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Last Fukushima town to reopen welcomes back its first residents

Three people have moved back to Futaba, which aims to attract about 2,000 over the next five years

Yoichi Yatsuda plays with his dogs in Futaba, Japan.

February 16, 2022

Late last month, Yoichi Yatsuda slept in his own home for the first time in more than a decade.

As a resident of Futaba, a town in the shadow of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, there was a time when simply spending the night in his family home had seemed an impossible dream.

The 70-year-old was one of tens of thousands of people who were forced to flee and start a life in nuclear limbo when the plant had a triple meltdown in March 2011.

As Japan reeled after the earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people and triggered the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, Yatsuda and his wife, Analisa, and an estimated 160,000 other residents of Fukushima prefecture packed a few belongings and left, believing they would be back within weeks.

“If you had told me at the beginning that I would have to wait this long to come home, I would have given up straight away,” said Yatsuda, a retired professional keirin cyclist who has lived in more than 10 places since the disaster.

Today, the couple are attempting to rebuild their lives in Futaba, the last of dozens of towns and villages to have ended their status as no-go zones after radiation levels were deemed low enough for people to return.

Futaba is the last of dozens of towns and villages to have ended their status as no-go zones.

They made periodic visits to repair and refurbish their house, which was once overrun by wild boar, and have been allowed to stay overnight on a trial basis since late January. Local authorities hope more people will follow when the evacuation order is officially lifted in parts of the town later this year.

Yatsuda’s homecoming has been bittersweet. Before the disaster, Futaba was home to about 7,000 people. Just 15 residents applied to take part in the trial, and to date only three, including Yasuda and his wife, have moved back permanently.

Many of his former neighbours have found jobs and built new lives in other parts of the region and across Japan. In a poll by the reconstruction agency, just 10% of Futaba’s former residents said they would like to return, while 60% had no plans to go back.

Those with young children are the most reluctant to contemplate returning to a town that has no schools, shops, restaurants, hospitals or public services. Those with homes that survived the tsunami – which killed 50 people in Futaba – have had them demolished, leaving the town dotted with empty plots of land.

Yatsuda’s only neighbour – although he lives a short drive away – is Yasushi Hosozawa, who lives in a tiny room above a parking space and a shed filled with his beloved fishing rods.

“I was born here, and I always felt that if I was ever given the chance to return, then I would take it,” said Hosozawa, whose wife and son run a restaurant in another Fukushima town farther inland. “I love fishing and have my own boat moored here … that was a big factor in deciding to come back.”

Yasushi Hosozawa: ‘There used to be lots of people here. But look at it now … it’s a wasteland.’

The 78-year-old, a former plumber and cafeteria owner, returned late last month to find that his water supply had yet to be reconnected, meaning he had to drive to the railway station to use the toilet. “There used to be lots of people here,” he said, pointing at patches of grass where his neighbours’ homes once stood. “But look at it now … it’s a wasteland.”

Like many Fukushima residents, Yatsuda has little positive to say about Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the company that operates the nuclear plant, where decommissioning work is expected to last decades. “I believed Tepco when they said that something like the 2011 disaster could never happen,” he said. “It’s all about trust. When I returned to Fukushima 40 years ago, I was assured that this was a safe place to live.”

While no one expects life in Futaba to ever return to its pre-disaster normality, local officials believe more people will resettle. The town has set a target of attracting about 2,000 people, including new residents, over the next five years, and new public housing for 25 households will open in October.

The town currently has no open schools, shops, restaurants, hospitals or public services, but aims to attract 2,000 people over the next five years.

“Very few people want to come back, so can you really say that the town has recovered?” said Yatsuda, who will plant flowers in his garden this spring and, he hopes, reopen the gym behind his home where he trained aspiring keirin racers before the disaster.

“The problem is people can’t see physical signs of recovery with their own eyes. Unless the authorities do more to create jobs and attract new residents, I can’t see things improving much in the next 10 years.”

The stress of life as an evacuee has taken a toll on his mental and physical health, but he has no regrets about returning to a town that, its three current residents aside, still resembles a nuclear ghost town. “This is our house. This is where we played with our children when they were little,” he said.

While the couple have no concerns about radiation, they have accepted that, for now, they must travel outside the town to spend time with their eight grandchildren.

“We used to enjoy seeing friends and playing with our grandchildren here,” said Analisa. “It would be great if younger families moved here … I desperately want to see and hear children again.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/16/futaba-last-fukushima-town-to-reopen-welcomes-back-its-first-residents

February 20, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

No-go zones keep kin from burying deceased Fukushima evacuees at ancestral gravesites

n-fukushima-a-20170825-870x678Buddhist monks offer prayers for victims of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, in March 2014.

 

In Fukushima, 3/11 fallout forcing remains to be stored at temples, ancestral gravesites to be moved

FUKUSHIMA – The remains of Fukushima’s deceased evacuees are being left in limbo because radiation is preventing them from being buried.

In municipalities that remain off-limits because of the fallout from the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in March 2011, the inability of residents to return has put burials for their loved ones on hold.

Instead, many relatives are opting to leave remains in the hands of temples or moved their family graves out of their hometowns.

Choanji, a temple in a no-go zone in the town of Namie, is keeping the remains of about 100 people at a branch facility that was set up in the prefectural capital after the nuclear crisis began.

At the branch, a swordsmanship training room was renovated to enshrine remains that should have been buried in Namie.

Evacuees don’t want to bury the remains of family members in places with high radiation levels,” said the branch’s chief priest, Shuho Yokoyama, 76.

A 66-year-old resident of Minamisoma visited the temple branch on Aug. 12 for the Bon holidays to pray for her elder sister, who died after evacuating the area.

Her remains are kept there because her family’s grave is located in a no-go zone in Namie; the remains of her sister’s husband, who died before the disaster, are already in the family grave.

I am sorry that she is separated from her husband. I want their remains to be buried together,” the woman said.

To enter the no-go zone, residents need to submit applications to the municipal government in question.

The woman is unhappy with the system as she wants permission to enter the areas freely, at least during Bon, the traditional period for commemorating one’s ancestors. Since the disaster began, she has been unable to visit the grave of her brother-in-law.

At Choanji, 20 percent of some 500 families in the congregation have moved their ancestors’ graves to other areas.

Isao Kanno, 50, who hails from Namie but now lives in Tokyo, was in the area just before the remains of his father, who died two months before the meltdowns, were scheduled to be interred.

I can’t be evacuated alone and bury the remains in the grave” in a no-go zone, Kanno said. “I’m considering moving the grave somewhere else.”

Some, however, worry their hometown ties could fade if they move their graves.

Despite being designated a no-go zone, it is my hometown,” said a 57-year-old Tokyo resident who left the remains of one of his relatives at the temple branch.

It is the land of my ancestors, so I’ve never considered moving the grave,” he said.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/08/24/national/no-go-zones-keep-kin-burying-deceased-fukushima-evacuees-ancestral-gravesites/#.WZ71vxdLfrc

August 24, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , | Leave a comment

TEPCO Restaurant Opened to Public in Nuclear No-Go Zone

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Okuma, Fukushima Pref., April 17 (Jiji Press)–A restaurant of a Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. employee dormitory in an Fukushima Prefecture exclusion zone designated after the March 2011 nuclear accident was opened Monday to local residents who make temporary visits to their homes.


It is the first restaurant that can be used by residents of the town of Okuma, one of the host municipalities of TEPCO’s disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, since the accident at the plant forced a blanket evacuation.


The staff restaurant, Okuma Shokudo, has about 240 seats and is open to the general public from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., except on weekends and national holidays. It offers 21 menu items at the prices for TEPCO employees.

The restaurant operator, Torifuji Honten, is now based in the Fukushima city of Iwaki after evacuating from its head office in the town of Tomioka, also in the northeastern prefecture.


“We hope to contribute to disaster reconstruction if only a little bit,” said Takanobu Mori, 49-year-old manager of the TEPCO staff restaurant.

http://jen.jiji.com/jc/eng?g=eco&k=2017041700795

 

April 20, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Tax Breaks Mulled to Aid Reconstruction in Fukushima No-Go Zone

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The Abe government and ruling coalition are considering giving tax breaks to companies that do business in reconstruction footholds to be set up in the no-go zone heavily contaminated by the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture, according to informed sources.

Officials believe such measures will help advance industrial recovery in the prefecture hurt by the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in March 2011, the sources said Tuesday.

Under consideration are corporate tax cuts to promote capital investment and employment of people affected by the crisis by firms damaged by the nuclear accident and companies that newly expand into the area.

The special reconstruction areas will be created starting in fiscal 2017. Priority will be given to decontamination work and infrastructure development in the footholds, so that evacuation orders for local residents can be lifted around the end of March 2022.

The tax measures will be included in the fiscal 2017 tax system reform package that the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition plans to draw up Dec. 8.

Similar tax breaks are provided in evacuation areas outside the no-go zone. Through the planned measures, the government hopes to encourage the opening of businesses necessary for residents to live in the area, such as convenience stores and gas stations, as well as promoting job creation.

The government and the ruling camp are considering the options of allowing companies to deduct from their corporate taxes 15 percent of the amounts of their capital investment made in the footholds and granting lump-sum depreciation of new equipment and facilities so they can reduce their taxable incomes by larger margins than under regular depreciation rules.

Another possible measure is giving a corporate tax cut equivalent to 20 percent of salaries for employees in the footholds that companies hire from among those affected by the nuclear accident.

Also under consideration extending by four years a corporate tax cut granted to the owners of housing for disaster victims in special economic zones on condition the buildings meet fire resistance and other requirements and that the owners give priority to disaster-affected people in choosing tenants.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/11/22/national/tax-breaks-mulled-aid-reconstruction-fukushima-no-go-zone/#.WDXSalzia-e

November 24, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , | Leave a comment

Tokyo Hopes To Lift No Go Zone Order In Fukushima In Next Five Years

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By the end of the 2021 fiscal year, the Japanese government intends to repeal an evacuation order on the remaining “no go zone” around the Fukushima no.1 nuclear plant, the site of one of the worst nuclear accidents in history.


Tokyo announced Wednesday that it aims to conduct infrastructure restoration and radiation clean ups in reconstruction bases built within the zone, which was highly contaminated when the plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. (TEPCO), was shut down during a March 2011 tsunami and earthquake.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at a joint meeting of the Reconstruction Promotion Council and Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, where the proposal was adopted, said, “Based on the basic policy, we will embark on reconstruction work in the zone as soon as possible.” In June 2015 the government decided it would lift the ban on areas of Fukushima with lower contamination levels by March of 2017.


Headquarters also announced that the decontamination of Fukushima would be paid for with state funds. It was estimated in 2013 that cleanup would cost upwards of 2.5 trillion yen (about $24 billion), and the decontamination efforts would be financed with funds collected from selling state-owned shares of TEPCO.


Tokyo hopes to profit 2.5 trillion yen from selling the shares, but TEPCO stock would have to trade at about 1,050 yen for that to happen, and shares are currently valued at around 360 yen. After evacuation and some rearranging, Tokyo has been gradually lifting no-go zones restrictions in Fukushima since 2013.


53-year-old Toshiko Yokota, who was able to return to clean up her home in Naraha in 2015 said, “My friends are all in different places because of the nuclear accident, and the town doesn’t even look the same, but this is still my hometown and it really feels good to be back. I still feel uneasy about some things, like radiation levels and the lack of a medical facility,” she said. “In order to come back, I have to keep up my hope and stay healthy.”


According to Jiji Press, the public cost of decontamination and cleanup of the nuclear accident exceeded 4.2 trillion yen by the end of the 2015 fiscal year. Factoring in costs for reactor decommissioning, compensation payments to people and organizations affected by the accident and radioactive decontamination, the government spent about 33,000 yen per capita.

http://sputniknews.com/asia/20160902/1044873179/tokyo-lift-no-go-zone.html

September 3, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment

Footholds Should Be Built in Fukushima No-Go Zone: LDP Team

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Tokyo, Aug. 17 (Jiji Press)–Reconstruction footholds should be set up in the no-go zone heavily contaminated by the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan, a Liberal Democratic Party team proposed Wednesday.


The footholds should be used for decontamination work and infrastructure development so that evacuation orders for residents of the zone will be lifted in around five years, said the ruling party’s Headquarters for Accelerating Reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake.


At a general meeting, the headquarters broadly agreed on a draft outline of the party’s planned sixth reconstruction proposal for areas damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent reactor meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.


The government plans to remove all evacuation advisories in municipalities affected by the nuclear accident by the end of March 2017, excluding in the no-go zone where radiation levels are still too high for local residents to return home anytime soon.


The LDP will submit the proposal to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this month, after finalizing it through discussions with its coalition partner, Komeito.

http://jen.jiji.com/jc/eng?g=eco&k=2016081700893

August 20, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , , , | Leave a comment