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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).

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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

“Half Life in Fukushima” documents life in the red zone five years after the nuclear disaster

Half-life-in-Fukushima

Half-life in Fukushima” is a documentary feature in competition at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival. It represents a Switzerland and France collaboration, with co-directors Mark Olexa and Francesca Scalisi at the helm. While the production represents a European origin, the subject matter had gained world-wide attention no less than Chernobyl in 1986.

The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan directly set off the Fukushima Nuclear Plant disaster. The town surrounding the Plant was evacuated due to radioactive fallout. Filmmakers Olexa and Scalisi entered the Fukushima red zone five years later and documented a resident still living there, a farmer named Naoto Matsumura.

How Naoto was given permission to stay there is not explained in the film. Actually, Naoto was not alone. He remains in Fukushima with his elderly father, the two striving on a life of self-sufficiency. There is no water from the tap, and radioactive fallouts render everything poisonous, including the mushrooms Naoto had been picking for years in the forest at the back of his home. Only the boisterous ocean remains a powerful reminder of what life was like before disaster hit.

The directors capture their subject with quiet sensitivity and empathy. At first devastated by the loss of everything, but now five years later Naoto is resigned to accept a solitary existence in the ghost town. There are nuclear cleanup crews still working during the day, but all in protective suits and masks. We see Naoto wearing ordinary clothes, feeding his cattle, wandering the streets alone, reminiscing by the ocean, or going into the forest just to look at the trees.

In the opening shot, we see the definition of the term “half-life”. It refers to the time it takes for one-half of the atoms of a radioactive material to disintegrate. It is also an apt metaphor describing the remnants of a life in Naoto. In many scenes, a stationary camera allows us to experience Naoto’s coming and going in real time. One of such moments is when the camera stays with Naoto from a distance as he stops his truck at an intersection when the traffic lights turn red. We stop with him, the scene motionless and silent for about a minute until the green lights come on. Such a vicarious moment into a life on hold is eerily poignant.

One might be surprised to see traffic lights still function and Naoto still obeys them when he is the only one driving in town. It is heart-wrenching to see one man try to maintain normalcy despite all loss, attempting to carve out a life in the midst of desolation. What more, we see Naoto playing a round of golf in an abandoned driving range and singing Karaoke on his own. The film ends with this scene. We hear Naoto sing a song of lost love, a life he can never go back to. After that, we hear the ocean roar as the screen fades to black.

http://aapress.com/arts/half-life-in-fukushima-documents-life-in-the-red-zone-five-years-after-the-nuclear-disaster/

 

 

April 11, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Evacuation order lifted for Fukushima town

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The Japanese government has lifted the evacuation order for most parts of a town in Fukushima Prefecture. It was issued after the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

The directive for Tomioka Town was lifted at midnight on Saturday in all areas except for no-entry zones with high radiation levels.

The town became the 9th municipality to be released from the order. The decree was initially imposed on 11 municipalities in the prefecture.

The government also withdrew the directives for some areas in Kawamata Town, Namie Town, and Iitate Village at midnight on Friday.

Areas still subject to the government evacuation order now make up 369 square kilometers. That is one-third of the initial size.

About 9,500 Tomioka residents are now allowed to return to their homes.

But in a survey conducted by the Reconstruction Agency and other institutions last year, only 16 percent of Tomioka’s residents said they wanted to return to their hometown.

The town government had opened a shopping mall and a medical facility ahead of the lifting of the evacuation order.

In the future, it will be a challenge for the town to revive industries, decontaminate no-entry zones, and provide continued support for residents living outside the town.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20170401_03/

April 1, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

Mall opens in Fukushima town near disaster-stricken nuclear plant

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Rice cakes are tossed to a crowd ahead of the full-scale opening of Sakura Mall Tomioka, a publically-established and privately-run mall, in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 30, 2017.

TOMIOKA, Fukushima — A shopping mall opened in this town near the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant on March 30, amidst hopes it will jumpstart the return of the populace as evacuation orders will be lifted for most of the town on April 1.

In addition to returning residents, the mall is expected to be used by employees working on decommissioning of the nuclear plant.

Before the nuclear disaster, Tomioka was considered to have the largest concentration of commercial facilities in Futaba County, which also hosts the nuclear plant. Together with the lifting of the evacuation orders, the town is touting its recovery as the “capital of the county.”

The mall, called “Sakura Mall Tomioka,” has around 4,500 square meters of floor space. In November last year, a home improvement store and three restaurants opened early, and on March 30 this year a supermarket and drugstore opened, bringing the facility into full operation. At a ceremony for the opening, Mayor Koichi Miyamoto said, “I am sure this mall will aid recovery (of areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster).”

The Tomioka Municipal Government set up the mall by renovating buildings along National Route 6. The areas of the town with evacuation orders being lifted will cover 9,544 residents (based on March 1 population figures), but in the near term only a few percent of the population are expected to actually return to the town. Evacuation orders will remain in place for parts of the town with high radiation levels, called “difficult-to-return” zones.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170330/p2a/00m/0na/014000c

 

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

More Evacuation Orders to Be Lifted in Namie and Tomioka Towns

15 March, 2017, from Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Japan pro-nuclear website :

On March 10, the Japanese government’s nuclear emergency response headquarters decided to lift evacuation orders in two categories in Namie and Tomioka Towns: specifically, those areas where “living is not permitted” and those where “evacuation order will soon be lifted.” The orders will be lifted at 12:00 a.m. on March 31 and April 1 in Namie and Tomioka, respectively.

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Since similar orders in the same two categories will also be lifted on March 31 in Iitate Village and Kawamata Town, the latest decision means that the only areas where evacuation orders are still in effect are those where “residents will not be able to return home for a long time.” Specifically, that refers to all of Okuma and Futaba Towns, as well as certain areas of Minami-Soma City, Tomioka Town, Namie Town, Katsurao Village and Iitate Village.

Apart from those, sections of the JR Joban Line unusable since the earthquake will be reopened when the orders are lifted in Namie and Tomioka Towns: namely, the line between Odaka and Namie on April 1, and the line between Tomioka and Tatsuta in some time in October.

According to the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, area-wide decontamination has already been completed as of the end of January in nine of the eleven municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture that are now designated as “special decontamination areas,” which are directly managed by the national government. The term does not include areas where residents will not be able to return home for a long time.

The decontamination work is expected to be completed in the remaining two municipalities—Minami-Soma City and Namie Town—by the end of this month.

As for the transport of soil removed in decontamination work to sites planned for the interim storage of radioactive waste, a total of about 210,000 cubic meters has already been transported as of the beginning of March. In FY17 (April 2017 to March 2018), some 500,000 cubic meters of removed soil will be transported, in anticipation of the beginning of storage next fall, with priority to be placed on soil now stored at schools.

http://www.jaif.or.jp/en/more-evacuation-orders-to-be-lifted-in-namie-and-tomioka-towns/

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

Govt. to lift more Fukushima evacuation orders

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The Japanese government is set to lift evacuation orders in 2 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, issued after the 2011 nuclear disaster.

The government will hold a joint meeting between the reconstruction taskforce and the nuclear disaster task force on Friday. On Saturday, it will be 6 years since the earthquake and tsunami.

Participants will decide on whether to lift an evacuation order in part of Namie town on March 31st and a portion of Tomioka on April 1st.

Following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the government issued evacuation orders for 11 municipalities in the prefecture and has since gradually lifted them.

With the latest measure, the orders will be in effect only in no-entry zones with high radiation levels as well as part of the towns of Futaba and Okuma that co-host the nuclear plant.

About 1,150 square kilometers were initially subject to the government evacuation order. That number is now expected to shrink to about 369.

The central government hopes to continue decontamination work and infrastructure projects in some no-entry zones. It says it wants to create a hub for reconstruction by the end of fiscal 2021, where residents and decontamination workers will live.

But the government faces challenges in rebuilding communities as an increasing number of people, mainly the young, say they don’t want to return to their hometowns even if evacuation orders are lifted.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20170310_09/

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Long-term stays start in Tomioka

 

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Shizuo Suzuki stands in front of his shop in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, on Wednesday, with the empty shopping street visible in the background.

TOMIOKA, Fukushima — Long-term stays (see below) for residents of Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, started on Saturday. Evacuation orders for the town limits issued after the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant still stand.

The success of the project will hinge on how many residents the town can get back, with a view to having the evacuation orders lifted in April next year.

Shizuo Suzuki, 63, who resumed business 2½ years ago on a shopping street in the town’s Chuo district, which is part of a zone people are allowed to enter during the daytime, is hoping for some of the bustle of the town to return.

Suzuki’s hardware shop is on Chuo shopping street, which is on the west side of the JR Joban Line’s Tomioka Station. Suzuki took over the shop, which was established in 1952, after his father died in 1998. Before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the shop mainly dealt with materials such as cement, gravel and reinforced steel, supplying local building companies.

Although the earthquake didn’t do much damage to the shop, the nuclear plant accident which followed forced Suzuki and his 58-year-old wife to move out. After they drifted around various places in Fukushima Prefecture, including a gymnasium in Kawauchi, a neighboring village to the west of Tomioka, and a home of their relatives in Aizuwakamatsu, they finally settled in Iwaki.

Entering Tomioka became easier when the government eased regulations in 2013. The area around Suzuki’s shop was designated a residence restriction zone, making it possible for him to resume business there.

Suzuki, who was then working part-time at a construction company in Iwaki, decided to go back to his shop in January 2014. Although he did not know how many customers would come, he was looking forward to working in his hometown again.

I wanted to stay positive and uphold my sense of purpose in life,” he said. Commuting from Iwaki, he cleaned up the shop and resumed business in March 2014, after decontamination of the area was complete.

Suzuki still commutes to Tomioka from Iwaki, which takes about an hour each way by car. The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Five or six workers involved in decontamination work or building demolition in the neighborhood visit the shop daily and purchase items such as shovels, crowbars and ropes. As Suzuki’s shop is the only one to have resumed business in the area, the bustle of the shopping street has not yet returned.

According to the municipal government, shops that have reopened other than Suzuki’s are limited to convenience stores and gas stations. The town plans to open a commercial facility, publicly funded and privately operated, that includes a home-improvement center and restaurants at the end of November, for long-term-stay residents and in preparation for the lifting of evacuation orders.

Streets will come back to life as people start returning for long stays. I hope other shops will resume business too,” Suzuki said. He had his home next to the shop demolished as it had decayed while he was away. He intends to rebuild his house and live in the town when other residents start to return.

Long-term stay

In anticipation of the lifting of evacuation orders, registered residents are allowed to stay in their houses to find out what problems they may face when they return to the town. The number of registered residents in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, as of July 12 was 9,679 from 3,860 households. According to the central government, 119 residents from 56 households have applied for long-term stays as of Thursday.

http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0003221490

September 18, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , | Leave a comment