“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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