Fukushima evacuee to tell UN that Japan violated human rights — The Guardian

” A nuclear evacuee from Fukushima will claim Japan’s government has violated the human rights of people who fled their homes after the 2011 nuclear disaster, in testimony before the UN in Geneva this week.

Mitsuko Sonoda, who voluntarily left her village with her husband and their 10-year-old son days after three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant went into meltdown, will tell the UN human rights council that evacuees face financial hardship and are being forced to return to neighbourhoods they believe are still unsafe almost seven years after the disaster.

“We feel abandoned by the Japanese government and society,” Sonoda, who will speak at the council’s pre-session review of Japan on Thursday, told the Guardian.

An estimated 27,000 evacuees who, like Sonoda, were living outside the mandatory evacuation zone when the meltdown occurred, had their housing assistance withdrawn this March, forcing some to consider returning to their former homes despite concerns over radiation levels.

In addition, as the government attempts to rebuild the Fukushima region by reopening decontaminated neighbourhoods that were once no-go areas, tens of thousands of evacuees who were ordered to leave will lose compensation payments and housing assistance in March next year.

The denial of financial aid has left many evacuees facing a near-impossible choice: move back to homes they fear are unsafe, or face more financial hardship as they struggle to build lives elsewhere without state help.

“People should be allowed to choose whether or not to go back to their old homes, and be given the financial means to make that choice,” said Kendra Ulrich, senior global energy campaigner for Greenpeace Japan.

“If they are being put under economic pressure to return, then they are not in a position to make an informed decision. This UN session is about pressuring the Japanese government to do the right thing.”

Evacuees are being encouraged to return to villages and towns near the Fukushima plant despite evidence that some still contain radiation “hot spots”.

In Iitate village, where the evacuation order was lifted this March, much of the surrounding forests remain highly radioactive, although homes, schools and other public buildings have been declared safe as part of an unprecedented decontamination effort.

“You could call places like Iitate an open-air prison,” said Ulrich. “The impact on people’s quality of life will be severe if they move back. Their lives are embedded in forests, yet the environment means they will not be allowed to enter them. Forests are impossible to decontaminate.”

After months of moving around, Sonoda and her family settled in Kyoto for two years, where local authorities provided them with a rent-free apartment. They have been living in her husband’s native England for the past four years.

“We’ve effectively had to evacuate twice,” said Sonoda, who works as a freelance translator and Japanese calligraphy tutor. “My son and I really struggled at first … we didn’t want to leave Japan.”

Concern over food safety and internal radiation exposure convinced her that she could never return to Fukushima, aside from making short visits to see relatives. “It’s really sad, because my village is such a beautiful place,” she said. “We had a house and had planned to retire there.”

The evacuations have forced families to live apart, while parents struggle to earn enough money to fund their new accommodation and keep up mortgage payments on their abandoned homes.

“Stopping housing support earlier this year was an act of cruelty,” Sonoda said. “Some of my friends had to go back to Fukushima even though they didn’t want to.”

Greenpeace Japan, which is assisting Sonoda, hopes her testimony will be the first step in building international pressure on Japan’s government to continue offering financial help to evacuees and to reconsider its resettlement plan.

It has called on the government to declare Fukushima neighbourhoods unsafe until atmospheric radiation is brought to below one millisievert (mSv) a year, the maximum public exposure limit recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

While 1 mSv a year remains the government’s long-term target, it is encouraging people to return to areas where radiation levels are below 20 mSv a year, an annual exposure limit that, internationally, applies to nuclear power plant workers.

“Why should people, especially women and children, have to live in places where the radiation level is 20 times the international limit?” Sonoda said. “The government hasn’t given us an answer.” ”

by The Guardian

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Elimination of Fukushima evacuees from list slammed — The Asahi Shimbun

” The central government has made a large number of people who voluntarily fled the Fukushima area after the 2011 nuclear disaster disappear by cutting them from official lists of evacuees.

Critics are now condemning the move, which went into effect last April, saying it prevents government officials from fully grasping the picture of all who remain displaced to evaluate their future needs.

“Accurate data on Fukushima evacuees is essential in gaining a better understanding of their current circumstances and crafting measures to address their problems,” said Shun Harada, a sociology researcher at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, who contributes as an editor for an information publication for evacuees living in Saitama Prefecture.

“When only smaller than the real numbers are made available, difficulties facing evacuees could be underestimated and could result in terminating support programs for them,” he complained.

As of July, 89,751 evacuees were living across Japan after fleeing from the nuclear disaster, down by 29,412 from the March tally.

In April, the central government opted to cut “voluntary” evacuees who fled their homes due to fears of radiation despite being from outside the evacuation zone.

It came after the official program to provide free housing to the voluntary evacuees was stopped at the end of March, which was designed to facilitate a prompt return to their hometowns in Fukushima Prefecture. People from the evacuation zone are still eligible to the free housing program.

The central government’s Reconstruction Agency, set up to oversee rebuilding efforts in Japan’s northeastern region after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, releases the number of evacuees each month, based on figures compiled by local authorities.

The 29,412 drop in the number of official evacuees between March and July includes 15,709 in Fukushima Prefecture, 6,873 in Miyagi Prefecture, 2,798 in Iwate Prefecture, 780 in Tokyo, 772 in Kanagawa Prefecture and 577 in Saitama Prefecture.

Before the change in housing policy, agency statistics showed a monthly decrease in evacuee numbers of between 3,000 and 4,000 in the several months leading up to the end of March.

But the drop in numbers increased dramatically to 9,493 between March and April and 12,412 between April and May.

Kanagawa and Saitama prefectural officials say voluntary evacuees were responsible for most of the declines in their jurisdictions.

A large number of them are believed to be living in the same housing as before but are now paying their own rent.

A 43-year-old woman who has been evacuating in Saitama Prefecture since fleeing from Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, with three other family members said she is angered by the central government’s treatment.

“We cannot return to Fukushima Prefecture due to fears of the effects of radiation,” she said. “I feel like I have been abandoned by the state by being denied evacuee status.”

An official with the Tokyo-based Japan Civil Network for Disaster Relief in East Japan, a private entity that functions as a liaison unit for a nationwide network of groups supporting victims of the disaster six years ago stressed the need for local authorities to have an accurate understanding of the circumstances surrounding evacuees.

“Of the evacuees, the elderly and single-parent households tend to be left in isolation and many of them are likely to become qualified to receive public assistance in the near future,” the official said. “Local officials need to know they are evacuees (from Fukushima).”

The official added that it will become difficult for support groups to extend their help if voluntary evacuees are taken out of the official tally.

But the Reconstruction Agency said it will not reconsider the definition of evacuees. ”

by Shigeo Hirai, The Asahi Shimbun

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Fukushima 5-year report — SimplyInfo.org Research Team

The research team for simplyinfo.org put together an excellent summary report of the status of each unit at Fukushima Daiichi, along with the various decommissioning and cleanup projects, including the frozen ice wall and barrier, radioactive water filtration, muon scans, storage tank farms, evacuation lifts and compensation for Fukushima evacuees, Fukushima-related lawsuits, and radiation exposure and contamination to people, food and the environment.

Fukushima 5th Year Report 2016

Fukushima is still a desolate wasteland — New York Post

” Tokuo Hayakawa carries a dosimeter around with him at his 600-year-old temple in Naraha, the first town in the Fukushima “exclusion zone” to fully reopen since Japan’s March 2011 catastrophe. Badges declaring “No to nuclear power” adorn his black Buddhist robe.

Hayakawa is one of the few residents to return to this agricultural town since it began welcoming back nuclear refugees five months ago.

The town, at the edge of a 20-kilometer (12.5-mile) evacuation zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, was supposed to be a model of reconstruction.

Five years ago, one of the biggest earthquakes in history shook the country’s northeast. The 10-meter (33-foot) tsunami it spawned smashed into the power plant on the Fukushima coastline, triggering a meltdown and forcing nearby towns to evacuate. The disaster killed over 19,000 people across Japan and caused an estimated 16.9 trillion yen ($150 billion) in damages.

Only 440 of Naraha’s pre-disaster population 8,042 have returned — nearly 70 percent of them over 60.

“This region will definitely go extinct,” said the 76-year-old Hayakawa.

He says he can’t grow food because he fears the rice paddies are still contaminated. Large plastic bags filled with radioactive topsoil and detritus dot the abandoned fields.

With few rituals to perform at the temple, Hayakawa devotes his energies to campaigning against nuclear power in Japan. Its 54 reactors supplied over 30 percent of the nation’s energy needs before the disaster.

Today, only three units are back in operation after a long shutdown following the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. Others are looking to restart.

“I can’t tell my grandson to be my heir,” said Hayakawa, pointing at a photo of his now-teenage grandson entering the temple in a full protective suit after the disaster. “Reviving this town is impossible,” he said. “I came back to see it to its death.”

That is bound to disappoint Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Rebuilding Naraha and other towns in the devastated northeast, he says, is crucial to reviving Japan.

Tokyo pledged 26.3 trillion ($232 billion) over five years to rebuild the disaster area and will allocate another 6 trillion for the next five years.

Vanishing town

More than 160,000 people were evacuated from towns around the Daiichi nuclear plant. Around 10 percent still live in temporary housing across Fukushima prefecture. Most have settled outside their hometowns and have begun new lives.

In Naraha, two restaurants, a supermarket and a post office, housed in prefabricated shacks, make up the town’s main shopping center. The restaurants close at 3 p.m.

No children were in sight at Naraha’s main park overlooking the Pacific Ocean on a recent morning. Several elderly residents were at the boardwalk gazing at hundreds of bags stuffed with radioactive waste.

In fact, the bags are a common sight around town: in the woods, by the ocean, on abandoned rice fields.

Little feels normal in Naraha. Many homes damaged in the disaster have been abandoned. Most of the town’s population consists of workers. They are helping to shut down Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Daiichi reactors or working on decontamination projects around town.

Other workers are building a new seawall, 8.7 meters (28.5 feet) high, along a nearly 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) stretch of Naraha’s coast, similar to other seawalls under construction in the northeast.

A local golf course has been turned into dormitories for workers. Some families have rented their houses to workers.

“Naraha is a workers’ town now,” said Kiyoe Matsumoto, 63, a member of the town council, adding that her children and grandchildren have no plans to come home.

Radiation levels

The town’s future depends on young people returning, residents say. But only 12 below the age of 30 have returned as worries about radiation linger.

Radiation levels in Naraha ranged from 0.07 to 0.49 microsieverts per hour in January, or 0.61-4.3 millisieverts per year. That compares with the government’s goal of 1 millisievert a year and the 3 millisieverts a year the average person in the United States is exposed to annually from natural background radiation.

The significant drop in atmospheric radiation allowed the government to lift the evacuation order last Sept. 5 — “the clock that had been stopped began ticking again,” Japan’s Reconstruction Agency said on its website.

“It is hoped that the reconstruction of Naraha would be a model case for residents returning to fully evacuated towns,” the agency statement said.

Prime Minister Abe visited the town a month after that and repeated one of his favorite slogans: “Without reconstruction of Fukushima, there’s no reconstruction of Japan’s northeast. Without the reconstruction of the northeast, there’s no revival of Japan.”

But with few people coming back, there is little meaning in what the reconstruction department in Naraha does, said one town hall official who requested anonymity. “I don’t know why (Abe) came,” he said.

Back at his Buddhist temple, part of which he has turned into an office for his anti-nuclear campaign, Hayakawa called the idea that Naraha could be a model of reconstruction “a big fat lie.”

“There’s no reconstructing and no returning to how it used to be before (March 11). The government knows this, too. A ‘model case’? That’s just words.” ”

Reuters

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Nuclear evacuees will be allowed to stay overnight in Fukushima town — The Japan Times

” In a preparatory step toward allowing them to return permanently, the central government will allow nuclear evacuees from Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture, to stay overnight in their homes on a temporary basis for a three-month period starting Aug. 31, officials said.

The plan was presented at a meeting of town assembly members on Monday.

The government will allow 1,192 people from 555 households to temporarily return to the town’s Yamakiya district, which falls in the band measuring 30 to 40 km from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Of 11 administrative regions in the district, one is currently designated as a residence-restricted area with access allowed for temporary visits only, while the remaining 10 are designated as areas preparing for the lifting of the government’s evacuation order.

It is the first time that people will be allowed to stay overnight in a residence-restricted area, while it is the fourth case in which overnight stays will be allowed in an evacuation zone. Similar measures have been taken for evacuees from Miyakoji district in Tamura, the village of Kawachi and the town of Naraha.

The government will formally adopt the plan after hearing opinions from the town assembly. Whether to lift the evacuation order will be decided in November, following the three-month period.

The town is currently aiming to have the evacuation order lifted in spring 2016.

A government official told the town assembly that the average radiation level in residential areas has dropped by half from the 1.04 microsieverts per hour recorded before decontamination work was started.

In seeking local support for the plan, the official stressed that utilities such as gas and electricity have been largely restored.

The government guidelines for the prefecture’s reconstruction revised in June call for lifting the residence-restricted designation and designation of areas targeted for early lifting of evacuation advisory. ”

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Tokyo under fire for plans to speed return of Fukushima evacuees — Deutsche Welle

” In a bid seen by critics as aiming to speed up reconstruction, the Japanese government is preparing to declare sections of the evacuation zone around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant a safe place to live. The ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intends to revoke many evacuation orders by March 2017, if decontamination progresses as hoped, meaning that up to 55,000 evacuees could return to the homes they abandoned more than four years ago.

Moreover, Tokyo recently announced that the 7,000 residents of Nahara, a town in one of the seven Fukushima municipalities completely evacuated following the nuclear crisis, will be able to return home permanently from September 5. How many residents of the settlement, which lies just 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the plant, will return, however, remains unclear as many still have mixed feelings, according to a recent poll.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, causing massive devastation and ultimately sending three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into meltdown. It was the worst atomic accident in a generation. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee amid fears of rising radiation, with more than 72,500 people – who used to live within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant – still living in temporary housing units.

Massive clean-up operation

In the meantime, government-run decontamination efforts are underway in 11 cities, with at least 20,000 people involved in the clean-up, according to the environment ministry. In the mammoth task, workers try to remove tons of contaminated surface soil, plants and leaves, placing them in bags or in one of the nearly 800 temporary outdoor storage facilities that have been set up across the disaster zone.

The operation also includes parts of the district of Iitate, which covers more than 200 square kilometers, and was one of the most contaminated areas following the March 2011 disaster. Since 2014, tens of thousands of workers have been attempting to reduce radiation levels in some parts of Fukushima prefecture, including in Iitate.

Mounting concerns

But while organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) say such efforts have contributed to reducing radiation levels, many problems remain, especially when one considers the disposal of contaminated water in the plant and the fact that anyone living in the surrounding areas would be exposed to radiation levels of more than 20 millisieverts (mSv) a year.

The globally-accepted limit for radiation absorption is 1mSv per year, although the IAEA says anything up to 20mSv per year poses no immediate danger to human health. However, various studies have shown health impacts from exposure to lower levels. Moreover, critics argue that only residential areas are being cleaned in the short-term, and the worst-hit parts of the countryside are being omitted or are impossible to be decontaminated, like dense forests and mountains.

This development has raised concerns among environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace, who fear that radioactive contamination in Iitate district is so widespread and at such a high level that it will be “impossible for people to safely return to their homes.”

‘A vast stock of radioactivity’

“Prime Minister Abe would like the people of Japan to believe that they are decontaminating vast areas of Fukushima to levels safe enough for people to live in. The reality is that this is a policy doomed to failure. The forests of Iitate are a vast stock of radioactivity that will remain both a direct hazard and source of potential recontamination for hundreds of years. It is impossible to decontaminate,” said Jan Vande Putte, a radiation specialist with Greenpeace Belgium.

Based on its own investigation, Greenpeace claims that even after decontamination, radiation dose rates were measured higher than 2 micro Sv/h on decontaminated fields, the equivalent of an annual dose higher than 10mSv/year or ten times the maximum allowed dose to the general public.

“In the untouched and heavily contaminated forests, radiation dose rates are typically in the range of 1-3uSv/h – high levels that will remain for many years to come, said Greenpeace, adding that the only forest decontamination underway in Iitate is along public roads, where thousands of workers are removing contaminated soil and plants along a 10-20 meter strip.

Mamoru Sekiguchi, the group’s energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, put the situation into a broader perspective, arguing that even after nearly thirty years, the 30-kilometer area around he crippled Chernobyl plant in Ukraine remains an exclusion zone.

“It’s a shocking indictment of both the IAEA and the Abe government, which reveals how desperate they are to create the illusion that returning to ‘normal’ is possible after a severe nuclear accident. Their position is indefensible and plans for a de facto forced return must be stopped,” Sekiguchi said.

‘Helplessly inefficient’

Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based independent international energy and nuclear policy consultant, told DW that if the remaining dose levels were indeed between 1 and 3mSv per hour on average this would exceed the 1mSv limit applied in most of the countries. “As there is no threshold, meaning there is no safe level of exposure, the health risk to people would be significantly increased.”

The nuclear expert also slammed much of Japan’s decontamination activities, referring to them as “helplessly inefficient.” To explain his view, he said that while high pressure water would be applied to cleaning surfaces like parking lots, for instance, the used water wouldn’t be recovered, thus pushing contamination from one spot to the next.

In addition, Schneider pointed out that contamination levels were not static. “The mountains and forests that cannot even be vaguely decontaminated, will serve as a permanent source of new contamination, each rainfall washing out radiation and bringing it down from the mountains to the flat lands.”

No compensation?

Campaigners also claim the government’s plans mean that some people will have no choice but to go back to their abandoned homes given that they will trigger the ending of some compensation payments. “Stripping nuclear victims of their already inadequate compensation, which may force them to have to return to unsafe, highly radioactive areas for financial reasons, amounts to economic coercion,” said Vande Putte.

A similar view is shared by Schneider: “The decontamination program and the government plan to ‘allow’ for the return of inhabitants do have a very simple goal: reduce the amount of compensation being paid out to victims,” said the expert.

Tokyo Electric has paid some $40 billion (36.78 billion euros) in compensation to residents and expects to pay billions more to decontaminate the area and decommission the wrecked power station, a project that could take an estimated three decades, according to Reuters news agency.

Under the existing compensation scheme, the utility pays each evacuee about $1,000 (921 euros) a month for emotional distress. The assistance is to be cut off a year after the government lifts an evacuation order, said Reuters, citing a Japanese government draft. ”

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