80% of voluntary Fukushima evacuees unwilling to return home, survey — RT

” A vast majority of Fukushima voluntary evacuees are not planning to move back to their homes out of fear of radiation despite the government declaring living conditions in the prefecture to be “good”, a new government survey has discovered.

Some 78.2 percent of “voluntary” evacuees households have no intention of returning to their previous places of residence and plan to “continue living” in the area they had evacuated to, results of a Fukushima Prefectural Government survey released on April 24 show.

Only 18.3 percent of households said they intended to move back to the Fukushima prefecture.

On their own accord, some 12,239 households left areas that were not covered by the government’s evacuations orders that were issued following the tsunami and the subsequent meltdown of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

Unlike people who were forced to relocate under evacuation orders, voluntary evacuees only received a fraction of the payment of at least 8.5 million yen ($77,300) that the government offered in compensation to mandatory evacuees.

For six years, most of them lived in other parts of Japan through government sponsored subsidies which ended in March this year after the government claimed that the “living environment (in Fukushima Prefecture) is in good order.”

Despite the official assessment, the environmentally wary refugees “still worry about radiation, and many of them have shifted the foundations of their lives to the places they’ve evacuated to,” the prefectural official in charge of the survey told Mainichi, Japan’s national daily.

Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori pledged to work closely with local governments where the evacuees’ old and new homes are located to help them.

“It’s essential to respect the evacuee’s intentions” about returning home, Uchibori told reporters after the release of the survey. “However, we will work to create an environment where people can live with peace of mind, so evacuees can return home in the future.” “

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Asking the tough questions on Fukushima — The Japan Times

” In January, regional newspaper Fukushima Minpo interviewed Yosuke Takagi, state minister of economy, trade and industry. While talking about reconstruction plans for areas near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Takagi mentioned resurrecting Dash-mura (Dash Village), a farm created from scratch by boy band Tokio for its Nippon TV series “The Tetsuwan Dash.”

The location of Dash-mura was always secret, lest Tokio’s fans descend on the project and destroy its rustic purity. But following the reactor accident caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake, it was revealed that the farm was in an area declared off-limits due to its proximity to the plant. It was promptly abandoned.

A different news outlet, Fukushima Minyu, clarified that the revival of Dash-mura is “nothing more than a personal idea of Takagi’s,” but that he intends to discuss it with related parties. An 80-year-old farmer who once worked with Tokio on the project told Minyu that bringing back the farm would be a great PR boost for the area’s agriculture, which is obviously Takagi’s aim. The show’s producer, however, after hearing of Takagi’s comment, tweeted that he knew nothing about the news, adding cryptically that “Dash-mura is no one’s thing.”

The Huffington Post called the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to ask if it had any intention of reviving Dash-mura. A representative only “confirmed” that Takagi had “made such a comment” and said METI had no “definite plan” to that end but might “study it.”

Nevertheless, the idea fits in with the government’s goal of getting former residents to move back to the area. Last week, authorities announced they would further reduce the evacuation zone at the end of the month, which means it will have shrunk by 70 percent since April 2014. The concern is that few people want to return. Some have already made lives for themselves elsewhere and see a lack of opportunity in their old communities.

Many also remain suspicious of the government’s assurances that radioactivity has dropped to a safe level. There is still debate among experts as to whether or not the radiation in the area is dangerous. The government says that the problems caused by the accident are now “under control,” and affected residents can soon go back to their old lives.

One media outlet who has challenged this assumption is TV Asahi’s “Hodo Station.” On March 9, the nightly news show sent its main announcer, Yuta Tomikawa, to Iitate, a village located about 40 km from the crippled nuclear facility. All 6,000 residents were eventually evacuated after the accident.

Standing in front of rows of black plastic bags, Tomikawa reported that, according to the government, decontamination efforts have been a success. A safe annual radiation level is 1 millisievert, but a local dairy farmer told Tomikawa that his own readings showed five times that level, adding that 70 percent of Iitate is wooded and forest land had not been decontaminated yet.

Moreover, the government is lifting the evacuation order for any areas where annual radiation levels are “no more than” 20 mSv. The International Commission on Radiological Protection told the government that once the situation had stabilized in the affected areas, people could return if radiation dropped to between 1 and 20 mSv, but the lower the better. Exposure to 20 mSv for a short period may not be a problem, but it could have harmful effects in the long run.

Tomikawa did not say that people who returned to Iitate would be in danger, but he did imply that the government is manipulating numbers in an attempt to persuade evacuees to return to their homes.

The web magazine Litera wrote that TV Asahi is the only mainstream media outlet to question the government line in this regard. Actually, Nippon TV did something similar, albeit indirectly. Last month, it rebroadcasted an episode of its “NNN Document” series about the married manzai (stand-up comedy) duo Oshidori Mako-Ken’s efforts to come to terms with the Fukushima meltdowns and their aftermath.

The couple belongs to the large Osaka-based entertainment company Yoshimoto Kogyo, but ever since the disaster Mako has attended about 500 related news conferences, making a nuisance of herself by plying Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings employees and government officials with questions the mainstream media don’t usually ask.

In order to gain access to the news conferences, she offered stories to the weekly magazine Spa! Her editor there told Nippon TV that Mako is now respected or resented by a lot of full-time journalists, partly because she’s a geinojin (entertainer) who has proved her mettle as a reporter, but mainly because of her hard-line queries, which put her interlocutors on the spot.

Following the disaster, Mako became suspicious when she saw people fleeing Tokyo in large numbers but heard nothing about it on the news. In order to make sense of the situation she’d watch unfiltered news conferences about the disaster on the internet. She realized only independent reporters asked tough questions, so she started attending them herself as a proxy for average people who didn’t understand what was going on. The more officials obfuscated, the more she studied.

She’s now recognized by some foreign press as one of the most informed persons on the subject — she even received a letter of encouragement from Pope Francis — and yet she’s shunned by the Japanese press. Nevertheless, she has dedicated followers, including workers cleaning up the reactor who often feed her questions to ask of officials. She’s won awards for her work, but from citizens groups, not media groups.

Nowadays, Mako and Ken do more free lectures on Fukushima No. 1 than they do comedy shows. One of their main themes is that media reports tend to confuse the public rather than inform them, but that’s really the fault of the government, which would like nothing better than for people to feel as if nothing ever happened. ”

by Philip Brasor, The Japan Times

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Japan says Fukushima residents can return home, despite NGO report warning of high radiation level — Fox News

” Almost six years after he was forced to leave his home following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the Japanese government informed Toru Anzai that it was safe for him to return to the small agricultural village of Iitate.

Anzai and the rest of the some 6,000 people who once called the village – located about 24 miles northwest of the doomed nuclear power plant – home were told that the evacuation orders were to be lifted by the end of March as the government has completed its decontamination work and reduced the average radiation level in the air to 0.8 microsieverts (µSv/h) per hour – a level deemed by international organizations as safe for human life.

Alongside lifting the evacuation order, the Japanese government also noted that it will end compensation payments to the former residents of Iitate after a year from when an area is declared safe again to live in.

The government’s announcement, however, has been met with skepticism from Iitate’s former residents and widespread criticism from environmental activists and radiation experts around the world. They say that Japan has based its policies not on any interest in public health but on undoing the financial burden of compensation and creating a false reality that life in the Fukushima prefecture is back to normal.

“The Japanese government just wants to say that we can overcome,” Jans Vande Putte, a radiation specialist with environmental group Greenpeace and one of the authors of a report on the cleanup efforts in Iitate, told Fox News. “It’s like they’re running a PR campaign to say that everything is okay and we can now go back to normal.”

Considered the worst atomic accident since the Chernobyl meltdown in the Ukraine in 1986, the Fukushima disaster occurred on March 11, 2011, following a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami. That tsunami destroyed the emergency generators that would have provided power to cool the nuclear reactors. The insufficient cooling led to three nuclear meltdowns, explosions of hydrogen-air chemicals and the release of radioactive material into the surrounding prefecture.

While Japanese officials assert that the radiation around homes in Iitate have been brought down to an acceptable level since the disaster, Greenpeace said that a survey team it sent into the village found radiation dose rates at houses that were well above long-term government targets.

The organization’s report also noted that annual and lifetime exposure levels in Iitate pose a long-term risk to citizens who may return – especially young children. Scientific research found that on average a newborn girl is seven times more sensitive to radiation as a young adult.

The Japanese government has set a long-term decontamination target of 0.23 µSv/h, which would give a dose of 1 millisievert (mSv) per year, or the maximum limit recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. The sievert is a derived unit that measures the health effect of low levels of ionizing radiation on the human body.

Greenpeace measurements outside on Anzai’s house, however, found that level to be 0.7µSv/h, which would equal 2.5 mSv per year. Inside his home the numbers were even higher, with values coming in at a range between 5.1 to 10.4 mSv per year.

“It is still relatively unsafe to live there,” Vande Putte said. “If thousands of people go back it will be a bad situation and it’s just not wise to go back.”

The radiation levels, experts contend, are even more dangerous outside of the village and the area the government has allegedly decontaminated. Iitate is primarily an agricultural community and 75 percent of the 77-square-mile area is mountainous forest, where Greenpeace contends that radiation levels are comparable to the exclusion zone around Chernobyl.

That means that anyone taking a walk through the woods or even eating something grown in supposedly decontaminated land is at greater risk for a high level of radiation exposure.

“You don’t have to go right out into the forest because they’re not cleaning up areas that are already settled,” Keith Baverstock, a former regional adviser for radiation and public health at the World Health Organization and current medical researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, told Fox News. “If you eat anything grown locally, the levels of radiation are going to be unquestionably a lot higher.”

Baverstock, who for years has been a sharp critic of Japan’s cleanup, said that it could take between 15 and 20 years for the radioactivity in the soil to sink to safe levels if measured at the same speed as that of Chernobyl. But he added that nobody can currently be sure of that rate.

“The Japanese government doesn’t say to these people that they have to accept the risk if they return to the area,” he added.

Greenpeace is demanding that the Japanese government provide full compensation payments to residents of Fukushima prefecture and continue measuring the radiation levels so that people can decide on their own when they want to return.

Outside observers argue that the Japanese government doesn’t have many options if they really hope to protect their citizens from high levels of radiation.

“This is going to cost them,” Baverstock said. “Japan doesn’t have an alternative to waiting it out and resettling these refugees somewhere else.” ”

by Andrew O’Reilly

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Futaba daruma a symbol of hope, nostalgia for Fukushima — The Asahi Shimbun

” Daruma dolls, traditional round-shaped representations of the Indian priest Bodhidharma used as charms for the fulfillment of special wishes, are typically painted red, the color of his religious vestment, and have black eyebrows and a wispy beard painted on a white face.

But Futaba daruma, produced in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, feature blue-rimmed faces. The blue represents the Pacific Ocean, which stretches to the east of the town.

On the New Year’s Day, many of the townsfolk would go to the seaside to watch the first sunrise of the year turning the vast expanse of water into a sea of shiny gold.

But the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which generated massive tsunami and the catastrophic accident at the nuclear power plant partly located in the town, drastically changed the fate of Futaba.

All of the residents were evacuated. Even now, 6,000 or so townsfolk live in 38 prefectures across the nation.

When I asked evacuees what they missed about life in the town before the nuclear disaster, they cited tea they would drink together with other members of the community after farm work, the local Bon Festival dance and local “kagura,” or sacred Shinto music and dancing. They also talked nostalgically about the rice and vegetable fields which they took great care of, the croaking of frogs, flying fireflies and the sweet taste of freshly picked tomatoes.

What was lost is the richness of life that cannot be bought.

Kaori Araki, who has just celebrated reaching adulthood, cited the smell of the sea. “But what I miss most is my relationships with people,” she added.

After leaving Futaba, Araki lived in Tokyo and Fukui, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures before settling down in the city of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. Her current residence is her seventh since she left an evacuation center.

On that day in March 2011, Araki, then a second-year junior high school student, escaped the tsunami with a friend. At a Coming-of-Age ceremony on Jan. 3, she met the friend, who also ended up living in a remote community, for the first time in about six years.

The government plans to ensure that some areas in Futaba will be inhabitable in five years. The municipal government has estimated that the town’s population a decade from now will be between 2,000 and 3,000.

In a survey of heads of families from Futaba conducted last fall, however, only 13 percent of the respondents said they wanted to return to the town.

A daruma fair to sell Futaba daruma started in front of temporary housing in Iwaki on Jan. 7.

The fair has been organized by volunteers since 2012 to keep this local New Year tradition alive. On Jan. 8, special buses brought people to the event from various locations both inside and outside the prefecture. There must have been many emotional reunions at the fair.

There were some green-colored daruma dolls sold at the fair as well. Green is the color of the school emblem of Futaba High School, which is to be closed at the end of March.

I hope that the daruma sold at the fair will help the purchasers fulfill their respective wishes. ”

Vox Populi daily column, The Asahi Shimbun

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Labor groups protest reopening of rail lines near Fukushima — CounterPunch

” Labor activists have protested the reopening this month of a railway line in parts of northeast Japan where they believe radiation levels are still dangerous.

The Joban Line runs from Nippori Station in Tokyo to Iwanuma Station, just south of Sendai City. It is one of main connections between northeast Tokyo’s major station of Ueno up along the coast through Chiba, Ibaraki and Miyagi prefectures.

This region was severely damaged by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th, 2011, while the subsequent Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster meant that large areas through which trains pass were contaminated by radiation.

The Joban Line was directly hit by the massive tsunami wave in 2011, sweeping train carriages away. Though parts of the line were quickly reopened that same year, two sections of the line—between Tatsuta and Odaka stations, and between Soma and Hamayoshida—remained closed, with passengers served by buses for some of the stations.

However, the operator, East Japan Railway Company (JR East), and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, have been keen to reopen the whole line as part of the northeast Japan reconstruction efforts. The Joban Line represents a valuable source of income from both passengers traveling between Sendai and Tokyo as well as freight.

Following decontamination measures, rail services resumed from Iwaki to Tatsuta in late 2014. However, north of Tatsuta lies the areas located within a 20km radius of the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which is widely considered a no-go zone.

In July this year, JR East resumed services on the 9.4-kilometer stretch between Odaka and Haranomachi stations as the evacuation order was lifted for the southern part of Minamisoma City, though few residents are willing to return to a community so close to the contaminated area. Media reports suggest only 10-20% are coming back to live in the area.

On December 10th, the previously closed 23.2-kilometer northern section of line between Soma and Hamayoshida reopened for rail services. It means passengers will now be served by a further six stations on the section, though three of these (Shinchi, Yamashita and Sakamoto stations) had to be relocated inland by up to 1.1 kilometers as an anti-tsunami measure. Along with the construction of elevated tracks, the total cost of the latest reopening is said to be 40 billion yen ($350 million).

By spring 2017, the line will be reopened between Namie and Odaka, and then later in the year between Tatsuta and Tomioka. The final section linking Tomioka and Namie, passing through somewhat infamous areas like Futaba, is set to reopen by the end of fiscal 2019 (end of March 2020).

Local tourist bodies are naturally delighted and are pulling out all the stops to attract people. At the newly reopened stations, passengers are able to buy commemorative tickets, take hiking trips, and even try on historical armor.

Lingering Doubts over Radiation

Official announcements say that radiation levels have fallen and clean-up efforts will remove any health risk. Last August, JR East began decontamination tests on parts of the railway between Yonomori and Futaba stations where the radioactivity remains high. It has reported that falling radiation levels can be confirmed at six inspection points along the line, making it confident that decontamination measures are working.

However, the legacy of the Fukushima disaster is a lingering distrust for government and corporate claims about radiation. Activists allege that authorities and JR East are putting profits and the appearance of safety over the genuine health of rail workers and passengers. Just as with the gradual lifting of restrictions on entering the areas around the Joban Line, reopening the railway is, they say, an attempt to encourage evacuated residents to return and tourists to visit even though health risks may remain.

This pressure to reconstruct the region quickly and maintain an impression of safety to Japan and the rest of the world comes from the very top, as demonstrated by the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s now notorious claim that the Fukushima disaster was “under control” in his speech in September 2013 during the final (and successful) Tokyo bid to win the 2020 Olympic Games. Abe also officiated at the opening of the rebuilt Shinchi Station on December 10th.

Protests Against Reopening

The rank and file rail unions Doro-Mito (National Railway Motive Power Union of Mito) and Doro-Chiba (National Railway Motive Power Union of Chiba) have long protested the ambitions of JR East as part of their campaigns against the operator’s growing policies of rationalization and outsourcing.

On December 10th, around 50 activists from Doro-Mito and associated groups opposed the Joban Line reopening by demonstrating at the Sendai branch of JR East in the morning. A small number of train drivers from the union also went on strike that day. This was coordinated with other protests and actions in Fukushima City and Tokyo at JR sites. At an afternoon protest outside the JR East headquarters in Shinjuku, central Tokyo, around 150 unionists demonstrated.

These are just the most recent examples of actions by this network of medium-sized yet feisty unions, which have waged several strikes and protests since JR East began reopening parts of the track following the 2011 disaster. Unionists have fought to block the reopening in order to protect the well-being of workers as well as the general public.

Other unions and labor groups have apparently remained silent on the Joban Line issue, as have the major anti-nuclear power protest organisations. The mainstream media has also given the Joban Line protests almost no coverage, though the reopening itself was extensively celebrated.

Doro-Mito and Doro-Chiba are the largest groups in a network of militant unions called Doro-Soren, affiliated with the Japan Revolutionary Communist League. Other smaller unions have been established in Tokyo, Fukushima, Niigata and elsewhere. While the overall numbers of unionized workers remain only in the hundreds, organizers hope to create a national union in the future.

The unions have held small strikes on the Joban Line issue alongside their regular strikes and protests against labor conditions, as well as participating in general rallies against the restarting of nuclear power plants in Japan. In this way, the issues of neoliberalism and nuclear power have become aligned in a new and invigorating way.

The Doro-Soren network is also associated with NAZEN, which was formed in August 2011 as a youth group to fight the nuclear industry. The various groups have taken part in annual protests at Fukushima on the anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami, regularly mobilizing over 1,000 demonstrators. … 

by William Andrews

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Fukushima ‘ghost town’ uses dummies to fill sad post-3/11 void — The Asahi Shimbun

” NARAHA, Fukushima Prefecture–Ghosts of the past are all around in this Fukushima town whose communities were decimated in the aftermath of the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Less than one-tenth of Naraha’s residents have come home since its evacuation order was lifted, but some who did return have devised a creative solution to the population problem.

Locals have formed a group to make dummies to place them around the town in lieu of the many human inhabitants who have been absent since the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster of March 2011.

The results are poignant.

All residents of Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, were ordered to evacuate the area following the triple meltdown, and were given the green light to return in September 2015.

However, only 718 residents–less than 10 percent of the town’s total population–had returned to their homes as of Nov. 4 this year.

Missing their friends and neighbors, some of the returned residents started the dummy project in June this year.

Currently, five women are making mannequins, including members of local voluntary group, Nanikashitai (“I want to do something”), which numbers about 30 members.

The women gather once a month at a former elementary school building to assemble cotton-stuffed heads, wooden frames, and arms and legs made from rolled newspapers. Then, they choose outfits and dress them.

The “ages” of the figures range from two to 85, according to the women.

So far, the women have completed 28 dummies, of which more than 10 occupy seven locations, including a financial institution and a day-care facility. When they showed them at an event in the town, they had visitors name them, and they even registered them as town residents.

“We hope that the dummies will bring a smile to the faces of those who see them,” said Kaneko Takahara, 68, one of the women. ”

by Takuya Isayama

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