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Arbitration ends for Fukushima damages claim

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April 6, 2018
A government body has given up trying to arbitrate between Tokyo Electric Power Company and more than 15,000 people seeking higher monthly compensation for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
 
It was the largest arbitration case involving the nuclear accident.
 
Namie Town in Fukushima Prefecture filed a petition with the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center in 2013, on behalf of residents who were forced to evacuate after the disaster.
 
More than 15,000, or about 70 percent of the town’s population, signed the petition to demand more compensation from TEPCO, the operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
 
TEPCO’s monthly payment for each Namie resident was calculated at 100,000 yen, or about 934 dollars.
In March 2014, the dispute resolution center offered an arbitration plan that called for raising this amount by 50 percent. The town agreed to accept it.
 
But TEPCO maintains that increasing the compensation would have a significant impact on other evacuees. The center has repeatedly asked the utility to accept the plan.
 
On Friday, the dispute resolution center told the town of its decision to end the arbitration process.
 
The claimants are expected to consider whether to file a lawsuit against TEPCO. The town says more than 800 of the claimants are now dead.
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April 9, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

This woman is winning the fight for justice after Fukushima

11 March 2018
by Kazue Suzuki and Shaun Burnie
 
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Evacuee and Fukushima survivor, Mrs. Kanno, returns to her abandoned house nearly seven years after the nuclear accident.
 
On the seventh anniversary of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear accident, our thoughts and deepest sympathies continue to be with the people of Japan.
 
Every one of the tens of thousands evacuees from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi triple reactor meltdown has a story to tell.
 
In our latest radiation survey we had the privilege to hear the experience of Mrs Mizue Kanno. As we entered the exclusion zone of Namie, Ms Kanno told us of the events seven years ago that were to change her life, her family and those of thousands of others.
 
Mrs Kanno was a social worker in Futaba less than 10 km from the nuclear plant. Eventually she made her way home after the devastating earthquake, and over the next few days thousands of people were evacuated to her home district of Tsushima. Families moved into her home. But soon they were warned by men in gas masks and protective clothing to get out immediately. The radioactive fallout from the nuclear plant, about 32 km away, had deposited high levels of contamination in this mountainous area of Namie.
 
Radiation Survey of Mrs. Kanno's House in Shimo-Tsushima
Evacuee and Fukushima survivor, Mrs. Kanno, watches Greenpeace radiation specialists Mai Suzuki and Laurence Bergot measure for contamination around her home located in the exclusion zone of Namie, Fukushima prefecture.
 
Mrs Kanno now lives in western Japan, many hundreds of kilometres from her home in Fukushima. While she is a victim of nuclear power, she isn’t passive observer – instead she’s a female activist determined to tell her story. She campaigns across the Kansai region against nuclear power and for renewable energy.
 
Like thousands of other evacuees, she has joined lawsuits filed against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), and the Japanese government. Already found guilty in multiple court proceedings of being criminally negligent in failing to take measures to prevent the meltdown, TEPCO and the government can expect many more rulings against them.
 
Because of the support of Mrs Kanno and her friends and neighbours, Greenpeace has been able to conduct a wide ranging survey inside the exclusion zone of Namie, published in our report, Reflecting in Fukushima.
 
While our survey report is filled with microsieverts and millisieverts, it’s far more about the lives and the land of Mrs Kanno her family, friends and neighbours. http://www.greenpeace.org/japan/Global/japan/pdf/RefFksm_EN.pdf
 
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Closed entrance to Shimo-Tsushima school in the exclusion zone of Namie, Fukushima prefecture, Japan.
 
Measuring thousands of points around homes, forests and farmland, it’s clear that this is an area that should not be opened to the public for many decades. Yet the government opened a main artery, route 114, while we were working in Namie.
 
One consequence is that people are stopping off and visiting areas high in radiation. At one house, radiation hot spots were over 11 microsieverts per hour (μSv/h) at one meter, and 137μSv/hat 10 centimetres. These levels are thousands of times the background level before the nuclear accident, and mean you’d reach your recommended maximum annual exposure in six days.
 
Yet, two people were working 10 meters away from the hot spot with no dosimeters or protective clothing. Mrs Kanno and our radiation specialists explained the levels of contamination and why it was necessary to take precautions.
 
In one zone in Obori, we measured radiation that would expose a decontamination worker to the 1 mSv/y limit in just 10 working days. The whole area is contaminated to varying high levels that will remain a threat into next century. How could the government be thinking of opening this area as early as 2023? More importantly, why?
 
It’s actually simple and wholly cynical. The Japanese government is desperate to restart nuclear reactors. Today only three are operating. Having areas of Japan closed to human habitation because of radioactive contamination is a very major obstacle to the government’s ambitions to operate 30-35 nuclear reactors. It’s a constant reminder to the people of Japan of the risks and consequences of nuclear power.
 
Yet, there are signs of positive change. Last month a panel of experts established by the Foreign Minister called for a mass scaling up of renewables, and warned of the risks from depending on coal plants and nuclear power. The voices of Mrs Kanno, the other thousands of Fukushima evacuees and the majority of people in Japan, and their demand for a different energy future, will be heard.
 
Radiation Survey in Obori
Greenpeace radiation specialist Laurence Bergot in Obori, Namie Town inside the highly contaminated exclusion zone in Namie, Fukushima prefecture, Japan
 
Throughout our time in Namie, as we visited the highly contaminated area of Obori and Tsushima – quiet, remote areas of natural beauty – Mrs Kanno told us about the life and traditions of families who for generations had supported themselves by farming. Now all of them are displaced and scattered across Japan. Yet the government is failing to even acknowledge their rights under domestic and international human rights law.
 
This week, we will be traveling to Geneva with mothers who are evacuees from Fukushima to the United Nations Human Rights Council session on Japan. The Japanese government has been under pressure to stop its violations of the human rights of Fukushima evacuees. Last week it accepted all recommendations at the UN to respect the human rights of Fukushima citizens. This included the German government recommendation to restore to a maximum annual public exposure of 1 mSv. This global safety standard has been abandoned by the Abe government.
 
The government’s decision is important, but now they need to be implemented if they are genuine in their commitments to the United Nations. On the 16 March this year, Mrs Kanno and other evacuees and their lawyers will attend the Tokyo high court for a ruling on Fukushima against TEPCO and the Government. One of the evacuee mothers, Akiko Morimatsu, together with Greenpeace, on the same day will speak at the United Nations to challenge the Japanese government to now fully apply the UN recommendations.
 
While we will be thousands of kilometers apart, we will be with Mrs Kanno on her day in court in Tokyo and she will be with us in Geneva. The Fukushima nuclear disaster has shattered lives but it has also brought us together determined to prevent such a terrible event from ever happening again and to transition Japan to a secure and safe energy future based on renewables.
 
Kazue Suzuki is an Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Japan and Shaun Burnie is a Senior Nuclear Specialist at Greenpeace Germany
 

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

7 years after 3/11 / Public servants face massive workload

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Officials of the town government of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, work past 10 p.m. on March 2.
March 10, 2018
The work of local government officials of municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture has significantly changed in the seven years since the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. This is because a large number of residents and officials in the affected municipalities were forced to evacuate.
 
The government officials have struggled with unprecedented types of duties — such as those concerning the return of residents, which has not progressed smoothly — and dealing with other accumulated tasks all at the same time. However, the future of their hometowns remains unclear.
 
In Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, later this month it will be one year since an evacuation order was lifted.
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In the central part of the town, where the evacuation order was lifted, a small number of residents have slowly trickled back. However, the number of residents as of the end of January was only 490. This is 2.3 percent of the town’s population before the nuclear accident, which numbered 21,000.
 
In addition, about 100 of the current residents are local officials who live in apartments rented by the municipal government. Many of them live alone, separated from their families, who have become accustomed to living in the places they evacuated to.
 
The officials live this way partly because they need to be able to quickly respond to emergencies, such as new natural disasters. There is also a huge volume of work, which they cannot handle if they commute to the government offices from outside the town.
 
Five industrial complexes are concurrently being developed in the town. To encourage more residents to return home, it is necessary to create a large number of jobs.
 
This project is a task the officials have never undertaken before, as Namie is a small municipality whose core industries were agriculture and fishing.
 
One of the officials said, “Even one such project would have been a huge task that we might experience only once in a decade or two, [but] we are doing this work in as many as five locations.”
 
Another official said, “This would never have happened before the nuclear plant accident.”
 
The town government officials travel around the nation for purposes such as negotiating with evacuated landowners to purchase their land plots, and asking companies to set up business bases in the town.
 
The officials are also dispatched to eliminate wild boars, the number of which has rapidly increased while residents have been absent. They also need to arrange repairs to damaged roads, public facilities and agricultural water systems.
 
At night, lights are seen only in the windows of the town government office, while most of the town is in darkness.
 
The fiscal condition of the town government is almost totally different from before the nuclear disaster. Its finances rely almost entirely on the central government’s budget.
 
As many of the town’s residents have not been able to sufficiently rebuild their daily lives, measures to reduce or exempt them from residential tax have continued. Therefore, the percentage of the town government’s municipal tax revenues against its total revenue fell drastically, from 25 percent to 1 percent.
 
Administrative work in municipalities where the number of residents continues to be zero also presents a special situation.
 
In the case of Okuma in the prefecture, where an evacuation order remains in place across the whole town, the town government relocated its offices to nearby municipalities. For example, its section in charge of reconstruction policy is in a satellite office in Aizuwakamatsu in the prefecture. Its section for welfare-related work is in a satellite office in Iwaki in the prefecture, as about 4,600 town residents live in Iwaki as evacuees.
 
Town government officials in the satellite office in Iwaki, who are usually busy assisting elderly residents who live in temporary housing units, make 300-kilometer round trips to Aizuwakamatsu every week for meetings with other officials and other work purposes.
 
There are times when officials head to the town of Okuma to observe decontamination work to remove radioactive substances. In these job reports, the officials write “Okuma” as the destination of their business trips. An official in his 50s expressed the sadness he feels when he writes such reports, saying, “I wonder which municipal government I belong to.”
 
There are municipalities where the wounds caused by the tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake have still not healed.
 
In Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, 36 town government officials, including experienced public servants working in the personnel section, died or went missing.
 
In addition, the records of government officials’ qualifications, credentials and job evaluations were lost. An official in charge of this issue lamented that “managing the organization [of the town government] became difficult, and it has been adversely affecting the morale of our workplaces.”
 
In Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, the town government lost 39 people to the disaster. They included the mayor and eight senior officials at the section chief level.
 
Though younger town government officials were promoted, they do not have experience in supervising junior staff. Currently, those who joined the town government after the Great East Japan Earthquake account for half of all officials.
 
One of the senior officials said, “If we fail in fostering human resources, it will directly result in delays in reconstruction.” Many other senior officials share the same sense of crisis.
 
Civil engineering and construction work that began in the year of the disaster, such as raising land heights, relocating residential areas to higher ground, and building coastal levees, has progressed in visible ways.
 
However, survivors and local government officials in disaster-hit areas have the feeling that these reconstruction projects are somehow frustrating and lopsided.
 
A labor union conducted a survey of employees of municipal governments that were affected by the nuclear plant accident, with spaces in which respondents were asked to freely write down their feelings.
 
The written replies included, “For the past seven years I have never once felt free from unease,” and “I don’t know when our reconstruction efforts will end.”
 

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

Fukushima town of Namie to launch radioactive decontamination work around May

February 16, 2018
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Around May, decontamination work will begin in the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, to make some of its most radioactive areas habitable again, the government said.
Namie was hit hard by the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011, and entry is effectively prohibited for about 80 percent of it.
By March 2023, the government hopes to lift the evacuation order for three parts consisting of 660 hectares. The areas scheduled for decontamination cover about 3.7 percent of the town.
To rebuild areas tainted by the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power, the government approved a plan submitted by Namie on Dec. 22.
Similar efforts got underway in neighboring Futaba in December and more are scheduled to start in the town of Okuma in March. The two towns cohost the crippled plant. The first round in Namie will cover about 30 hectares.
On March 11, 2011, tsunami inundated the six-reactor plant and knocked out its power supply. This crippled the reactors’ cooling systems, leading to core meltdowns in reactors 1 to 3. It is the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986.

 

February 18, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan to start nuclear cleanup of Fukushima town, Namie, around May

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In this July 27, 2017 file photo, contaminated water storage tanks are seen on the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant grounds, in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.
 
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Nuclear decontamination work using state funds will begin around May in Namie, a town in northeastern Japan hit hard by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, to make some of its most-contaminated areas habitable again, the government said Thursday.
The government is seeking to lift an evacuation order for three areas in the town, covering about 660 hectares, by March 2023.
The order currently covers about 80 percent of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture, and the areas to be decontaminated make up some 3.7 percent of it where entry is prohibited in principle.
On Dec. 22, the government approved a plan submitted by the town to rebuild the areas affected by meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Similar rebuilding efforts have been underway in the neighboring town of Futaba since December and are also scheduled to begin in the town of Okuma in March.
For Namie, the first round of work covers some 30 hectares of land.
On March 11, 2011, a tsunami inundated the six-reactor plant located in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, and flooded the power supply facilities.
Reactor cooling systems were crippled and the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors suffered fuel meltdowns in the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

February 18, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

“Save the Town”: Insolvable Dilemmas of Fukushima’s “Return Policy”

Namie Mayor Baba Tamotsu interviewed by Katsuya Hirano with Yoshihiro Amaya and Yoh Kawano at Namie town hall, July 4th, 2017. Introduction by Katsuya Hirano, Transcription and translation by Akiko Anson

 

1.jpgBaba Tamotsu. Photo by Yoh Kawano

 

Introduction

The town of Namie is the largest in both area and population among eight towns and villages within Futaba Country in Fukushima Prefecture. At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 that precipitated the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster, the town’s population was 18,464.1 Although Namie is located just 11.2 km from the nuclear power plants, it took four days from the explosion of the power plants before Tokyo issued an evacuation order. The government’s belated order was consonant with its decision to withhold information on radiation levels provided by SPEEDI (System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information) in order to avoid “public panic.” Consequently, many residents of Namie as well as other neighboring villages and towns were exposed to high radiation. On April 15 2012, the town of Namie asked the Japanese government to provide free heath care for its residents, including regular medical check-ups to monitor the internal radiation exposure and thyroid examinations. The evacuated government of Namie obtained a monitoring device and installed it in temporary housing in Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima where many evacuees were relocated. On April 1, 2017, the central government lifted one set of restrictions on one zone—areas in which people were permitted to enter freely but were not allowed to stay overnight—and another on a second zone—where access was limited to short visits—based on its judgment that decontamination work had successfully removed radioactive contaminants from the areas. Since the termination of the evacuation order, the government has been encouraging residents to return to those areas although only 1-2% of the residents, mostly senior citizens, have returned so far and a recent poll indicates that less than a quarter of the population intends to return in the future. In this regard, Namie is no different from other towns and villages in that the so-called return policy remains a de facto failure and the former residents simply do not trust or refuse to follow the central government’s “reconstruction” programs. At the same time, local governments have been thrown into extremely difficult situations where they have no choice but to go along with the “return policy.”

Baba Tamotsu (69), a native of Namie and mayor of the town since 2007, has been in charge of dealing with the nuclear crisis. Since the disaster, Mr. Baba has worked with the prefectural government and Tokyo to ensure that the residents are provided health care, housing, food and compensation. However, his slogan, “Save the Town,” has invited criticism as it seems oblivious to the fact that most residents have no intention to return and, moreover, encouraging people to do so is likely to risk their health and livelihood. On July 14th 2017, my colleagues, Yoshihiro Amaya and Yoh Kawano and I visited the town hall of Namie to interview Mr. Baba on issues related to “save the town” and “return policy” as well as his views on nuclear energy policy. The interview suggests an insoluble tension between Mr. Baba’s urge to save his beloved hometown and his awareness of the risks entailed – the “save the town” policy’s potential danger of prioritizing the welfare of the community over individuals’ health and lives.

 

2 The evacuation order was lifted for the zones in green on April 1, 2017The evacuation order was lifted for the zones in green on April 1, 2017

 

Hirano: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let me start with the following question. In 2013, you expressed concern about the situation in Namie, saying “I feel as if the hands of the clock have completely stopped since the nuclear disaster of 2011” because decontamination has been so delayed that “restoration has not progressed at all.”

According to a survey conducted in 2011, 60% of Namie residents indicated their “intention to return” to their hometown; however, a poll from August 2016 shows that the “intention to return” number has dropped to 18%, and 48% of residents “have decided not to return.”

In addition, a survey conducted by the Reconstruction Agency last September on household intent to return shows 17.5% “wishing to return soon or at some future time,” 28.2% “undecided,” and 52.6% decided against returning.

I also heard that fewer than 10% of Namie residents are expected to return and that the situation is likely to remain the same for the foreseeable future. Some people even suggest that the town of Namie will disappear in 15 to 20 years. What do you think about such observations? And what are your thoughts about residents returning?

Baba: I did feel in 2013 that time had stopped completely. Since then, I have been at a total loss as to what was going to happen to this town. In these conditions, the more time goes by, the more people end up deciding not to return. It’s such a shame.

But I can say that the 21,000 Namie residents, every single one of them, have affection for their hometown. It’s why I feel that no matter how few people are actually returning, we need to save this town and keep it alive. I need to do it for our residents wishing to come back, although it might not actually happen for another generation or the generation after that. Regardless, I would like those who can to come back to Namie.

So, I think it is the responsibility of adults to pass on knowledge about this land, which our ancestors worked tirelessly to cultivate and establish over a long period of time, to the next generations. “Save the town”(町残し)is the goal I set for greeting the lifting of the evacuation order on March 31, 2017.

 

3A Part of Downtown of Namie in July 2017. Photo by Yoh Kawano

 

Hirano: How many people or households have actually returned since then?

Baba: As of May 31st, 2017 165 households–234 people–have come back.2 This is only 1% of the former residents, which is very disappointing. But I have a feeling that as time passes, more people will return, since I’ve started seeing some residents beginning to repair their homes or beginning to build new ones here and there.

Hirano: I heard that evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture, particularly young married couples or families with children, tend not to return because of the risks associated with radiation exposure. Do you see the same tendency in Namie?

Baba: I think so. In fact, most of the returnees are elderly people. I am aware that the young people have children. Some people have found employment at the place they’ve evacuated to, so it would be hard for them to come back. I am still optimistic, however, that as time passes, living conditions here will improve enough that people can return more easily.

Hirano: As mayor, do you have any concerns that bringing people back might increase the risk of internal radiation exposure, especially among children and young people? For example, in Chernobyl, the 30 km exclusion zone is still in place to this day, but in Fukushima, residents’ return is being promoted even in areas within 20 km of the nuclear plant. Since there is a limit to what can be achieved through decontamination, I would be concerned that the increased possibility of internal exposure poses a serious problem to residents.

Baba: I cannot say there is no risk, but a personal dosimeter has been distributed to everyone, and we closely monitor the residents’ health. The town officials also have been taking responsibility for measuring the radiation in food.

Hirano: As mayor, do you have any plans for providing former residents wishing to return with some kind of specific incentives?

Baba: Yes. Firstly, in order to bring people back home, I would like to create job opportunities for them, especially for young people. Some of the residents who used to own businesses here before the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident are interested in coming back to restart their businesses.

Also, in order to attract young people, I hope to recruit new tech industries, robotics in particular, in collaboration with our neighboring city, Minami-soma.3 We can attract robotics firms, as well as their research facilities and test fields to the area.

Another plan is to build a hydrogen production plant. We have a vision to rebuild our town centered on renewable energy. Since the Japanese government seeks to build the world’s best hydrogen production base in our country, I would like to meet those expectations by building such a facility here.

As a result of our efforts to attract businesses, there are now four companies interested in doing business in Namie, so I would like to work with them to create future employment opportunities for our young people.

Kawano: Let me ask about senior citizens. There is an 86-year-old woman living alone in temporary housing in Nihonmatsu. We began interviewing her one or two years ago, and we visited her the day before yesterday. She told us that she decided not to return to Namie in April, shortly after the evacuation order was lifted. One reason was that the town has not been equipped with necessary facilities for daily life, such as a supermarket. Even if there were one, it is not realistic for an 86-year-old to drive to get there. So please tell us what kind of services and support systems– such as transportation to a grocery store – you plan to offer to the elderly.

Baba: Well, first I would like to set up some welfare facilities for senior citizens. But right now we don’t have enough workers, for example nursing care staff, so I hope to get things started with a so-called public-private collaboration so that people in the private sector will be willing to cooperate in public welfare projects. I would like to set up the conditions for that to happen.

As for supermarkets, it is true that we do not have any stores here. But I am in negotiation with some stores, and I would like to bring one to town as soon as possible. Then you need a transportation system, so I would like to establish a system of on-demand taxis or shuttle buses, so that people won’t be inconvenienced.

Hirano: Even after lifting of the evacuation order, there are still so many people, including the elderly, staying away. What kind of support have you been maintaining for them?

Baba: We provide services for evacuees such as on-demand transportation, and our staff are making door-to-door calls on evacuees. This is to keep them from becoming isolated, and, if any problems arise, our staff can provide some help as they make the rounds. We also put a lot of effort into holding events to promote interactions among evacuees.

It isn’t possible to visit every day, since it takes time to visit everyone, but I would like to keep monitoring the conditions of our residents and provide the support they need.

Hirano: I’d like to ask about the risks and concerns about contaminated soil and radioactive waste disposal. The government has been taking the lead in decontamination efforts. However, there are still areas where the air dose rate has not gone down to previous levels or where we still detect radioactive hot spots.4 How have you been communicating with the central government about these problems? For example, asking to speed up the decontamination operations, or to work more efficiently?

Baba: First of all, at the time the government let this accident happen, they declared that the radiation dose in the air would be reduced to under 1mSv annually, so we have been asking them to continue with decontamination work until it goes down to that number. So there is continuing decontamination work in areas with higher doses, and we have been strongly urging the government to make every effort to lower the dose below 1mSv.

Amaya: So you have been asking the government to do their job, but do you think the decontamination efforts have actually been making adequate progress in Namie?

Baba: Well, we have to realize there are many acres of land to cover, so although it has not progressed as we hoped, no matter how long it takes, there will be no change of plan. I will continue to urge the government to keep decontaminating until the radiation level goes down to 1mSv or less, as they promised.

Amaya: Difficult-to-return zones still take up a fairly large part of Namie. Have you discussed in detail with the government the timeline and how to proceed with decontamination in such areas?

Baba: Yes, the Act on Special Measures for the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation of Fukushima was recently revised and it includes a plan to establish special reconstruction hubs in difficult-to-return zones. What that means is that intensive cleanup will begin in the hub zone, which is a relatively less polluted area and could be made habitable in the near future first, making it a recovery base. We would then set up another hub and move on with decontamination operations and the restoration of infrastructure in that area.

We plan to gradually expand the decontaminated areas by connecting these hubs. The central government has not put out a concrete timeline for this project, but we were told that they plan to create special hubs with the hope of eventually lifting the evacuation order for the entire hub zone in the next five years. Of course I hope the government will carry that out as planned.

Amaya: Have you presented any requests regarding where to designate the recovery hubs in Namie?

Baba: Yes, we have three areas in mind: Obori district, the Tsushima district and part of the Karino district. We have requested that the program begin with special hubs in these three areas and also asked the central government to honor the requests from our local government.

Amaya: So in effect you are planning to designate the recovery hubs in areas that used to be rather populated, with the hope that the former residents will eventually return?

Baba: That’s right. The idea is that we designate hubs in areas where people would gather, such as public facilities, like a community hall, or shrines and temples.

Amaya: So the plan is to choose some facilities as a base first and then start decontaminating surrounding areas to bring back as many residents as possible.

Baba: Yes, that’s right. Since that is what the local people are also hoping for, I would like to pursue the plan. In order to make it happen, however, it is necessary to reduce the radiation level through decontamination work. The central government has set 3.8 microSv/h as the standard.

Hirano: Actually that standard is 20 times higher than what was originally determined by law, isn’t it? In fact, it is a standard that is applied only to Fukushima in entire Japan. Some experts claim that there is no such thing as an absolutely safe standard – that the best thing is to avoid radiation exposure as much as possible, especially internal exposure. What do you think about those views?5

Baba: It would be a lie if I said that I am not concerned about it. But as long as the central government responsibly asserts that it is safe, we have no choice but to believe what they say and proceed with reconstruction.

Hirano: I’d like you to tell us about the reactor decommissioning. It is said that it would probably take at least 30 to 40 years to complete the decommissioning. First, what are your thoughts on that?

And second, there is a potential risk that a nuclear accident could occur during the decommissioning work. I expect it would cause tremendous anxiety to the residents of the town if that should happen. Also, this potential risk might affect the decision of some former residents to return. Do you have any specific plans or measures to handle the situation in the event of an accident?

Baba: Alright. Well, to put it simply, they have set a goal to complete the decommissioning work in 30 or 40 years. However, judging from the current situation, I have to say it is an open question whether that goal can be met. I believe that TEPCO and the central government should set forth a policy that puts safety and security first.

It’s already been six years since the accident, but they haven’t figured out how to remove the debris. Not only that, also they haven’t decided on where to store the debris and what to do with it afterwards. So there is a serious question about bringing residents back to town.

On the other hand, is it all right to just leave things as they are? That’s related to the question of whether people can come back to such a dangerous place. Decommissioning has to be done right so that we can provide residents with a safe place to live in the future. Simply put, we want the central government and TEPCO to restore our land to its original condition. That is the direction I am pursuing.

Actually I sometimes have a nightmare that during the decommissioning work, something accidentally collides with the debris and radiation gets released outside again. When I think about how to evacuate the residents, I am terrified.

Therefore, we really need to review the nuclear disaster readiness plans to make sure that residents who already came back and those who will return, will be able to evacuate safely in the event of an accident. We need to plan ahead about how to proceed with the evacuation and how to provide adequate care at evacuation sites, things like supplies of food and clothing, including how and where to get these items. In addition, in order to protect ourselves in the event of an unexpected radiation accident, we need to have a shelter made of concrete in Namie, so I would like to prepare that as well.

Amaya: Speaking of dealing with radioactive waste, Chernobyl built a concrete shield, the so-called sarcophagus, to cover the destroyed reactor, which locks in radioactive material safely for a relatively long period of time. If it is determined that the removal of waste is too risky and that shielding is the only way to handle the situation, would you as mayor accept the decision?

 

4.jpgOld Sarcophagus in Chernobyl

 

5A “New Safe Confinement” structure was completed in 2016. It covers the old sarcophagus whose deterioration resulted in near-collapse in recent years.

 

Baba: Well, constructing a sarcophagus means locking the radioactive material inside, but I am not sure if that’s actually possible. That would turn this town into a final disposal site. In that case, I wonder if people would actually be able to live here, to lead a normal, human life in such an environment. So I think we have to get the dangerous material removed, that this is necessary for humans to go about the business of being human.

If I were to accept the construction of sarcophagi, I would have to ask the central government to relocate our entire town just as occurred in Chernobyl. It means that no one would be allowed to live within 30 kilometers anymore and that were told to live somewhere else.

If that had been the plan from the beginning, I think it might have worked out, but I’d have to say, don’t come to me now with such a request.

Amaya: After six years have passed.

Baba: That’s right. It’s too late now.

Amaya: It would be hard to have people coming back and then say, sorry, it’s not going to work.

Baba: Exactly. I have a hard time accepting it. But in fact, however, I know some people who want to return are still questioning whether it’s possible to come back to such a dangerous place, so in that sense I might be contradicting myself a little.

The bottom line is that I want to borrow wisdom and skill from around the world and have the danger removed. But the technology is just not advanced enough for that job, so I know it won’t be easy. All I can do is trust what they’re doing. The decontamination workers here have been working so hard for us.

Hirano: A TEPCO top executive said he felt extremely sorry about the communities being completely destroyed by the nuclear disaster. He said TEPCO also admits its responsibilities. On the other hand, however, he said he is not convinced that we should stop the operation of nuclear power plants right now when it comes to future energy needs in Japan. He believes people still need nuclear energy. I think this is still the dominant opinion within TEPCO. What are your thoughts on this?

Baba: I don’t believe we need nuclear power plants any more. We learned the lesson from this disaster that what matters most is the safety and security of our people, not things like energy policy.

The people of Fukushima also agree that nuclear reactors must be shut down, that the No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant should be decommissioned. The Fukushima Prefectural Government and all municipal assemblies have submitted a request to decommission all reactors in the prefecture.

I believe we will be fine without nuclear power. I can say that because if you followed the energy situation in March of 2011 right after the accident when all the reactors were shut down, it even looked like we had an energy surplus. It’s not all about nuclear. I believe we’ll be fine using renewables.

Hirano: Even among people who promote renewable energy, some argue that local governments, nuclear power plants and electric companies can coexist as long as they can prevent that mistake from ever happening again. What do you think about this assumption?

Baba: That is based on the principle of expecting the unexpected. We just had the first trial of the Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster.6 We just had the opening session of the criminal proceedings on the Fukushima Nucelar Disaster. We know, from the materials filed for the complaint, that it was possible for TEPCO to anticipate a giant tsunami. Seismologists brought in by TEPCO had already warned them of such a possibility in 2008 or 2009.

Did they or did they not know this sort of thing? It’s their criminal liability that will be examined in this trial. I’m not sure if they simply ignored the warning or how they dealt with it, but I think more internal documents will be revealed in the course of the trial.7

So, they obviously didn’t do anything about it, even though such predictions had been made. You can’t call this an example of expecting the unexpected, since a giant tsunami had in fact been anticipated. I believe there were various methods they could have taken to prevent the disaster. For instance, they could have made a backup system to avoid a tsunami-induced station blackout; they could have moved the power facility to a higher location; or they could have raised the height of the seawall a bit.

They did none of that, then later they claimed that it was simply a natural disaster and that it was not their fault. This is unacceptable. There are people among the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) who say it was a human-made disaster. I also believe that it was a human-made disaster.

 

6On June 30, 2017, members of the Complainants for Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster gathered in front of the Tokyo District Court where the first session of the hearing was held.

 

In fact, I can say human error was clearly involved. One reason is that there were other places where these human errors didn’t occur. The Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant managed to escape the disaster through manual venting, despite the fact that the plant suffered severe damage. But the thing is that the No. 2 Plant is located at a higher elevation than the No. 1 Plant, which sits almost at sea level. Therefore, TEPCO should have moved the power supply of the No. 1 Plant to somewhere higher to avoid damage from a tsunami. Or they should have thought of ways to protect the backup power supply and the reactors’ cooling systems in case of tsunami-induced flooding.

Another reason why I believe it was human error is that we learned from a NAIIC report that the piping of the cooling system had already been cracked and damaged by the earthquake before the tsunami hit. If so, the reactors would have been heating up even before the tsunami arrived, because cooling water had not been getting to the reactor core through the damaged pipes. And this situation eventually led to the hydrogen explosion. This was definitely human error, there is no doubt about it.

Kawano: Did you have any opportunities to learn about or discuss the risks that nuclear power plants might pose at the local level before 3.11? In other words, were Namie residents, including town officials, informed about what kind of impact a nuclear accident could bring before the accident?

Baba: No. Unfortunately, I used to be an advocate of nuclear power. I regret it deeply. I used to believe that it made sense to generate electricity by nuclear power. The reason is that all explanations I received from the central government and TEPCO were biased by the safety myth that Japan’s nuclear power plants were absolutely safe. The core of the safety myth is its redundant failsafe system. We were told how their dual system would work to prevent a serious accident. For example, if X occurs, then Y will work, and if Y doesn’t work, then Z will kick in. They explained it to us very believably, and I took their words on trust. In fact, that is what the central government and TEPCO have been doing in order to build nuclear power plants.

I was completely immersed in the safety myth. So I remember my mind going completely blank when the accident occurred. I was facing something that I had never imagined. What?! Nuclear power lets this kind of thing happen? I thought. It had never occurred to me that such an accident could occur.

Hirano: I understand that TEPCO will be changing the compensation payments. They used to give the same amount to each victim, but going forward they will switch to a system based on each individual’s circumstances. Do you as mayor have any specific ideas on how you would like TEPCO to compensate victims?

Baba: Well, I believe that victims should be compensated adequately and equitably by TEPCO, but different people have different opinions about this, so the company is now thinking about discontinuing the compensation for mental anguish, the so-called compensation for damages arising from the incapacity to work, by March of 2018.

I would like TEPCO to honor what the Dispute Reconciliation Committee (Dispute Reconciliation Committee Over Compensation for Nuclear Accidents) calls a “reasonable period.” What that means is facing up to the reality and circumstances the victims of the disaster have suffered, and make a decision about compensation for them. I think it’s wrong in the first place for them to be setting a deadline no matter what. They should really examine the situation of the victims and then decide.

They have been providing compensation in various ways, but they have a very clever way of talking about it, using the phrase “individual circumstance.” This is an expression that makes you feel like you’re being tricked, regretable as it is to say so. I really think it is necessary for TEPCO to put themselves on the side of the victims.

Hirano: They can interpret “individual circumstance” anyway they want, can’t they? That is the same idea as “voluntary evacuation.” For example, residents outside the evacuation zone of 20 km radius of the nuclear plant are all regarded as “voluntary” rather than as “mandatory” evacuees. As a result, they were not eligible for compensation even though some of the residents’ houses were located in so-called hot spots (where the radiation exceeds even the exceptional reference value of 20 μSv, the standard that applied only to Fukushima after 3.11.) That created a lot of problems and I think this “individual circumstance” talk might be the same.

Baba: Exactly. They can interpret it anyway they want.

Hirano: You have been in touch with the victims and former residents. Is there something concrete you would single out for compensation or assistance from your observation of their lives?

Baba: Well, I’d have to say first, all their livelihoods are gone. Also, their neighbors are gone. It’s now been three months since I came back to Namie, after six years of evacuation, but I don’t have any neighbors, so I have no one to talk to. So that kind of communication has been lost. I can’t assign monetary value to what we’ve lost, but I never thought that I would end up having such a miserable life.

When it comes to expressing it in monetary terms, I definitely think that compensation should match our mental anguish. That is what the people in Namie think these days.

Everyone, even those still staying in the place where they were evacuated to, has been put into a similar situation. We don’t have neighbors, and whatever you might have wanted to do at the place you were relocated to, you find that you can’t do it.

It is especially true for young people. They used to live pretty naturally and make a living without worrying about much, but they have lost all that with the accident. What I am talking about is that damage. If you ask me, how much is that worth, it’s difficult to come up with a figure. I’d like the government and TEPCO to put themselves in our shoes and think about how they would feel and what they would do if they became victims. That’s the basis on which I’d like them to evaluate the need for compensation.

People in Namie often tell officials from TEPCO and the central government at residents’ briefing sessions, “You people are from the outside. Why don’t you try living in evacuation shelters! You might live in Tokyo now, but how would you feel if you were forced to live in, say, Nihonmatsu where Namie residents were forced to relocate. And for six years.”

 

7This map, made in 2015, shows the number of radioactive mushrooms detected. Namie has the highest number, and Nihonmatsu has the second. Evacuation to Nihonmatsu didn’t necessarily guarantee safety. See here.

 

Families have already been broken up. Young people have found jobs in cities or towns and stay where they have been evacuated. Some of them have moved to Tokyo. Families have broken up. Maybe it’s just the elderly who’ve stayed in Nihonmatsu. I want the officials to think about how they’d feel under these circumstances.

Are such things reflected in the amount of compensation? That’s the issue. I think they are not, considering the current amount of money being received. On the other hand if you asked me how much would be appropriate, I don’t think I could answer. But, all the situations we’ve been forced into should be fairly and appropriately taken into consideration.

When I attended a Dispute Reconciliation Committee meeting for the first time, I asked what standard they were going to apply to determine the amount of compensation.8 It was even before the amount for mental anguish compensation had been decided, which later resulted in a payment of 100,000 yen (less than $1,000). The evacuees had lost everything. Communication with family, friends and neighbors had been cut off. Schools and workplaces were gone. Everything was destroyed. I asked the committee, “Can you put yourselves in the situations the evacuees have been forced into and think about this?”

Not surprisingly, the committee dug out court precedents of compensation amounts based on third-party evaluations. I got angry because the cases they showed us were compensations for car accident injury claims, which happened to be 100,000 yen. The thing is that in the case of a car accident, even though you get injured, your body will heal after a certain period of time. So compensation is determined based on how long it would take to complete the treatment. That is how they came up with the payment of 100,000 yen.

I argued that that didn’t apply to our case. What a nuclear accident does is to release radioactive substances into the environment, and it was so dangerous that the residents around the plant were forced to leave their hometowns. We were told that radioactive materials were falling and that it was life-threatening to stay in places with high doses of radiation. That was the basis for the evacuation order. Even after six years, the order has not been lifted except for a small part of the town of Namie.

As I said, in the case of a car accident, the injury will heal after a certain period of time, but in the case of a nuclear power reactor accident, look at how the current situation stands, even after six years. And they came up with the payment of 100,000 yen for compensation. I was furious, wondering what the hell they were talking about.

No matter what, the way they decided on the compensation is unacceptable. You need third-party assessment, you need some sort of reasonable-sounding figure. That’s why they came up with that amount. But that shows they weren’t making the slightest effort to put themselves in the victims’ shoes.

Hirano: Listening to you, I really feel your dilemma as a mayor. Now that the community has been torn apart and human relationships have been severed, you are not sure if the situation can be fixed even with the return policy. You think realistically, it might be impossible, but it’s your position as mayor to keep Namie going for people who are coming back. You are in a contradictory position, which definitely brings you anguish. That’s the sense I get.

Right after the accident, you could have made the decision, we can’t live here any more, let’s move the town somewhere else. A least you would have preserved the ties between people and the community could go on existing elsewhere. But even that choice has been taken away. Since the only option left is for residents to return, you have been working hard to fix even one part of the divided community, despite knowing it will never be the same as before. Would it be right to say this is the position you have been put into, and have chosen, as mayor?

Baba: Yes, you can say that. Another important thing is the identity we have as Namie residents. I would really like to respect and value the feelings they have toward Namie.

We have our ancestors’ graves here in town, and everyone visits their family graves. If the town is gone, they cannot even pay their ancestors a visit. Even though they might live somewhere else, I would like to restore the town to an environment where they can pay their ancestors a visit.

Let me tell you, there was in fact an unofficial government plan at the time of the accident to relocate the entire town to another place. This town isn’t habitable any more. Please look for another place and move the town. There was that kind of thinking. However, after considering various factors, the government changed their policy from relocation to reconstruction.

And so at first, we did look into this option. Thinking we wouldn’t be able to live here anymore, we looked around for a large area somewhere in Fukushima and making it Namie. But after various heated discussions, I think the central government settled on the policy of restoration and reconstruction instead, and that’s how it was settled. In fact, we have a history of relocation. At the end of the Edo period, the Tokugawa Shogunate was overthrown by the anti-shogunate forces, which sought to establish a new government by restoring imperial power. Fukushima’s Aizu feudal clan, which had supported the shogunate, was regarded as an enemy of the emperor by the new Meiji government and was ordered to relocate to Iwate and Aomori prefectures or to Hokkaido.

But that was possible because it was only the Aizu region. This time, we’re talking about Hirono, Naraha and all together eight cities and towns in Futaba district. If we include neighboring areas, such as Iwaki, Minami-Soma and Tamura, we’re talking about twelve cities, towns and villages. There’s no way you can relocate all twelve of these municipalities.

About one year after the accident, the central government began to lift the evacuation order in some areas, such as Kawauchi and Hirono, since the radiation monitoring results showed that the levels were not that high, being about the same as the natural standard, although there were some spots with higher levels. The government encouraged residents in those areas to go back to their towns and villages.

Hirano: Did the central government ever explain why it gave up the idea of relocating the entire town of Namie?

Baba: No, because it was not an official plan, there was no explanation given to us.

Hirano: You mentioned identity earlier. From what I heard from you, I’m given a powerful impression that you have great affection for your hometown, not necessarily as a mayor but rather as a person who grew up in this place called Namie. Could you tell us more about the special feelings you have for your hometown as a resident of Namie and where you think that affection and attachment are coming from?

Baba: Sure. After all, this is the scenery that I was born into and grew up with. Well…(chokes up and tears) for example, the elementary school… the elementary school I went to with my friends. Also… junior high school. I don’t know how to put it, but looking back at my childhood brings back the scent of life in Namie that’s been ingrained in my body. It’s the air, the wind in Namie.

I think this is true for everyone who grew up in Namie. Since the accident, they have been living somewhere else as evacuees, where the environment feels different, even the air feels different. They’ve been away from Namie for such a long time, and they’ve been feeling that difference all these years.9

I came back here three months ago, but the thing I noticed the most was the air in Namie. The air brought back a lot of memories. Of course, it’s deserted here now with nobody around, but still I can feel and smell something I was born into and I grew up with. It’s ingrained in this town. It’s hard to explain in words, but there is something wafting in the air.

You know, there used be about 600 houses and buildings along the ocean, but they were all swept away by the tsunami. When I saw the aftermath, I knew something incredibly awful had happened. Actually I couldn’t even look at the ocean for about a year and a half after the tsunami. I was just so scared I did drive through Hama-dori (the shoreline area) and walked a bit.

 

8Ukedo in Namie, 10 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, after the 3.11 disaster. The tsunami took 125 lives and destroyed 350 buildings in this coastal area.

 

I would say I am getting used to the ocean again little by little, so some memories like “oh, I used to swim here” are coming back to me. “Oh, I used to ride my bike around here, or I went to this street and the old guy in that house yelled at me.” A lot of childhood memories are coming back now.

So, I don’t know how to say this, but… (chokes up with tears in his eyes), these are the places you were used to and got attached to.

Hirano: You feel that there’s a lot you won’t be able to experience unless you are here in Namie – soaking in this air, your childhood memories, senses, feelings.

Baba: That’s right. Things you can’t experience anywhere else. There is a poem, “Hometown is a place you leave behind and then long for.” (translation by Arthur Binard) I was evacuated to Nihonmatsu for six years, and I really understood what this poem meant. You won’t be able to appreciate your hometown fully until you leave. That’s how I feel.

We all grew up in this town, surrounded by nature and supported by caring adults and neighbors. When I was a kid, not only my family but also my neighbors would pay attention to you and tell you, “Don’t do this, don’t do that.” But all of that is gone now. It’s hard to put all of that into words.

 

9.jpgTōka-ichi, an autumn market held annually in Namie since 1873. It used to attract over 10,000 visitors. Over 300 vendors would gather and children played a central role in creating the festive atmosphere. The photo was taken in November 2010.

 

10Hadaka-mairi, a winter festival held annually in Namie since 1859. It started as a way to pray for a new year without misfortunes such as fire and epidemics. The photo was taken in February, 2011.

 

Hirano: In spite of all the contradictions, do you think it’s these feelings and emotions that keep you moving forward with your vision of protecting Namie, of reconstructing it?

Baba: Yes, you could say that. At first I could not even stand seeing people in jackets with the TEPCO logo on it. I didn’t want to greet them and I didn’t feel like talking with them, either. I’ve been getting better at dealing with them recently, though. (laughs)

But we will never really be on the same page since they will never understand what we’ve been going through.

Hirano, Amaya and Kawano: Thank you so much for sharing your valuable time and opinions with us today.

I would like to thank Baba Tamotsu for sparing time for this interview in the midst of his busy schedule. My colleagues, Yoshihiro Amaya and Yoh Kawano, made the interview possible through their thoughtfulness and friendship. My thanks also extend to Mark Selden and Norma Field for their comments and feedback. And, as always, Akiko Anson willingly offered her professional skill as a translator. I am grateful to her.

 

Related articles

 

Notes

Other interviews on the Fukushima nuclear disaster by Hirano can be found here.

Notes

1

The tsunami caused by a magnitude 9 earthquake killed almost 19,000 people along the northeast coast of Japan, and triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants. The accident forced more than 150,000 people living near the plant to evacuate in order to avoid radiation exposure. On April 1 2017, the government of Prime Minster Abe Shinzo lifted the evacuation order, enacting the “return policy” based on the claim that decontamination had successfully removed radioactive contaminants from major areas that had been designated as evacuation zones. The measure used to make this claim is 3.8 microSv/h or 20 microSv/y, which is 20 times higher than the international standard, which still applies to the rest of Japan. Despite the government’s push for its “return policy,” the majority of former residents of the affected areas have no intention to return. For details see my interview with Suzuki Yūichi.

2

According to the homepage of Namie township website, as of August 2017, 254 households – 362 people – have returned. Two gas stations, two convenience stores, and two local banks have (re)-opened. How such a small population could sustain them is unclear. Suzuki Yūichi in the aforementioned interview expresses his skepticism.

3

Minami Soma City and its neighboring towns including Namie have been working with universities and companies that manufacture robotics as part of their plans to revitalize Fukushima’s industries. The area was known as a hub for innovation in robotics prior to the disaster, and now they are trying to restore its central role in robotics initiatives.

4

See my interview with Yūichi Suzuki.

5

See Hiroaki Koide’s point in my interview with him. Koide makes it clear that there is no absolute standard that guarantees “safe” exposure to radiation. Any radioactive exposure, especially internal exposure, poses some risk. It is best to minimize exposure. It is also clear that infants, young people, and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to radioactive exposure. The Japanese government’s evacuation plans never took this factor into consideration. It is worth noting that in Chernobyl 20mSv would still constitute a “no-go zone. ” The Japanese government has never rescinded the Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency Situation (原子力緊急事態宣言), part of a law enacted in 1999. This law reflected ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection) “post-accident” period standards and took the upper end of that and seemingly made it applicable indefinitely. I thank Norma Field for providing this important perspective on ICRP.

6

Apparently, Mr. Baba was confusing the Inquest with the actual criminal trial: only the opening session of the trial had taken place (June 30) at the time of the interview (July 4).

7

The first session of the trial of ex-Tepco chairman Katsumata Tsunehisa, 77, and former Vice Presidents Muto Sakae, 67, and Takekuro Ichiro, 71, who are charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury, was held in June 2017. The prosecutors charged that the TEPCO executives had been cognizant of the data and reports that a tsunami more than 10 meters high could cause a power outage and other serious consequences, yet they took no actions to remedy the situation. For example, the prosecutors argued, the 2002 estimate by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion indicated that there was a 20 percent chance of a magnitude 8 earthquake striking off Fukushima within 30 years. The Complainants for the Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, the citizen’s group consisting mainly of victims of the triple meltdown in 2011, had been working hard to have prosecutors accept their criminal complaints sine June 2012, but it was not until July 2015 that indictment of the three former executives was filed. Residents of Fukushima and people of other prefectures have filed criminal complains against more than 50 policymakers and TEPCO officials since 2012. See more details in my interview with Mutō Ruiko, Norma Field’s essay, the website of the Complainants, and Tomomi Yamaguchi and Mutō Ruiko.

8

Joel Rheuben and Luke Nottage write: “As early as April 2011 TEPCO began to make provisional compensation payments of up to JPY 1 million (just over USD 10,000) to evacuees, to be supplemented by full payments once the company’s compensation scheme was in place. At the same time, the national government began making provisional payments to affected small and medium-sized businesses in the region, particularly in the tourism sector. In accordance with the Nuclear Damage Compensation Law, the government also established an expert “Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation” (the “Dispute Reconciliation Committee”) under MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology) to create a set of non-binding guidelines to inform payment amounts. The Dispute Reconciliation Committee issued interim guidelines in August 2011.” For more information about the Dispute Reconciliation Committee and its subsidiary the Dispute Resolution Center, see here.

9

For the economic impact that TEPCO brought to Namie through the nuclear plants and how that was linked to the creation of nuclear “safety myth,” see my interview with Suzuki.

Source : http://apjjf.org/2018/03/Katsuya.html

 

February 1, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | 1 Comment

The hottest drive: Safecasting the newly reopened Route 114 in Namie

hottest drive 28 sept 2017Above: National Route 114 runs through the current exclusion zone in Namie. The area remains evacuated but the road was recently reopened for public use.

 

National Route 114 in Namie was reopened to public access on Sept 20th of this year. The route, also known as the Tomioka Highway, is a primary thoroughfare which runs east-west in Fukushima, primarily through the mountainous sections of Namie. Prior to the accident it was the major lifeline connecting Fukushima City in the west with the center of Namie and other coastal towns in the east. Since April 2011 the road has been officially closed to public access, as the entire town of Namie was placed under evacuation orders. However, Joe and Kalin shot this video on Rte 114 in Namie in May, 2012, so it was still at least partly accessible then, and to the best of our recollection remained so until Spring of 2013. In March this year, the previously more populated eastern portion of Namie was reopened for residence. But the rest of the town, through which Rte 114 runs, remains part of the “Difficult to return zone” (kikan konnan kuiki), usually marked in red on evacuation maps. It’s been difficult for us to get access to this area in the past, but longtime volunteer KM Aizu recently Safecasted the reopened road. He measured dose rates at 1 meter of up to 5.91 µSv/hr along one stretch. This is somewhat higher than the 5.53 µSv/hr shown by an official survey in August, as reported recently in the Asahi Shimbun.  It is also significantly lower than the 19.6 µSv/hr we measured there in Oct-Nov 2011.

KM Aizu commented that while driving on the road, which took about 45 minutes end-to-end, he thought, “It’s been a long time since I’ve been anywhere with dose rates this high.” The portion of Route 6 in front of Fukushima Daiichi is still up to about 5 µSv/hr, he noted, “But this is now the highest dose rate anywhere that is publicly accessible in Fukushima.”  As with Rte. 6 and the Joban Expressway, both of which cut through the “Difficult to return zone,” the government advises people not to stop along the way but to enter and leave the area quickly so as to minimize their radiation exposure. Barriers blocking access to side roads have been placed at over 80 locations along Rte 114, and according to our volunteer, the road is regularly patrolled by police cars. (KM Aizu noted that as with other law enforcement teams patrolling and manning roadbocks, the ones he saw were from other prefectures). He also noted that while Rte 6 is lined with houses and businesses to which somewhat efficient decontamination could be done before and after reopening it, Rte 114 runs almost entirely through forested hillsides.  The hillsides immediately flanking the road have been remediated to a distance of about 10 meters, but the remainder is essentially untouched. “If people went even a fairly short distance into the mountains,” he observed, “I’m sure the doses would be much higher.”

The reopening of Rte 114 will definitely make travel between Fukushima City and the coast easier for people and goods, and in that sense it will bring benefits and is probably justified. There have been increasing discussions about reopening Rte 399, which runs north-south between Iitate and Katsurao, intersecting Rte 114 in Namie, as well. This would essentially restore the basic road network through the area. Locals generally seem to acknowledge and accept the risks the potential exposures present, but nevertheless we urge people intending to travel in the region to be aware of the situation and to exercise adequate caution.

https://blog.safecast.org/2017/09/the-hottest-drive-safecasting-the-newly-reopened-route-114-in-namie/

October 3, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

Travel ban lifted on route leading to town near Fukushima plant

20 sept 2017 National route 114 Namie.pngA worker reopens a section of National Route 114 that runs through a “difficult-to-return” zone in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sept. 20.

 

NAMIE, Fukushima Prefecture–Motorists lined up early in the morning on Sept. 20 in front of a barrier on National Route 114 here, anticipating an event they had waited nearly six-and-a-half years to see.

And then it happened at 6 a.m. The barrier was removed, and a 27-kilometer section was finally reopened to the public, giving evacuated residents direct access to the eastern part of Namie, a town that lies just north of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Hisashi Suzuki, an 85-year-old Namie resident who now lives in Nihonmatsu, an inland city in Fukushima Prefecture, used the section to check on his home and family grave.

Until now, we had to arrange for a thoroughfare pass beforehand, and we sometimes had to wait at checkpoints,” Suzuki said. “This is much more convenient.”

National Route 114, one of main arteries that connects the center of the prefecture with the Pacific coast, runs through much of Namie.

The 27-km section is still within the “difficult-to-return” zone because of high radiation levels, meaning the evacuees can visit their homes in the zone but not return on a permanent basis.

Houses along the road in the no-go zone are now covered in weeds and tangled in vines.

Access to the road section is limited to automobiles. Bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians are not allowed to enter.

But with the road now reopened, municipalities in the area are hoping for an increasing flow in people, including evacuees visiting their homes and workers involved in reconstruction projects.

All 21,000 or so residents of Namie were ordered to evacuate the town after the nuclear disaster unfolded in March 2011. Many of those living on the coast fled west on National Route 114.

The route was closed in April 2011 because it lies within a 20-km radius of the nuclear plant.

Residents seeking to visit eastern Namie needed to obtain permission from the town government or had to take a cumbersome detour.

The evacuation order was lifted in March this year for the eastern part of the town, which was less contaminated because of the wind direction at the time of the triple meltdown at the plant.

Much of the mountainous western part of Namie is still designated as a difficult-to-return zone.

After receiving requests from the public and municipalities, authorities conditionally lifted the travel ban on the road to allow for convenient access from central Fukushima to eastern Namie.

The central government has set up barriers at 88 intersections on Route 114 to prevent thieves and other unapproved people from using side roads.

In August, a survey showed the radiation dosage on the surface of Route 114 was a maximum 5.53 microsieverts per hour, more than 20 times higher than the threshold level of 0.23 microsievert per hour that many municipalities consider would require decontamination work.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201709200053.html

September 22, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

No human rights in terrifyingly contaminated Namie in Fukushima

The evacuation orders of the most populated areas of Namie, Fukushima were lifted on March 31, 2017.

We are publishing the most recent soil surface density map of Namie created by a citizen’s measurement group named the “Fukuichi Area Environmental Radiation Monitoring Project“(http://www.f1-monitoring-project.jp/index.html). Their members are mainly from Tokyo metropolitan region.

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Their map is simply terrifying. This is far much higher level of radio-contamination than in the Radiation Control Zone. Any area becomes designated as such when the total effective dose due to external radiation and that due to radioactive substances in the air is likely to exceed 1.3mSv per quarter – over a period of three months, or when the surface density is likely to exceed 40,000Bq/m2. In the Radiation Control Zone, it is prohibited to drink, eat or stay overnight. Even adults, including nuclear workers, are not allowed to stay more than 10 hours. To leave the zone, one has to go through a strict screening.

Namie’s radio contamination is far over these figures! The average soil contamination density of the total of 314 points where the soil was collected and measured is 858,143Bq/m². The maximum value was 6,780,000Bq/m², and the minimum was only 31,400Bq/m²!

And people, including infants and pregnant women, are told to go back to these areas to live, because it is supposed to be safe. Basically the Japanese government does not recognize the fundamental human right to live in a healthy environment. The population is facing a tough future, for the compensation will be cut off soon, and the housing aid by the central government finishes at the same time. As for the auto-evacuees who fled from areas which are not classified as evacuation zones but are nevertheless radio-contaminated, they had only very little compensation and the housing aid was cut off at the end of March 2017. Continuing to live as nuclear refugees is becoming more and more difficult. We consider that this is a violation of basic environmental human rights.

Let us not forget to thank the members and volunteers of the Fukuichi Area Environmental Radiation Monitoring Project team. They are mostly elderly people over 60 years old. However, that doesn’t mean that they can be exposed to radiation. We thank them and pray for their health.

2Measurement devices

 

3Kit for soil collection

 

4Kit carried on the back

 

5

 

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8Collected soil samples

 

9Analysing the soil samples

 

You might think that Japanese just endure their fate without complaining. This is not true. Many people are fighting and protesting. Let us cite, among numerous on-going trials, the one called the “Trial to require the withdrawal of the 20mSv dose as the limit for evacuation” filed by residents of Minamisoma city in Fukushima, who are against the lifting of the evacuation order when the radiation dose decreases below 20mSv/year. Let us remind you that the Japanese government has adopted 1mSv/year, the internationally recognized dose limitation for public recommended in 1990 by ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection), and this is still the limit for the public all over Japan EXCEPT in Fukushima. This is one of the reasons why many people from Fukushima ask themselves: “Is Fukushima really a part of Japan?” or “Are we the people abandoned by the State?”

Related articles of this site :

Forest fire in the exclusion zone in Fukushima: Why monitoring the radiation dose is not enough for radioprotection

The scandalous deficiency of the health scheme in Fukushima

Incredible contamination in Namie, Fukushima

New data show massive radiation levels in Odaka, Minamisoma

Source: https://fukushima311voices.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/no-human-rights-in-terrifyingly-contaminated-namie-in-fukushima/

July 31, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Soil Radioactive Contamination Measurements of Namie, Fukushima.

Some maps of the “Environmental Radioactivity Project around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant” project, a measurement group of Japanese citizens based in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, are published in the blog “Fukushima 311 Voices “, https://fukushima311voices.wordpress.com/

 

namie cho july 22 2017.jpg

 

Some maps of the “Environmental Radioactivity Project around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant” project, a measurement group of Japanese citizens based in Minamisoma in Fukushima Prefecture, are published in the blog “Fukushima 311 Voices “.
This is the area in Namie-cho where the restrictions on living were recently lifted by the government (March 31, 2017).


It is the measurement result of Namie Town in the area which was evacuated, from this spring.


About 10 days from April to July, we measured the air dose rate, surface contamination count rate, and soil contamination density of 314 points, which were the approximate center points of the mesh divided into 375 m × 250 m.

But for the soil contamination density, the numerical value was less than 40,000 Bq / (which is the designated standard of a radiation control area) at only 3 points.


Incidentally, the average of the soil contamination density is 858,143 Bq /
(maximum is 6,780,000 Bq / , the minimum is 31,400 Bq / ), the average of the air dose rate at 1 m above the ground is 1.12 μSv / h, the surface contamination count rate was 1,199 cpm, which was very high.


Even the Japanese government, even radiation workers, have been given restrictions on staying time, meals, age, etc. in the areas of 40,000 Bq /
or more, but people who were to be affected by even more severely radiation-contaminated areas (including pregnant women and others) were supposed to return home.


I would like many people to know this reality. Furthermore, I would like to ask for such a great support as we share the thought of Minami-soma who are fighting in trials against such a high evacuation standard setting of 20 mSv / yr by the Japanese government.

Fukuichi Surrounding Environment Radiation Monitoring Project

https://www.facebook.com/fukuichi.mp/

Special thanks to Mr Ozawa, and to Nick Thabit for his translation.

July 31, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | 1 Comment

Fukushima town, Namie, to receive compensation

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NHK has learned that a town near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is to receive compensation for a drop in the value of its land that was caused by the 2011 nuclear accident.
The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, will pay Namie Town 2.5 billion yen, or more than 22 million dollars.
This is the first time that the operator has agreed to compensate a municipality for assets that were affected by the accident.
In June of last year, Namie officials asked the company to pay about 104 million dollars in compensation for damage to 262 hectares of land owned by the town. Evacuation orders for parts of the town remained in effect for over 6 years.
The officials say they will negotiate with the power company over the remainder of the requested amount.
The Fukushima prefectural government says the town of Futaba has made a similar request and that other municipalities may follow suit.
Tokyo Electric is paying individuals and businesses compensation for damage to properties located in areas where evacuation orders were issued.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20170606_03/

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

Evacuation Orders Lifted for Iitate, Kawamata, Namie, Tomioka

The Japanese government has lifted evacuation orders for zones it had designated as “areas to which evacuation orders are ready to be lifted” and “areas in which residents are not permitted to live” as a result of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. The orders were lifted in Iitate, Namie and the Yamakiya district of Kawamata on March 31 and in Tomioka on April 1. Evacuation orders for “areas where it is expected that residents will face difficulties in returning for a long time” (or, more briefly, “difficult-to-return zones”) remain in place. The evacuation orders originally affected a total of 12 municipalities, but had been lifted for six of those as of last year. The latest rescission of orders has brought the ratio of refugees allowed to return to their homes to about 70%, with the area still under evacuation orders reduced to about 30% of its original size. TEPCO intends to cut off compensation to these refugees, with a target date of March 2018, roughly a year after the evacuation orders were lifted. Additionally, the provision of free housing to “voluntary evacuees,” who evacuated from areas not under evacuation orders, was discontinued at the end of March 2017.

 

Lifting of Orders Affects 32,000 People

The number of people forced to abandon their homes due to the Fukushima nuclear accident reached a peak of 164,865 people in May 2012, when they had no choice but to evacuate. Now, even six years later, 79,446 evacuees (as of February 2017) continue to lead difficult lives as refugees.

In the six municipalities for which the evacuation orders were lifted last year, the repatriation of residents has not proceeded well. Repatriation ratios compared to the pre-disaster population have been about 50 to 60% for Hirono and Tamura, about 20% for Kawauchi, and not even 10% for Naraha, Katsurao and the Odaka district of Minamisoma, where radiation doses were high (see Table 1).

Capture du 2017-06-04 14-36-01

 

The number of evacuees affected by the current lifting of evacuation orders for the four municipalities is 32,169. The ratio of positive responses to a residents’ opinion survey conducted by the Reconstruction Agency from last year to this year saying they would like to be repatriated was rather low, with about 30 to 40% for Iitate and Kawamata, and less than 20% for Namie and Tomioka. During the long course of their evacuation, spanning six years, many of the residents had already built foundations for their lives in the places to which they had evacuated.

 

House and Building Demolition Proceeding (Namie)

A total of 15,356 evacuees (as of the end of 2016) are affected by the rescission of evacuation orders for Namie, amounting to about 80% of the town’s residents. Results of an opinion survey published by the Reconstruction Agency in November showed 17.5% of the residents saying they wanted to return to Namie. Most replied that they did not want to return or that they could not return yet.

A temporary shopping center named “Machi Nami Marushe” has been newly opened next to the main Namie Town Office building, where the evacuation orders have been lifted. The rail service on the Joban Line to JR Namie Station was restored when the orders were lifted. In the area around Namie Station and the shopping center in front of it, houses and buildings are being demolished and decontamination and road repair work are proceeding at a high pitch.

Meanwhile, Namie’s residents say their houses have been made uninhabitable by damage from various wild animals, including boars, raccoon dogs, palm civets, raccoons, martens and monkeys. Many houses have been ruined, necessitating their demolition.

 

‘Forward Base’ for Reactor Decommissioning (Tomioka)

A total of 9,601 evacuees (as of January 1, 2017) are affected by the rescission of evacuation orders for Tomioka, about 70% of the town’s residents. Results of a residents’ opinion survey show no more than 16% of them wishing to return to the town.

Last November, a commercial zone called “Sakura Mall Tomioka” was established along National Route 6. A supermarket and drug store opened for business there at the end of March. Nearby is the “Energy Hall”—TEPCO’s nuclear power PR facilities. Right next door to that, housing is being built for reconstruction workers, consisting of 50 detached houses and 140 apartment complex units. There are plans to relocate JR Tomioka Station to a position near these.

The town will play a role as a “forward base for reactor decommissioning.” The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) is promoting the construction of an international research center for the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID), scheduled for completion by the end of March. It will carry out research on human resource development and methods for the disposal of radioactive wastes. These facilities are not meant for returning residents. Instead, they are being promoted as part of plans for a new “workers’ town” and will have decontamination and decommissioning workers move in as new residents along with decommissioning researchers.

On the other hand, the “difficult-to-return zones” of about 8 km2, including the Yonomori district, famous for its cherry tree tunnel that used to be lit up at night, will remain under evacuation orders. At a residents’ briefing, people expressed worries about matters like having to see the barricades to those zones on a daily basis.

 

Non-repatriating Residents Cut Off (Iitate)

The village of Iitate, located about 40 km northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, is making a massive decontamination effort across its entire area, including agricultural fields, to prepare for repatriation of its residents. About 2.35 million large flexible container bags into which contaminated waste is stuffed are stacked in temporary storage areas, accounting for about 30% of the total 7.53 million bags overall in the special decontamination area (for decontamination directly implemented by the national government). Prior to rescission of the evacuation orders, Iitate Mayor Norio Kanno made the controversial remark, “We will honor support from residents who repatriate to the village.” This brought an angry response from the residents, declaring that they were adamantly opposed to an attitude of treating those not returning as non-residents. The village’s position on repatriation is that it should be up to the judgement of the villagers themselves.

 

Three Requirements for Lifting Evacuation Orders

On December 26, 2011, Japan’s government determined three conditions needed to be fulfilled before evacuation orders could be lifted. These were (1) certainty that the accumulative annual dose at the estimated air dose rate would be 20 mSv or less, (2) that infrastructure and everyday services had been restored and decontamination work had proceeded sufficiently, especially in environments where children would be active, and (3) that there had been sufficient consultation with the prefecture, municipalities and residents. In May 2015, the government decided on a target of March 2017 for lifting the evacuation orders for all but the “difficult-to-return zones.” They proceeded with the decontamination work and provision of infrastructure for the residents’ return, but gaining consent was a hopeless cause.

 

Requirement 1: Coerced Exposure The annual 20 mSv standard the government established is puzzling. The ICRP’s recommendations and laws such as Japan’s Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law stipulate a public radiation exposure limit of 1 mSv a year. The government is repatriating the residents even at radiation doses exceeding this, and of most concern is how this will affect their health. The residents argue, “We cannot return to places with such a high risk of exposure.”

Trial calculations of the radiation doses received by individuals staying in Namie and Tomioka to conduct preparatory work were published prior to the rescission of evacuation orders for those towns, showing annual doses of 1.54 mSv for Namie and 1.52 mSv for Tomioka. These are below the government’s standard of 20 mSv a year (3.8 μSv per hour)* for lifting evacuation orders, but both exceed the annual limit for public exposure. They are not conditions ensuring “safety and security” as the government says.

At the residents’ briefings, the government explained that its basis for lifting the orders was that decontamination had been completed. However, even if the annual radiation dose has not fallen below 1mSv (the government’s decontamination standard, equivalent to an hourly dose of 0.23 μSv) after decontamination, they will press ahead with lifting the evacuation orders anyway. This drew strong reactions from the residents who said, “Are you making us return just because of the decontamination?” and “Are you forcing us to be exposed?”

 

Requirement 2: Shopping Close By

Prior to the earthquake and tsunami disaster, the Odaka district of Minamisoma, where the evacuation orders were lifted last July, had six supermarkets, two home centers, six fish shops and three drugstores. All of those, however, were lost in the disaster. At last, after the evacuation orders were lifted, two convenience stores opened, but they are far from the residential area near JR Odaka Station, and cannot be reached on foot. A clinic reopened, but since there is no pharmacy, there is no way for patients to buy prescribed medicines. Repatriated residents have to travel for about 20 minutes by car to the adjacent Haramachi district about 10 kilometers away to supplement their shopping and other necessities. Residents without cars, such as the elderly, have difficulty living there. They say, “Nobody wants to reopen the stores because it is obvious that they’ll run at a loss.” A vicious cycle continues, with stores unable to open because the residents who would be their customers are not returning.

 

Requirement 3: Spurn Residents’ Wishes Almost none of the residents attending the residents’ briefings have been in favor of lifting the evacuation orders. Nine or more out of 10 have expressed opposition. They are always given the same canned explanation, with the national and municipal governments brazenly and unilaterally insisting on lifting the orders.

“It is too soon to lift the evacuation orders,” complained one resident at Namie’s residents’ briefing on February 7. The 74-year-old woman living as an evacuee in Tokyo had been getting by on 100,000 yen a month in pension payments and compensation for mental anguish and was living in a single-bedroom public apartment (UR Housing) in Tokyo that qualifies as post-disaster public-funded rental accommodation. Her compensation will be cut off, and if she chooses to continue living in the housing where she currently resides, the rent is expected to exceed 100,000 yen. She considers how many years she could continue paying and doesn’t know what she would do if she became unable to pay. Such constant thoughts increase her anxiety. The minute the evacuation orders are lifted, she too will be rendered a “voluntary evacuee.”

The woman said, “Even if they tell me to go back to Namie because it is safe, I will not return.” They have finished decontaminating her house, but high levels of radiation remain, measuring 0.4 μSv per hour in her garden and 0.6 μSv per hour in her living room. With regard to this, Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba keeps repeating the same response that “the environment is in good order for people to come back and live in our town.”

A multitude of residents expressed a litany of angry opinions, such as, “If the government says it is safe, they ought to send some of their officials to live here first,” “Say we come back, but if we are going to live next to where dangerous decommissioning work is going on, are they still going to cut off our compensation?” and “The government and town officials say they are striving for the safety and security of the residents, but we can’t trust them at all.” Following this briefing, though, on February 27, the town of Namie accepted the national government’s policy of lifting the evacuation orders, formally deciding on the end of March as the date for rescission. They pooh-poohed the views of many of the town’s residents opposed to lifting of the orders.

 

Conclusion In a Cabinet Decision on December 20, 2016, the Japanese government adopted a “Policy for Accelerating Fukushima’s Reconstruction.” This policy promotes the preparation of “reconstruction bases” in parts of the “difficult-to-return zones” and the use of government funds for decontamination toward a target of lifting the evacuation orders for these areas in five years and urging repatriation. “Difficult-to-return zones” span the seven municipalities of Futaba, Okuma, Tomioka, Namie, Iitate, Katsurao and Minamisoma. By area, they account for 62% of Okuma and 96% of Futaba. The affected population numbers about 24,000 people.

The government’s repatriation policy, however, is resulting in bankruptcies. Rather than repatriation, they should be promoting a “policy of evacuation” in consideration of current conditions. Policies should be immediately implemented to provide economic, social and health support to the evacuees, enabling them to live healthy, civilized lives, regardless of whether they choose to repatriate or continue their evacuation.

 

Ryohei Kataoka, CNIC

 

* This calculation is based on a government approved formula which assumes that people will be exposed to 3.8 μSv per hour only for 8 hours per day when they are outside the house. It is assumed that they will be indoors for 16 hours per day and the screening effect will reduce the exposure rate to 1.52 μSv per hour. On a yearly basis, this calculates to slightly less than 20 mSv per year.

http://www.cnic.jp/english/?p=3855

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

Mount Juman forest fire in Namie

Namie-Fire-Nippon-TV.jpg

 

A forest fire has been burning in the no-entry zone of Namie in Fukushima since April 29th, and is now in its fourth day. This has been the subject of many news reports of varying quality, and we are following the situation closely.

The site is among the most highly-contaminated by the Fukushima disaster, well within the “difficult-to-return” zone. Clicking this link will center the Safecast web map on the site of the fire at Juman-yama, which we derived by comparing terrain in news videos and in Google Earth.

To summarize what has been reported so far:

The fire is in a mountainous area of Namie Town called Juman-yama, about 10 km from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The Daiichi plant itself is not at risk from this blaze.

The fire appears to have begun on Sat. April 29, caused by a lightning strike.

Fire-fighters used helicopters to dump water on it, and it appeared to have largely died out on the morning of April 30, but high winds revived it shortly after.

The burned and burning area has been growing, and as of May 2 was approximately 20 hectares.

We don’t have much information about wind direction, which is variable, but predominant winds would blow the smoke eastward towards the ocean (generally over the Daiichi plant site and the towns of Okuma and Futaba).

The most informative news report we’ve seen so far is from Fukushima Chuo TV, on May 1. Prof. Kenji Namba from Univ. of Tokyo notes that the fire can be expected to spread radioactive cesium from the trees in smoke and ash, a general risk pointed out by many experts in the past. He also notes that a monitoring post at Tomioka Station, about 15 km to the southeast of the fire site, has shown what appears to be a very small increase in radiation levels there since the start of the fire. We believe that data from many more points should be examined before ascribing any significance to this kind of reading.

Our closest Pointcast fixed sensor in the area is in Namie, about 7.8 km to the east-northeast of the fire. Its readings have remained relatively constant since the start of the fire, with no appreciable change in radiation levels detected. The time series graph for this sensor showing the change in radiation over the past 30 days can be accessed here.

We also have Pointcast sensors in the nearby towns of Tomioka and Odaka. Neither these nor any other Pointcast sensors show any appreciable increase in radiation levels so far.

Examining readings from government radiation monitoring posts shows what appear to be noticeable “bumps” at some locations around May 1. But these are not large spikes, and in general appear to be within the range of the variation seen in recent months. However, any detection at all would depend on the direction the wind is blowing the smoke plume.

Though any increases in radiation dose rates seen so far appear to be very small, inhaling the smoke from this fire could lead to an internal dose of radioactive cesium. We strongly suggest that people avoid inhaling this smoke. The area surrounding the fire where such risks would be highest are in fact closed to the public and therefore inaccessible, but the additional radiation risk to firefighters is making it difficult to send adequate personnel to battle the blaze.

News videos here:

NHK, Sun. April 30, 2017

Nippon Television, Tues. May 2, 2017

http://blog.safecast.org/2017/05/mount-juman-forest-fire-in-namie/

May 3, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , | 2 Comments

Wildfires in Namie

Wildfire is raging in the highly radio-contaminated area in Namie, Fukushima prefecture. Japanese authorities are minimizing the radiation risk. It is time to provide information from civil movement point of view. We are publishing here the translation of an article by Suzuki Hiroki, a freelance journalist.

What is happening in Namie, the 74th month after the Fukushima Daiichi accident?

There is a wildfire in the forest in the “difficult-to-return zone” causing rising concerns about the secondary dispersion of radioactive substances.
“Is it safe?” Voices of rage from the townspeople towards the central and local governments that hurried the evacuation order lifting.

A forest fire broke out on 29 April in Namie Town, Fukushima Prefecture, where one month had passed since the evacuation orders were lifted from a large part of the town. Moreover, it happened in the “difficult-to-return zone” where radio-contamination is especially high even in Namie town. Strong winds and high concentrations of contamination have made it difficult to fight against the fire and the fire has not been extinguished as of the night of May 1. Although the evacuation orders have been lifted as “the environment for everyday life is sufficiently in order”, it has been made clear that Namie has a perpetual risk of secondary dispersion of radioactive materials in the future. The fact that there is no means to prevent internal irradiation of firefighters as well as of returning residents brought home again the “reality” of the nuclear power plant accident.

[Firefighters cannot get close to the scene]

At the Sports Center near Japan Railway Joban Line Namie station fire-fighting helicopters in Fukushima and Miyagi prefecture land in the parking lot every few minutes. Water is put in the tanks with the hose connected to the fire hydrant. In the direction where the helicopter flew, smoke was still rising from the ridge of the mountain. Only the sound of the propeller echoes in the city empty of its population. Since April 29, the day when “Namie Town Security Watch Corps” rushed to the fire station, the feared forest fire is still ongoing 2 days later. The concern of secondary dispersion of radioactive materials is heightened.

The burned area has exceeded 10 hectares. Although the fire is weakening, the fire department is cautious in declaring the judgment of “repression” and “extinguishing” of fire, for the fire became strong once again after it was judged being “repressed”. On May 2, since 5:00 am, BABA Tamotsu, the mayor of Namie, and OWADA Hitoshi, head of the headquarters of the Futaba Regional Communities Area Union Fire Department, have been busy inspecting the area from the sky by helicopter.

Jyumanyama” (altitude 448.4 meters), where lightning caused the fire, is located in the Ide district, which is designated as a “difficult-to-return zone”. Although the evacuation orders were partially lifted on March 31 from Namie, the “difficult-to-return zone” is still severely restricted from entering. The town’s fire brigade was called up, but its members cannot go close to the scene. It takes two hours on foot from the entrance of the mountain trail to the site, according to the headquarters of the Futaba Regional Communities Area Union Fire Department. The spot could not be specified easily. As soon as it was localized from the sky by the helicopter, firefighters climbed the steep slopes without trails while receiving the guidance of the Forestry agency and Iwaki Forest management office staff. In the meantime, smoke fueled by strong winds reduced visibility like a dense fog. But it’s not just smoke that is dangerous – there is the danger of radioactivity as well The effect of the absorption can attached to the protective mask only functions up to three hours. The exchange in the contaminated smoke is accompanied by the irradiation risk. Considering the health hazards of the members, it is not a good idea to enter the virgin forest without a discussed plan. On April 30 at noon, UCHIBORI Masao, the governor of Fukushima Prefecture requested to dispatch the 6th Division of the JGSDF (Yamagata Prefecture) for the disaster. The amount of water spray exceeds 400 tons by GSDF alone.

However, it is not possible to stop the secondary dispersion of the radioactive material even by the SDF. This is the specificity and danger of this forest fire.

photo-1.jpeg(Top) At the Namie Regional Sports Center parking lot, fire-fighting helicopters came back one after another for water supply. The extinguishing activity from air is scheduled again on May 2 in the morning.

photo-2(Middle) From Jyumanyama mountains there was still smoke.
Secondary dispersion of radioactive materials is concerned. (Taken on May 1 around 11 a.m.)

photo-3(Bottom) Firefighters entered the field in protective gear and masks, but ” practically, there are no means to prevent the exposure to the radiation”.

 

The radiation of the firefighters is unavoidable”.

The secondary dispersion of radioactive materials is an alarming thing, but it has been expected. Judging that ‘the living environment is generally in order’, evacuation orders have been lifted, but once the wildfire starts, this is what happens. Did the government lift the evacuation orders after presenting these risks to the townspeople? I do not have any confidence in the central government nor in the local administration. They are good at appealing that everything is going well in this country. It was the same during the war. In that sense, it is a system of ‘self-responsibility’. I have no choice but to take care of myself”, said a man in his 40s, who was evacuated from the Hiwatari-Ushiwata administrative district. No active effort to announce the secondary dispersion of radioactive materials associated with forest fires was made by the town. It was delivered at last in the Mail magazine of the town at 10:00 a.m. on May 1. The following warning sentence was diffused: “Please do not approach carelessly, for it is dangerous”. It was not known to the townspeople for more than a full day because the fire report is dated Saturday evening. “The administration is difficult to move on Saturdays and Sundays,” said the General Affairs Disaster Security Division. On May 1 at 7:00 a.m., the same content was announced to the entire neighborhood by the disaster prevention radio, and “Notice of forest fire conditions” was published on the town homepage. However, there was no call for wearing a mask related to secondary dispersion of radioactive materials.

No emergency calls have reached the town council members. A certain council member said, “It is a good thing that I happened to learn about it by the television news. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to answer when questioned by the townspeople about this. I want to request to make a contact system because the forest fire in the “difficult-to-return zone” is an emergency situation.”

This council member says, “it is only a personal opinion, but it is natural to assume that radioactive cesium will scatter with smoke and ash, and the fire extinguishing activity should be carried out while measuring how much radioactive material there is in the one square meter. However, it is not realistic, and I have to say that it is not possible to prevent internal irradiation exposure after all.” Another council member also said, “the risk was not examined when the evacuation order was lifted. The danger has been proven by the forest fire this time.” He is ready to take the matter to the Town Council.

As for the irradiation risk of the fire brigade, the headquarters of the Futaba Regional Communities Area Union Fire Department admit that while they can make a point “not to carry out the contaminated materials from the area”, there is no means to prevent the exposure of the fire brigade member. They can only try to shorten the time of stay in the “difficult-to-return zone”, but in reality it takes time to reach the site, and it is difficult to reach it. We have to admit that the exposure is unavoidable.” I wonder if we can consider the situation as “nuclear accident is under control”?

 

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photo-5

 

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There was a warning about forest fires since even before the nuclear accident. The airborne radioactivity of Tsushima District, which is designated as “difficult-to-return zone” like Ide district, is still high. It is sad to say, but the risk of secondary dispersion of radioactive materials with a fire is high.

 

Difficulty to monitor fine particles

There is no significant fluctuation in the airborne radioactivity measured by the monitoring posts installed inside and outside the town. The local media also actively convey the point. However, Mr. Yoichi Ozawa of the citizen’s group in Minamisoma City, “Fukuichi Environmental Radiation Monitoring Project”, pointed out that “radioactive particulates cannot be caught by a dosimeter or monitoring post.” In response to the forest fire, the above Project and the Citizen Radioactivity Monitoring Center “Chikurin-sha” (Hinode Town, Nishitama County, Tokyo) put several linen cloths in the town of Namie. It is thought that the secondary dispersion situation can be estimated by examining the adhesion of the fine particles that cause the internal irradiation.

The central government also faces a cautious posture about the secondary dispersion of the radioactive materials by combustion. On April 20, at the meeting with the residents of Iitate village the person in charge of the Cabinet Office asked the villagers “not to burn the field until the results of experimentation and analyses about how much radioactive materials scatter and adhere to crops etc. come out.” It is a reality that even the bureaucrats of the central government who rushed the evacuation order lifting are not able to affirm that it is safe.

According to the research by Mr. Ozawa and his colleagues, radioactive cesium of 17,000 Bq/kg was found in the fallen leaves near the Ogaki dam last autumn in the “difficult-to-return zone”. “The radioactive material is concentrated by several dozen times by burning. Some experts have pointed out hundreds of times”, says Ozawa. However, neither the central government nor Fukushima prefecture nor the Namie town warn about the internal irradiation at all.

They lifted the evacuation order saying that it is safe and secure, but it’s not at all,” says a 70 year old resident angrily. A lot of worries about the exposure risk were voiced at the residents consultation meeting just before the lifting of evacuation orders. Some say, “it is useless to worry all the time. Since the nuclear power plant accident has happened, we have to think in a constructive way now”, but unfortunately many townspeople’s worries have become real. Moreover, it’s quite possible that the forest fire was caused by lightning. Namie will have to take the same risks in the future. The fire site continues smoldering. Radioactive materials are slowly spreading.

Published in Taminokoe shimbun, May 2, 2017.

https://fukushima311voices.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/wildfires-in-namie/

May 3, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sparking Fears of Airborne Radiation, Wildfire Burns in Fukushima ‘No-Go Zone’

Contaminated forests such as those outside fallout sites like Fukushima and Chernobyl ‘are ticking time bombs’

greenpeace_fukushima.jpegKendra Ulrich, senior Global Energy campaigner for Greenpeace Japan on the Asakaze, a research vessel chartered by Greenpeace Japan, doing radiation survey work off shore of Fukushima Daiichi.

 

A wildfire broke out in the highly radioactive “no-go zone” near the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant over the weekend, reviving concerns over potential airborne radiation.

Japanese newspaper The Mainichi reports that lightning was likely to blame for sparking the fire Saturday on Mount Juman in Namie, which lies in the Fukushima Prefecture and was one of the areas evacuated following the 2011 meltdown. The area continues to be barred to entry as it is designated a “difficult-to-return zone” due to continually high radiation levels.

Local officials were forced to call in the Japanese military, the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), to help battle the blaze, which continued to burn on Monday. At least 10 hectares of forest have burned so far.

“A total of eight helicopters from Fukushima, Miyagi and Gunma prefectures as well as the SDF discharged water on the site to combat the fire,” The Mainichi reports. “As the fire continued to spread, however, helicopters from the GSDF, Fukushima Prefecture and other parties on May 1 resumed fire extinguishing operations from around 5 am [local time].”

An official with the Ministry of the Environment said Monday that there has been “no major changes to radiation levels” in the region, according to the newspaper, but added that they will “continue to closely watch changes in radiation doses in the surrounding areas.”

In a blog post last year, Anton Beneslavsky, a member of Greenpeace Russia’s firefighting group who has been deployed to fight blazes in nuclear Chernobyl, outlined the specific dangers of wildfires in contaminated areas.

“During a fire, radionuclides like caesium-137, strontium-90 and plutonium rise into the air and travel with the wind,” Beneslavsky wrote. “This is a health concern because when these unstable atoms are inhaled, people become internally exposed to radiation.”

Contaminated forests such as those outside fallout sites like Fukushima and Chernobyl “are ticking time bombs,” scientist and former regional government official Ludmila Komogortseva told Beneslavsky. “Woods and peat accumulate radiation,” she explained “and every moment, every grass burning, every dropped cigarette or camp fire can spark a new disaster.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/05/01/sparking-fears-airborne-radiation-wildfire-burns-fukushima-no-go-zone

 

May 3, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment