” So-called voluntary evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster set up their first national association to call for the continuation of provisional housing and financial assistance.
About 130 people, including supporters, gathered in Tokyo on Oct. 29 to set up the national evacuees association. Some had lived in areas of Fukushima Prefecture around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Others fled their homes in other prefectures after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami hit the plant on March 11, 2011, out of fears of radioactive fallout.
The government plans to lift all evacuation orders around the plant by the end of March 2017, except for certain areas where radiation levels are expected to remain high. People who do not return to their homes in areas that the government says are safe are called “voluntary evacuees.”
“There is a risk even if radiation levels become lower,” said Seiichi Nakate, a 54-year-old nursing-care worker and a representative of the organization. “Especially, voluntary evacuees, who receive smaller support, are being forced to choose between living in poverty and returning to their hometowns with low radiation levels.”
The Fukushima prefectural government plans to terminate free housing for voluntary evacuees by the end of March 2017.
Kaori Kawai, who fled to Saitama Prefecture from Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, said she is frequently asked by her two children if they have to relocate or attend a different school. The family currently lives on welfare, although she said she has been trying hard to become independent.
News that the government will terminate housing assistance came as a shock.
“We chose to evacuate just to protect children,” she said.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima plant, also plans to end compensation payments in March 2018.
The newly formed group, in cooperation with evacuees from areas where evacuation orders were issued, plans to ask the central and local governments as well as TEPCO to extend the period of providing housing and other assistance measures. ”