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Thousands Who Left Fukushima Face Hardship


Noriko Matsumoto who fled with her children from Japan’s Fukushima prefecture after the nuclear disaster, cries during a news conference in Tokyo, Jan. 17, 2017.

Nearly six years after Noriko Matsumoto and her children fled Japan’s Fukushima area, they face a new possible hardship: cuts to government assistance for housing.

People who lived near the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear center feared for their health after a powerful earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11, 2011.

The nuclear center’s reactors released high levels of radiation. It was the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Soviet republic of Ukraine in 1986.

Matsumoto is among nearly 27,000 people who left areas that the government did not identify as required evacuation zones.

Now, the Fukushima local government is preparing to cut unconditional housing assistance at the end of March. Many people will face the choice of returning to places they fear are still unsafe or learning to deal with financial hardship.

“Because both the national and the local governments say we evacuated ‘selfishly,’ we’re being abandoned. They say it’s our own responsibility,” Matsumoto, who is 55, told reporters, her voice shaking.

“I feel deep anger at their throwing us away.”

A local official noted that while the housing assistance ends on March 31, smaller amounts of aid will still be provided, if needed. The official spoke on the condition that media not identify the official by name.

At the time of the earthquake, Matsumoto lived with her husband and two daughters in Koriyama city, about 55 kilometers west of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

Japanese officials declared a ‘no-go’ zone 30 kilometers around the plant, but Koriyama was outside of that area.

When her younger daughter, then 12, began suffering nosebleeds and diarrhea, Matsumoto and her children moved to Kanagawa, near Tokyo.

Her husband, who operates a restaurant, stayed behind in Koriyama to ensure they could make payments on their home loan and other bills. But, because of travel costs, the family can only meet every one or two months, and they face social pressure.

“People like us, who have evacuated voluntarily to escape radiation, have been judged by our peers as if we selfishly evacuated for personal reasons,” said Matsumoto.

She feels her only support is housing aid that the Fukushima government gives to voluntary evacuees, who numbered 26,601 by October 2016.

The payment is generally about 90,000 yen, or $795, for a family of two or more in Matsumoto’s area, a Fukushima official said. He added that full rental payments on housing are covered until March 31.

“Things here now are safe, but there are people who are still worried about safety and we understand that,” he said.

The housing assistance will no longer be given to all families. Instead, officials will consider the needs of individual families.

A city official said radiation levels in Koriyama are now safe, that they have decreased by time and clean-up efforts.

But areas where radiation is high remain, say activists, and Matsumoto still worries.

“I’m a parent, and so I’ll protect my daughter,” she said. “Even if I have to go into debt, I’ll keep her safe from radiation.”



January 30, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

Voluntary nuclear evacuees to face housing assistance gap



Nine of Japan’s 47 prefectures are planning to provide financial and other support to voluntary evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster as Fukushima Prefecture is set to terminate its free housing services to them at the end of March, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.
Fukushima Prefecture’s move will affect more than 10,000 households that voluntarily evacuated within and outside Fukushima Prefecture in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant meltdowns in March 2011. As many prefectures other than those nine prefectures are set to provide less generous assistance, voluntary evacuees will face a housing assistance gap depending on where they live or will live hereafter.

As of the end of October last year, there were 26,601 people in 10,524 households who were receiving Fukushima Prefecture’s free housing services after they voluntarily evacuated from the nuclear disaster, according to the Fukushima Prefectural Government. Of them, 13,844 people in 5,230 households were living outside Fukushima Prefecture.

Those voluntary evacuees have received full rent subsidies from Fukushima Prefecture for public and private housing units they live in under the Disaster Relief Act after fleeing from the city of Fukushima and other areas that lie outside the nuclear evacuation zone. While that has effectively been the only public assistance they receive, Fukushima Prefecture announced in June 2015 that it will terminate the service in March this year on the grounds that “decontamination work and infrastructure recovery have been set.”

In a nationwide survey conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun after October last year, Tottori, Hokkaido and four other prefectures said they will provide housing units for free to those voluntary evacuees, while three other prefectures said they will provide rent and other subsidies to them. Fukushima Prefecture was not covered in the survey.

Many of the other prefectures said they will provide assistance based no more than on the central government’s request that the conditions for accommodating voluntary evacuees into public housing be relaxed.

The Tottori Prefectural Government will provide prefecture-run housing units to voluntary evacuees for free and will also subsidize all of the rent for private rental housing. The measures will be applied to not only those who already live in Tottori but to also those who will move into the prefecture.

Yamagata Prefecture will provide housing for prefectural employees for free to low-income evacuees, while Hokkaido, Nara and Ehime prefectures will waiver the rent for evacuee households living in prefecture-run housing units. Kyoto Prefecture will exempt the rent for prefecture-run housing units up to six years after move-in, and will allow evacuees to continue living in such units after April this year until contract expiration. Niigata Prefecture will provide 10,000 yen a month to low-income evacuees living in private rental housing in order to prevent their children from having to change schools.

“Evacuees have been feeling anxiety about their housing. (As a local government plagued by aging and the declining population) we also expect them to live in our prefecture permanently,” the Tottori Prefectural Government stated in its response to the survey.

Most of the other prefectures will set up a priority quota for accommodating voluntary evacuees into public housing units, but they will face severe requirements, such as the need to move out after some time.

“The central government should consider responses in a unified manner,” noted the Iwate Prefecture Government in the survey.

January 7, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Disparities may arise in evacuee support / Fukushima Pref. to trim housing funds

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Starting in spring, housing assistance for residents of Fukushima Prefecture who evacuated to other prefectures voluntarily due to the 2011 nuclear accident will vary from prefecture to prefecture and certain disparities will occur, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The Fukushima prefectural government has so far been providing free-of-charge housing unconditionally and uniformly. However, it will terminate the provision at the end of March. Accordingly, 19 other prefectures will terminate their own initiatives to provide evacuees with free housing, while 24 prefectures will continue to provide housing free of charge and other services.

Although nearly six years have passed since the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant accident, many evacuees are still reluctant to return to their homes, and each prefecture that has accepted evacuees is responding to this situation in its own way.

After the accident, the Fukushima prefectural government treated voluntary evacuees — those who evacuated from areas that were not subject to evacuation orders — as equal to those who were instructed by the central government to evacuate. Abiding by the Disaster Relief Law, the prefecture has been shouldering rental fees for apartments or public housing facilities using funds from the state budget and other financial resources. The maximum rent for housing to be provided free of charge to voluntary evacuees is set at ¥60,000 per month in principle.

As of October 2016, the number of voluntary evacuees stood at 10,524 households or 26,601 individuals. Of these, 5,230 households or 13,844 individuals have relocated to areas outside of Fukushima Prefecture. In contrast to those who lived in areas subject to the evacuation order, voluntary evacuees are not eligible for regular compensation payments from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. Therefore, the provision of free housing has been the main pillar of public support for voluntary evacuees.

Fukushima Prefecture decided in June 2015 to stop providing housing free of charge at the end of March 2017, judging that living conditions were changing for the better as the decontamination of residential areas progressed.

However, many evacuees responded to this by complaining that they did not want to be moved from places they were getting accustomed to. Accordingly, 24 prefectural governments other than Fukushima have decided to take the matter into their own hands by applying the law on public housing facilities and preferential measures by ordinances to compile their own budgets to extend the provision of free housing, give priority to evacuees in providing public housing for a fee or take other steps. A total of 3,607 households have evacuated on a voluntary basis to the 24 prefectures.

Several municipalities have also taken steps to provide public housing facilities free of charge.

Hokkaido, to which 229 households have voluntarily evacuated, has decided to extend provision of free housing for a year for 34 households. The prefectural government explained that it wants to help evacuees put their lives back in order by alleviating the concerns they may have about where to live.

Meanwhile, Hyogo Prefecture has decided to discontinue its support for the 44 households it accommodates. The spokesperson for the prefectural government said it would not take steps to keep the evacuees in the prefecture, which would be incompatible with policies of the Fukushima prefectural government aiming to bring them home.

Upon discontinuing the provision of free housing, Fukushima has procured 170 prefectural housing facilities for a fee to be provided preferentially to evacuees. The prefectural government is also planning to pay ¥100,000 to every household that moves back from outside the prefecture. Single-person households will receive ¥50,000. Residents who have evacuated to areas inside the prefecture will also receive a partial payment.


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

Fukushima’s voluntary evacuees


A citizens’ group supporting the people in Fukushima Prefecture who have fled from their homes in the wake of the March 2011 nuclear disaster has submitted a petition to the Diet with nearly 200,000 signatures asking for the continuation of public housing assistance for the evacuees. The prefectural government announced last year that it plans at the end of next March to terminate the assistance for people who voluntarily left their homes. However, most such evacuees have yet to find new residences.

Halting the housing assistance will place a heavy financial burden on low-income evacuees. Fears also persist over the radioactive contamination in the areas where they lived before the nuclear crisis. Not only the prefecture but the national government, which pays for a large portion of the assistance, should rethink the decision.

As of July, some 89,000 Fukushima people continued to live away from their homes — 48,000 inside the prefecture and 41,000 elsewhere in Japan — after they fled from the dangers posed by the triple meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant. Some evacuees followed the government’s designation of their hometowns as no-go zones due to the high levels of fallout, while others left their homes on their own out of fear of radiation exposure, particularly for their children, and other reasons even though they lived outside the designated evacuation zones.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government has since been providing housing assistance to the nuclear refugees regardless of whether they stayed within the prefecture — and regardless of whether they were forced out by government order or fled by choice — to cover their rent, including for public housing units owned by local governments. Fukushima has offered the aid by annually renewing the application of the Disaster Relief Law, under which a prefectural government carries out relief measures to residents in the event of a disaster — including supply of food, water, clothing and medical services as well as emergency repairs to damaged homes — with a large portion of the cost coming from national coffers. The national government has shouldered most of the expense of the housing assistance regarding Fukushima.

The prefectural government announced in June last year that it would end the assistance for voluntary evacuees at the end of next March. Gov. Masao Uchibori said the termination is aimed at prompting the evacuees to return to their original homes and at helping promote their sense of self-reliance. He explained that living conditions in the prefecture have improved with the development of public infrastructure and progress in the cleanup of radiation-contaminated soil.

According to a prefectural report based on a survey conducted in January and February, the decision will halt housing assistance for 12,436 households. Of the 3,614 households that voluntarily evacuated but remained in the prefecture, 56 percent have not yet found a place where they can live once the assistance is halted. The corresponding figure for the 3,453 such households living outside the prefecture is much higher — nearly 78 percent. The prefecture should pay serious attention to these findings. Some families may not be able to find and pay for a new home, although the prefecture reportedly plans to offer small subsidies for low-income and single-mother households after the large-scale assistance is ended.

The voluntary evacuees are confronted with various difficulties, both financial and psychological. The amount of compensation they received from Tepco is much smaller than that paid out to evacuees from the no-go zones. They also do not receive the monthly damages of some ¥100,000 that Tepco doles out to cover the mental suffering of those from the designated evacuation zones. Many of them face hardships ranging from the loss of their former jobs to separation from family members, long-distance commuting and divorces of couples due to differences over evacuating. The loss of housing assistance will likely result in even more hardships, both financial and emotional.

Many of the voluntary evacuees remain reluctant to go back to their hometowns for a variety of reasons, including the persistent fear of radiation, the desolate conditions of their original homes, and anticipated low levels of medical and other services in their former communities. The national government says it is safe for evacuees to return if the annual cumulative dose in the area is 20 millisieverts (mSv) or less, but that level is much higher than the legal limit of 1 mSv allowed for people in ordinary circumstances. In Ukraine, hit by the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, people are required to migrate if the annual cumulative dose in their area is 5 mSv or more and have “the right to evacuate” if the rate is between 1 mSv and 5 mSv. The national government and Fukushima Prefecture need to address why many of the volunteer evacuees are reluctant to return.

The national government may want to highlight the reconstruction in areas devastated by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami as well as the Fukushima nuclear disaster when Tokyo hosts the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. However, this should not result in the premature termination of vital relief measures for the affected people or untimely lifting of the designation of danger zones hit by the nuclear crisis. The government, which has sought to reactivate the nation’s nuclear power plants idled since the 2011 disaster, should understand why the evacuees felt they had to flee from their homes in the first place. It should not give up its duty of adequately helping the disaster victims.


December 5, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , | Leave a comment