about that,” plaintiff Sugie Tanji, 60, said to a gathering following the ruling. However, she continued, “The past six years was filled with many hardships. I wonder if I can convince myself to accept the ruling…”
Tanji was a resident of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. Her 63-year-old husband Mikio ran a repair business, but orders plunged following the No. 1 plant meltdowns. Four months later, the couple voluntarily evacuated to Gunma Prefecture.
Although Tanji felt guilty for leaving fellow residents behind, she took part in anti-nuclear power rallies and demonstrations in Gunma Prefecture and joined the class action suit, believing that there must never be another nuclear disaster.
Of the 137 plaintiffs from 45 households, representatives of almost all the households appeared in court, testifying to the agony of living as evacuees and expressing their anger toward TEPCO and the central government. However, only a few of them have made their names public out of concern for possible discrimination against their children and negative effects on their jobs. Tanji herself recalls being told, “You can get money if you go to court, can’t you?”
Under government guidelines, those who evacuated voluntarily are entitled to only 80,000 yen in consolation money from TEPCO, including living expenses. The plaintiffs thought the amount was far too small considering the pain of losing their hometowns. However, only 62 of the 137 plaintiffs were awarded compensation.
“I was expecting a warmer ruling,” said a woman in her 50s who sat in on the March 17 hearing clad in mourning attire. She was working part-time for a company in Iwaki, but was fired after the nuclear disaster impacted the firm’s business performance.
This and radiation exposure fears prompted her and her husband to evacuate to Gunma Prefecture two months later. Her husband, however, developed a malignant brain tumor the following year, after the couple settled into an apartment that the Gunma Prefectural Government had rented for evacuees. Her husband died in the fall of 2014 at age 52.
The woman says she still doesn’t feel like she can start working and subsists on her savings and survivor’s pension. At the end of March, the Fukushima Prefectural Government is set to terminate its housing subsidies for voluntary evacuees. For her, the compensation awarded by the Maebashi District Court was “unimaginably low.”
“I can’t report the ruling to my husband,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.
Gov’t and TEPCO put money before safety at Fukushima nuclear plant: court ruling
The Maebashi District Court ordered the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to pay damages in a class action lawsuit brought by Fukushima Prefecture residents who evacuated to Gunma Prefecture and elsewhere due to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. However, the amount was much smaller than what the plaintiffs had demanded, thereby failing to provide nuclear crisis victims the relief they seek.
On March 17, the Maebashi District Court recognized the responsibility of both the central government and TEPCO, operator of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. It stated that TEPCO should have been aware that the Fukushima plant could be hit by tsunami approximately nine years prior to the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, and that the state failed to order TEPCO to take appropriate anti-tsunami measures despite having the regulatory authority to do so.
“That the court recognized the central government’s liability for compensation is very significant,” the plaintiffs’ lead counsel Katsuyoshi Suzuki said at a rally that was held in Maebashi following the ruling. “It is also extremely important that the court recognized that the state was as culpable as TEPCO.”
The plaintiffs argued that TEPCO could have predicted a massive tsunami and taken measures to prevent a nuclear crisis. They also argued that the government was responsible for promoting the development and use of nuclear power. In its ruling, the court harshly criticized TEPCO, taking into account the far-reaching impacts and dangers of the ongoing nuclear disaster. “The utility must maintain a safety-first policy, but it appears to have placed priority on cost cutting,” the ruling said.
In July 2002, the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion pointed out the possibility that an approximately magnitude 8 earthquake could occur in the Japan Trench, part of which runs along the ocean floor off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture. Based on this “long-term evaluation,” TEPCO estimated in 2008 that tsunami with a maximum height of 15.7 meters could hit its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, yet no safety measures based on this estimate were taken.
Instead, TEPCO used a tsunami assessment formula created by the Japan Society of Civil Engineers (JSCE), comprising university professors and power company researchers, which put the height of tsunami that could potentially hit the nuclear plant at a mere 6.1 meters. The tsunami that slammed into the plant on March 11, 2011 hit a maximum height of 15.5 meters.
The Maebashi court took issue with the fact that although TEPCO could have instituted relatively easy anti-tsunami measures, such as relocating its emergency power source to higher ground, it had failed to do so. The Atomic Energy Damage Compensation Law — which stipulates that the business operator, regardless of whether or not they were negligent, must pay damages in the case of a nuclear disaster — was applied to reach the decision. However, the court rejected the claim for compensation based on illegal action under the Civil Code.
The ruling also went into detail regarding the government’s responsibility. In September 2006, the now defunct Nuclear Safety Committee (NSC) laid down new earthquake-resistance standards, and the government instructed TEPCO and other utilities to assess whether their nuclear power plants met the new criteria. However, in August 2007, TEPCO submitted a mid-term report to the government that did not include any anti-tsunami measures. The Maebashi District Court’s ruling pointed out that the government subsequently violated the law by not ordering TEPCO to implement anti-tsunami measures. It also said, “The state was in a position to take the initiative to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and was strongly expected to appropriately exercise its regulatory authority to prevent nuclear disasters.”
Much of the evidence and issues that were reviewed by the court are the same as those being reviewed in similar class-action lawsuits and the criminal trials of former TEPCO executives, whose pretrial conference procedures are to be held March 29.
The Maebashi ruling “made clear the government’s negligence in postponing checks on whether new quake-resilience standards were being met,” says attorney Yuichi Kaido, who will represent the victims in the upcoming criminal trial. “That matches our claims. The ruling was groundbreaking, and it will create a tide that will influence other court cases.”
Because there are many other similar cases being fought in courts nationwide, it is highly likely that the dispute will continue in an appeal trial in the Tokyo High Court. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference on March 17, “We will look closely at the content of the ruling, and deliberate a response from there,” hinting that the government will look to appeal.
Ruling on Fukushima nuclear crisis a grave admonition of gov’t
In a class action suit filed by residents of Fukushima Prefecture who evacuated to Gunma Prefecture and elsewhere due to the ongoing Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, the Maebashi District Court ordered both the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), and the central government to pay 62 residents a total of 38.55 million yen. It marked the first time that the judiciary recognized the state’s responsibility for negligence in the nuclear disaster.
The court ruling should be seen as admonition from the judiciary that the state has a grave responsibility over its nuclear power policy.
The main focus of the case was on whether TEPCO had been able to predict the size of the tsunami that struck the plant on March 11, 2011, and whether the state should have exercised its regulatory authority to make TEPCO implement necessary safety measures.
The plaintiffs focused on a long-term assessment on earthquakes, which the government released in 2002, as evidence to show that TEPCO had been able to predict a tsunami like the one that hit the Fukushima plant. The report stated that there was about a 20 percent chance that an earthquake of around magnitude 8 would occur off the coast between the northern Sanriku region and the Boso Peninsula within the next 30 years.
Based on this report, TEPCO predicted in 2008 that tsunami with a maximum height of 15.7 meters could hit the Fukushima No. 1 plant. The actual tsunami that hit the nuclear power station on March 11, 2011, however, was 15.5 meters tall. The plaintiffs argued that if TEPCO had taken the appropriate anti-tsunami measures based on the long-term assessment and other specific forecasts, the nuclear crisis could have been avoided.
The Maebashi District Court ruled almost entirely in favor of the plaintiffs, saying that TEPCO neglected to take measures despite having been able to predict that such a large tsunami could hit the nuclear plant, putting cost-cutting ahead of safety.
The court also handed down a similar decision regarding the culpability of the central government. Nuclear disasters cause irreparable damage over a large area. The court ruled that the fact that the central government did not exercise its regulatory authority even though TEPCO’s anti-tsunami measures were insufficient was extremely unreasonable when considering the import of the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law and other rules. It is notable, also, that the court ruled that the state’s responsibility was on par with that of TEPCO’s, and ordered the state to pay the plaintiffs the same amount in damages as the utility.
At the same time, however, the ruling was parsimonious in the compensation amount that it ordered be paid to the individual plaintiffs. Because the court deducted compensation money that TEPCO has already paid, the amount it approved was far below what the plaintiffs had demanded.
The plaintiffs had demanded 11 million yen per person — including for those who had evacuated voluntarily — citing loss of their hometowns and jobs, and grave emotional distress. For many of the plaintiffs, therefore, the ruling has likely come as a disappointment.
Around 30 similar lawsuits have been filed nationwide, by around 12,000 plaintiffs who have evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture. Rulings have not yet been handed down in any of those cases.
Why wasn’t the disaster prevented? Who is responsible? Much of the public is still seeking answers to these questions.
However, the nuclear disaster investigative committees of both the government and the Diet have disbanded, bringing their respective probes into causes of the crisis to a halt. The lessons from the ongoing disaster have yet to be learned in their entirety. It is because a single nuclear incident has grave and far-reaching consequences that an examination of its cause is so important.
What a load of spun crap, to be polite: “Moreover, the government is lifting the evacuation order for any areas where annual radiation levels are “no more than” 20 mSv. The International Commission on Radiological Protection told the government that once the situation had stabilized in the affected areas, people could return if radiation dropped to between 1 and 20 mSv, but the lower the better. Exposure to 20 mSv for a short period may not be a problem, but it could have harmful effects in the long run.”
In the thick of it: Industry Minister Yosuke Takagi (right) is exploring a variety of options to boost agricultural areas near the crippled Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant.
In January, regional newspaper Fukushima Minpo interviewed Yosuke Takagi, state minister of economy, trade and industry. While talking about reconstruction plans for areas near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Takagi mentioned resurrecting Dash-mura (Dash Village), a farm created from scratch by boy band Tokio for its Nippon TV series “The Tetsuwan Dash.”
The location of Dash-mura was always secret, lest Tokio’s fans descend on the project and destroy its rustic purity. But following the reactor accident caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake, it was revealed that the farm was in an area declared off-limits due to its proximity to the plant. It was promptly abandoned.
A different news outlet, Fukushima Minyu, clarified that the revival of Dash-mura is “nothing more than a personal idea of Takagi’s,” but that he intends to discuss it with related parties. An 80-year-old farmer who once worked with Tokio on the project told Minyu that bringing back the farm would be a great PR boost for the area’s agriculture, which is obviously Takagi’s aim. The show’s producer, however, after hearing of Takagi’s comment, tweeted that he knew nothing about the news, adding cryptically that “Dash-mura is no one’s thing.”
The Huffington Post called the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to ask if it had any intention of reviving Dash-mura. A representative only “confirmed” that Takagi had “made such a comment” and said METI had no “definite plan” to that end but might “study it.”
Nevertheless, the idea fits in with the government’s goal of getting former residents to move back to the area. Last week, authorities announced they would further reduce the evacuation zone at the end of the month, which means it will have shrunk by 70 percent since April 2014. The concern is that few people want to return. Some have already made lives for themselves elsewhere and see a lack of opportunity in their old communities.
Many also remain suspicious of the government’s assurances that radioactivity has dropped to a safe level. There is still debate among experts as to whether or not the radiation in the area is dangerous. The government says that the problems caused by the accident are now “under control,” and affected residents can soon go back to their old lives.
One media outlet who has challenged this assumption is TV Asahi’s “Hodo Station.” On March 9, the nightly news show sent its main announcer, Yuta Tomikawa, to Iitate, a village located about 40 km from the crippled nuclear facility. All 6,000 residents were eventually evacuated after the accident.
Standing in front of rows of black plastic bags, Tomikawa reported that, according to the government, decontamination efforts have been a success. A safe annual radiation level is 1 millisievert, but a local dairy farmer told Tomikawa that his own readings showed five times that level, adding that 70 percent of Iitate is wooded and forest land had not been decontaminated yet.
Moreover, the government is lifting the evacuation order for any areas where annual radiation levels are “no more than” 20 mSv. The International Commission on Radiological Protection told the government that once the situation had stabilized in the affected areas, people could return if radiation dropped to between 1 and 20 mSv, but the lower the better. Exposure to 20 mSv for a short period may not be a problem, but it could have harmful effects in the long run.
Tomikawa did not say that people who returned to Iitate would be in danger, but he did imply that the government is manipulating numbers in an attempt to persuade evacuees to return to their homes.
The web magazine Litera wrote that TV Asahi is the only mainstream media outlet to question the government line in this regard. Actually, Nippon TV did something similar, albeit indirectly. Last month, it rebroadcasted an episode of its “NNN Document” series about the married manzai (stand-up comedy) duo Oshidori Mako-Ken’s efforts to come to terms with the Fukushima meltdowns and their aftermath.
The couple belongs to the large Osaka-based entertainment company Yoshimoto Kogyo, but ever since the disaster Mako has attended about 500 related news conferences, making a nuisance of herself by plying Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings employees and government officials with questions the mainstream media don’t usually ask.
In order to gain access to the news conferences, she offered stories to the weekly magazine Spa! Her editor there told Nippon TV that Mako is now respected or resented by a lot of full-time journalists, partly because she’s a geinojin (entertainer) who has proved her mettle as a reporter, but mainly because of her hard-line queries, which put her interlocutors on the spot.
Following the disaster, Mako became suspicious when she saw people fleeing Tokyo in large numbers but heard nothing about it on the news. In order to make sense of the situation she’d watch unfiltered news conferences about the disaster on the internet. She realized only independent reporters asked tough questions, so she started attending them herself as a proxy for average people who didn’t understand what was going on. The more officials obfuscated, the more she studied.
She’s now recognized by some foreign press as one of the most informed persons on the subject — she even received a letter of encouragement from Pope Francis — and yet she’s shunned by the Japanese press. Nevertheless, she has dedicated followers, including workers cleaning up the reactor who often feed her questions to ask of officials. She’s won awards for her work, but from citizens groups, not media groups.
Nowadays, Mako and Ken do more free lectures on Fukushima No. 1 than they do comedy shows. One of their main themes is that media reports tend to confuse the public rather than inform them, but that’s really the fault of the government, which would like nothing better than for people to feel as if nothing ever happened.
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