Fleeing from Fukushima: a nuclear evacuation reality check — Beyond Nuclear International

” (The following is an excerpt from a longer article on the subject of evacuations after severe nuclear accidents. While this section focuses on Fukushima, there are lessons here for all nuclear sites and the likely failure of “on paper” evacuation plans.)

If another severe nuclear accident, such as Windscale (in 1957), Chernobyl (1986) or Fukushima (2011) were to occur, then the most important response, in terms of preventing future cancer epidemics, is evacuation. The other main responses are shelter and stable iodine prophylaxis. Adverse health effects would primarily depend on wind direction and on the nature of the accident.  This article looks primarily at the Fukushima evacuation and its after-effects.

When the Fukushima-Daiichi, Japan nuclear disaster began on March 11, 2011, evacuations were not immediate and some were hampered by the destructive after-effects of the Tsunami and earthquake that precipitated the nuclear crisis.

Once people were evacuated, little, if any, consideration seems to have been given to how long such evacuations would last. For example, the large majority of the 160,000 people who left or were evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture are still living outside the Prefecture. Many are living in makeshift shelters such as shipping containers or prefabricated houses.

At present, the Japanese Government is attempting to force evacuees (by withdrawing state compensation) to return to less contaminated areas, with little success. Currently, seven years after the accident, an area of about 1,000 square kilometers is still subject to evacuation and no entry orders. This compares with the area of 2,700 square kilometers still evacuated and subject to no or restricted entry at Chernobyl, almost 32 years after the accident.

Experience of the Fukushima Evacuation

In 2015 and 2016, I visited Fukushima Prefecture in Japan with international study teams. These study tours were informative as they revealed information about the evacuations that differed from official accounts by TEPCO and the Japanese Government. From many discussions with local mayors, councillors, local health groups and small community groups, the following information was revealed.

The most common figure cited for evacuees is 160,000, of which 80,000 were evacuated by the authorities and the rest left to evacuate on their own, often on foot, cycles and carts. It took about two weeks to evacuate all parts of the initial 20 km (later 30 km) radius evacuation areas around the Fukushima reactors.

The main reason for the delays was that many roads in the Prefecture were jammed with gridlocks which sometimes lasted 24 hours a day, for several days on end on some roads. These traffic jams were partly due to the poor existing road infrastructure and partly due to many road accidents. These jams were of such severity that safety crews for the Fukushima nuclear station had to be moved in and out mostly by helicopter. All public transport by trains and buses ceased. Mobile telephone networks and the internet crashed due to massive demand.

Thousands of people either refused to leave their homelands or returned later. Older farmers often refused to leave their animals behind or be moved from their ancestral lands. In at least a dozen recorded cases, older farmers slaughtered their cow herds rather than leave them behind (dairy cows need to be milked daily): they then committed suicide themselves in several instances.

According to Hachiya et al (2014), the disaster adversely affected the telecommunications system, water supplies, and electricity supplies including radiation monitoring systems. The local hospital system was dysfunctional; hospitals designated as radiation-emergency facilities were unable to operate because of damage from the earthquake and tsunami, and some were located within designated evacuation zones. Emergency personnel, including fire department personnel, were often asked to leave the area.

At hospitals, evacuations were sometimes carried out hurriedly with the unfortunate result that patients died due to intravenous drips being ripped out, medicaments being left behind, the absence of doctors and nurses who had left, and ambulance road accidents. Many hastily-allocated reception centres (often primary schools) were either unable or ill-equipped to deal with seriously ill patients.

Much confusion resulted when school children were being bussed home, while their parents were trying to reach schools to collect their children. Government officials, doctors, nurses, care workers, police, firepersons, ambulance drivers, emergency crews, teachers, and others faced the dilemma of whether to stay at their posts or return to look after their families. In the event, many emergency crews refused to enter evacuation zones for fear of radiation exposure.

Stable iodine was not issued to most people. Official evacuation plans were either non-existent or inadequate and, in the event, next to useless. In many cases, local mayors took the lead and ordered and supervised evacuations in their villages without waiting for orders or in defiance of them. Apparently, the higher up the administrative level, the greater the levels of indecision and lack of responsibility.

In the years after the accident, the longer-lasting effects of the evacuations have become apparent. These include family separations, marital break-ups, widespread depression, and further suicides. These are discussed in a recent publication (Morimatsu et al, 2017) which relates the sad, often eloquent, stories of the Fukushima people. They differ sharply from the accounts disseminated by TEPCO.

Deaths from evacuations at Fukushima

Official Japanese Government data reveal that nearly 2,000 people died from the effects of evacuations necessary to avoid high radiation exposures from the Fukushima disaster, including from suicides.

The uprooting to unfamiliar areas, cutting of family ties, loss of social support networks, disruption, exhaustion, poor physical conditions and disorientation resulted in many people, in particular older people, apparently losing their will to live.

The evacuations also resulted in increased levels of illnesses among evacuees such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus and dyslipidaemia, psychiatric and mental health problems, polycythaemia — a slow growing blood cancer — cardiovascular disease, liver dysfunction, and severe psychological distress.

Increased suicide rates occurred among younger and older people following the Fukushima evacuations, but the trends are unclear. A 2014 Japanese Cabinet Office report stated that, between March 2011 and July 2014, 56 suicides in Fukushima Prefecture were linked to the nuclear accident.

Should evacuations be ordered?

The above account should not be taken as arguments against evacuations as they constitute an important dose-saving and life-saving strategy during emergencies. Instead, the toll from evacuations should be considered part of the overall toll from nuclear accidents.

In future, deaths from evacuation-related ill-heath and suicides should be included in assessments of the fatality numbers from nuclear disasters.

For example, although about 2,000 deaths occurred during and immediately after the evacuations, it can be calculated from UNSCEAR (2013) collective dose estimates that about 5,000 fatal cancers will arise from the radiation exposures at Fukushima, i.e. taking into account the evacuations. Many more fatal cancers would have occurred if the evacuations had not beeCn carried out.

There is an acute planning dilemma here: if evacuations are carried out (even with good planning) then illnesses and deaths will undoubtedly occur. But if they are not carried out, even more people could die. In such situations, it is necessary to identify the real cause of the problem. And here it is the existence of nuclear power plants near large population centres. In such cases, consideration should be given to the early closure of the nuclear power plants, and switching to safer means of electricity generation.

Conclusions

The experiences of Japanese evacuees after Fukushima are distressing to read. Their experiences were terrible, so much so that it requires Governments of large cities with nearby nuclear power plants to reconsider their own situations and to address the question…. what would happen if radioactive fallout heavily contaminated large areas of their city and required millions of residents to leave for long periods of time, for example several decades?

And how long would evacuations need to continue…. weeks, months, years, or decades? The time length of evacuations is usually avoided in the evacuation plans seen so far. In reality, the answer would depend on cesium-137 concentrations in surface soils. The time period could be decades, as the half-life of the principal radionuclide, Cs-137, is 30 years. This raises the possibility of large cities becoming uninhabited ‘ghost’ towns like Tomioka, Okuma, Namie, Futaba, etc in Japan and Pripyat in Ukraine.

This bleak reality is hard to accept or even comprehend. However it is a matter that some governments need to address after Fukushima. It is unsurprising therefore, that after Fukushima, several major European states including Germany and Switzerland have decided to phase out their nuclear reactors. ”

by Dr. Ian Fairlie, Beyond Nuclear International

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Editorial: Extent of suffering key to compensating Fukushima evacuees — The Asahi Shimbun

” An estimated 100,000 or so people are still living as evacuees as a consequence of the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

This figure comprises about 18,000 evacuees who acted on their own initiative and fled from the 23 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture that are outside government-designated evacuation zones. They include people who lived in areas that are not covered by the government-supported compensation program.

The circumstances of their decisions to leave their hometowns are more or less similar to those of the people who fled from areas covered by the evacuation orders. Many of them were concerned about the health of their children or found it difficult to continue their businesses in the affected areas.

But compensation paid to these “voluntary evacuees” by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled nuclear plant, ranging from 120,000 yen to 720,000 yen ($1,000 to $6,400) per person, was far smaller than the amounts received by residents of the evacuation areas.

On Feb. 18, a local court handed down a ruling that may open the door to greater relief for these evacuees.

The Kyoto District Court ordered TEPCO to pay about 30 million yen to a man and his wife for mental illnesses the husband suffered following their “voluntary evacuation” from the calamitous accident. The man, who is in his 40s, together with his wife and three children, filed a lawsuit against the utility seeking 180 million yen in damages, claiming he became unable to work because of mental and physical problems caused by the effects of the nuclear disaster.

Concerned about the possibility of his children’s exposure to radiation, the man decided to leave his home with his family. After they fled, the family stayed at hotels and lived in rented accommodation outside the prefecture.

As he had to live in unfamiliar surroundings, the man developed insomnia and depression. The district court acknowledged that the nuclear accident was the cause of these health problems.

Compensation payments to such voluntary evacuees are based on guidelines set by a central government panel addressing disputes over compensation for nuclear accidents. The guidelines say compensation payments should be based on three factors: increases in living expenses due to evacuation, mental damages and expenses incurred in fleeing and returning home.

TEPCO had paid a total of 2.92 million yen to the family based on the guidelines, but the family claimed the compensation was insufficient.

In its ruling, the district court argued that the guidelines only show “items and scope of damages that can be classified according to type.”

The ruling showed the view that damages with a causal link to the accident should be compensated for according to the circumstances involved. The basic principle for compensation espoused by the ruling is that the amounts of damages to be paid should be determined according to the circumstances of individual cases instead of being uniform and fixed.

Compensation payments to victims of the nuclear disaster, such as evacuees and affected businesses, come out of a 9 trillion yen treasure chest provided by the government to TEPCO.

With its management priority placed on its own early recovery from the consequences of the accident, however, the electric utility has been trying to terminate the payments as soon as possible and keep the amounts within the framework set by the guidelines. The company’s compensation policy has been criticized for failing to make the benefit of residents a primary consideration.

About 10,000 evacuees are involved as plaintiffs in damages suits filed with 21 district courts and branches around the country. This points to the high level of discontent with the compensation payments that have been paid out.

TEPCO should respond with appropriate sincerity to the demands of victims entitled to compensation and review its compensation policy and procedures.

The courts that are hearing these cases should hand down rulings that give sufficient consideration to the plight of the victims. ”

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Fukushima disaster: Tepco to pay couple in landmark damages case — BBC News

” A court in Japan has ordered the operator of the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant to compensate a couple who fled radiation, even though they lived outside the evacuation zone.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) will pay 30m yen ($265,000; £185,000) for financial losses and poor health.

It is thought to be the first time Tepco has been found liable for people outside the mandatory evacuation area.

In 2011 the plant suffered multiple meltdowns after a quake and tsunami.

After that people who lived within 20km (12 miles) of the plant were ordered to evacuate, but thousands of others voluntarily left their homes and businesses over fears of radiation

Analysts say Thursday’s ruling could pave the way for many more compensation claims from such evacuees.

Depressed and stigmatised

In April 2014 some residents started to return to their homes in the exclusion zone, but many areas remain ghost towns with their former residents in temporary housing.

The sum awarded to the couple, who have not been named but are in their 40s, is also far greater than the 11m yen proposed by a government-established centre to mediate settlements for compensation cases.

According to the written submission, the husband became depressed and developed pleurisy after the evacuation and their children were stigmatised for their association with the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Tepco has already been embroiled in a number of compensation claims. In 2011, the government ordered Tokyo Electric to pay 1m yen to every family within 30km of the plant. ”

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Suicides rise among Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees — The Asahi Shimbun

” Disaster-related suicides in Fukushima Prefecture have surged this year, with prolonged evacuation from the nuclear accident and uncertainty about returning home or leading normal lives suspected as the main causes.

Nineteen suicides in Fukushima Prefecture from January to the end of November have been tied to the March 2011 triple disaster, up from 15 for all of last year, according to statistics compiled by the Cabinet Office.

Over the same period this year, one disaster-related suicide was recorded in Miyagi and two in Iwate, the two other prefectures that were most heavily damaged nearly five years ago by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Local police determined if a suicide was related to the disaster and subsequent evacuation after talking to bereaved family members.

Suicide statistics in the three prefectures compiled since June 2011 showed that the situation among evacuees is much more despondent in Fukushima Prefecture than in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, according to the Cabinet Office section in charge of dealing with suicides.

So far, a total of 154 suicides have been linked to the disaster in the three prefectures until the end of November 2015. More than half of the deaths were people who lived in Fukushima Prefecture before the disaster struck.

Between June and December 2011, the suicide numbers were 22 in Miyagi Prefecture and 17 in Iwate Prefecture. Fukushima Prefecture recorded 10 in that period.

However, the numbers for Iwate and Miyagi prefectures have subsequently declined while the figure for Fukushima Prefecture has been at least 10 a year.

Many disaster victims in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures have been able to return to their hometowns to lead comparatively normal lives.

But evacuation orders remain for six municipalities in the vicinity of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and parts of three other local governments in the prefecture.

As of November, about 24,000 people in Iwate and about 55,000 in Miyagi were living in temporary housing away from their homes. In Fukushima, the number was about 103,000.

“The problems facing Fukushima disaster victims become more complicated as time passes,” said Masaharu Maeda, a professor of disaster psychiatry at Fukushima Medical University.

He pointed to differences among evacuees from areas where evacuation orders have been lifted.

“The elderly may return to their homes, but the generation who are still raising children do not return, meaning families are torn apart,” Maeda said. “There is a need to increase the number of people who have specialized knowledge to help provide support to disaster victims through improved care.”

Cabinet Office officials conducted a survey on the reasons for 80 suicides in Fukushima that were identified as disaster-related by police, who talked to bereaved family members.

The most common cause was health problems, found in 42 cases, followed by economic and lifestyle woes for 16 people and family problems for 14. In some cases, more than one motive was included.

The central government is considering lifting the evacuation order by March 2017 for districts near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant where residents are allowed to enter during the day.

But there is no indication when the evacuation order will be lifted for the remaining seven municipalities where airborne radiation levels are still high.

In 2014, the Fukushima Medical University conducted a survey of about 38,000 evacuees from areas where the evacuation order remains in place.

Close to 40 percent of respondents said they were concerned about the negative health effects in the future from exposure to radiation. Nearly 50 percent said they felt the radiation would have a negative impact on their children and grandchildren.

People concerned about radiation were more likely to suffer from depression, the survey showed.

Disaster victims in Fukushima were also found to be more likely to suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorders than people in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. ”

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Tepco ordered to pay over suicide linked to nuclear evacuation — The Japan Times

” FUKUSHIMA – Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Tuesday was again held responsible for a suicide linked to the 2011 nuclear crisis and ordered to pay damages.

The Fukushima District Court ordered Tepco to pay ¥27 million to the family of 67-year-old Kiichi Isozaki, who committed suicide in July 2011 after being forced out of his home near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and fell into depression.

It is the second time that a court has determined there was a link between the nuclear disaster and a suicide, and ordered the utility to pay damages.

In the latest ruling, presiding Judge Naoyuki Shiomi said the severe experiences Isozaki had gone through made him depressed and led to his suicide. But Shiomi said the disaster had a “60 percent” impact on the man’s decision to take his own life, given that he had diabetes, which may also have played a role.

Isozaki’s wife, Eiko, 66, and two other relatives had sought ¥87 million.

“The ruling aside, I really want Tepco to apologize,” Eiko Isozaki said after the decision.

Tepco issued a statement saying it will “thoroughly examine the ruling and handle the case sincerely.”

According to the lawsuit, Isozaki started having trouble sleeping and lost his appetite after he was evacuated from his home in the town of Namie to a high school in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture. Isozaki and his family later moved to an apartment in another city, but his condition did not improve.

At dawn on July 23, 2011, Isozaki left his apartment and was found dead near a dam the following day, according to the lawsuit. He had presumably thrown himself off a bridge.

The plaintiffs argued that depression had prompted him to commit suicide and he would be “living happily had the nuclear accident not occurred.”

Tepco argued that the court should consider other factors that may have contributed to his mental state.

Last August, the same district court ordered the utility to pay ¥49 million in damages to the family of a 58-year-old woman who burned herself to death after she was forced to evacuate from her home in a Fukushima town contaminated by the nuclear disaster.

Although more than four years have passed since the powerful earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, triggered the country’s worst nuclear crisis, suicides linked to the event continue as more than 100,000 people remain evacuated in and around Fukushima.

Sixty-nine suicides in Fukushima Prefecture committed by the end of May have been deemed linked to the earthquake-tsunami or nuclear disasters, according to the Cabinet Office. ”

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Survey: Half of Fukushima evacuee households split up; distress rife in families — The Asahi Shimbun

” FUKUSHIMA–Nearly half of households that evacuated following the Fukushima nuclear disaster have been split up while close to 70 percent have family members suffering from physical and mental distress, a survey showed.

The number of households forced to live apart exceeds the number that remain together, according the survey, the first by the Fukushima prefectural government that attempted to survey all households that evacuated.

The results were announced on April 28.

Between late January and early February, Fukushima Prefecture mailed the surveys to 62,812 households living within and outside the prefecture.

Of the 20,680 respondents, 16,965 households, or 82 percent, originally lived in the evacuation zone near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, while 3,683 households, or 18 percent, lived outside the zone but voluntarily evacuated after the nuclear accident unfolded in March 2011.

It was unclear if the remaining 32 households were originally within the evacuation zone.

Some 44.7 percent of the households still lived with all family members at their new homes. The figure included single-person households.

But 48.9 percent of households said their family members now live at two or more locations, including 15.6 percent whose family members are scattered at three or more locations, according to the survey.

The results showed that many households in municipalities near the nuclear plant originally contained many family members, but they were forced to give up living together as their lives in evacuation continued.

Families are often divided over the degree of fear about radiation contamination. Locations of workplaces and schools also split families, while many members end up living in separate temporary housing.

The prolonged life in evacuation, now in its fourth year, is taking a toll. The survey revealed that 67.5 percent of all households had family members showing symptoms of physical or psychological distress.

More than 50 percent said the cause of their ailments was that they “can no longer enjoy things as they did before” or they “have trouble sleeping.”

“Being constantly frustrated” and “tending to feel gloomy and depressed” followed, at over 40 percent.

More than one-third of respondents, or 34.8 percent, said their “chronic illness has worsened” since they entered their lives as evacuees. ”

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