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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Six years after Fukushima, much of Japan has lost faith in nuclear power — The Conversation

” Six years have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011, but Japan is still dealing with its impacts. Decommissioning the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant poses unprecedented technical challenges. More than 100,000 people were evacuated but only about 13 percent have returned home, although the government has announced that it is safe to return to some evacuation zones.

In late 2016 the government estimated total costs from the nuclear accident at about 22 trillion yen, or about US$188 billion – approximately twice as high as its previous estimate. The government is developing a plan under which consumers and citizens will bear some of those costs through higher electric rates, taxes or both.

The Japanese public has lost faith in nuclear safety regulation, and a majority favors phasing out nuclear power. However, Japan’s current energy policy assumes nuclear power will play a role. To move forward, Japan needs to find a new way of making decisions about its energy future.

Uncertainty over nuclear power

When the earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011, Japan had 54 operating nuclear reactors which produced about one-third of its electricity supply. After the meltdowns at Fukushima, Japanese utilities shut down their 50 intact reactors one by one. In 2012 then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government announced that it would try to phase out all nuclear power by 2040, after existing plants reached the end of their 40-year licensed operating lives.

Now, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office at the end of 2012, says that Japan “cannot do without” nuclear power. Three reactors have started back up under new standards issued by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was created in 2012 to regulate nuclear safety. One was shut down again due to legal challenges by citizens groups. Another 21 restart applications are under review.

In April 2014 the government released its first post-Fukushima strategic energy plan, which called for keeping some nuclear plants as baseload power sources – stations that run consistently around the clock. The plan did not rule out building new nuclear plants. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is responsible for national energy policy, published a long-term plan in 2015 which suggested that nuclear power should produce 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s electricity by 2030.

Meanwhile, thanks mainly to strong energy conservation efforts and increased energy efficiency, total electricity demand has been falling since 2011. There has been no power shortage even without nuclear power plants. The price of electricity rose by more than 20 percent in 2012 and 2013, but then stabilized and even declined slightly as consumers reduced fossil fuel use.

Japan’s Basic Energy Law requires the government to release a strategic energy plan every three years, so debate over the new plan is expected to start sometime this year.

Public mistrust

The most serious challenge that policymakers and the nuclear industry face in Japan is a loss of public trust, which remains low six years after the meltdowns. In a 2015 poll by the pro-nuclear Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization, 47.9 percent of respondents said that nuclear energy should be abolished gradually and 14.8 percent said that it should be abolished immediately. Only 10.1 percent said that the use of nuclear energy should be maintained, and a mere 1.7 percent said that it should be increased.

Another survey by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun in 2016 was even more negative. Fifty-seven percent of the public opposed restarting existing nuclear power plants even if they satisfied new regulatory standards, and 73 percent supported a phaseout of nuclear power, with 14 percent advocating an immediate shutdown of all nuclear plants.

Who should pay to clean up Fukushima?

METI’s 22 trillion yen estimate for total damages from the Fukushima meltdowns is equivalent to about one-fifth of Japan’s annual general accounting budget. About 40 percent of this sum will cover decommissioning the crippled nuclear reactors. Compensation expenses account for another 40 percent, and the remainder will pay for decontaminating affected areas for residents.

Under a special financing scheme enacted after the Fukushima disaster, Tepco, the utility responsible for the accident, is expected to pay cleanup costs, aided by favorable government-backed financing. However, with cost estimates rising, the government has proposed to have Tepco bear roughly 70 percent of the cost, with other electricity companies contributing about 20 percent and the government – that is, taxpayers – paying about 10 percent.

This decision has generated criticism both from experts and consumers. In a December 2016 poll by the business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, one-third of respondents (the largest group) said that Tepco should bear all costs and no additional charges should be added to electricity rates. Without greater transparency and accountability, the government will have trouble convincing the public to share in cleanup costs.

Other nuclear burdens: Spent fuel and separated plutonium

Japanese nuclear operators and governments also must find safe and secure ways to manage growing stockpiles of irradiated nuclear fuel and weapon-usable separated plutonium.

At the end of 2016 Japan had 14,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at nuclear power plants, filling about 70 percent of its onsite storage capacity. Government policy calls for reprocessing spent fuel to recover its plutonium and uranium content. But the fuel storage pool at Rokkasho, Japan’s only commercial reprocessing plant, is nearly full, and a planned interim storage facility at Mutsu has not started up yet.

The best option would be to move spent fuel to dry cask storage, which withstood the earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Dry cask storage is widely used in many countries, but Japan currently has it at only a few nuclear sites. In my view, increasing this capacity and finding a candidate site for final disposal of spent fuel are urgent priorities.

Japan also has nearly 48 tons of separated plutonium, of which 10.8 tons are stored in Japan and 37.1 tons are in France and the United Kingdom. Just one ton of separated plutonium is enough material to make more than 120 crude nuclear weapons.

Many countries have expressed concerns about Japan’s plans to store plutonium and use it in nuclear fuel. Some, such as China, worry that Japan could use the material to quickly produce nuclear weapons.

Now, when Japan has only two reactors operating and its future nuclear capacity is uncertain, there is less rationale than ever to continue separating plutonium. Maintaining this policy could increase security concerns and regional tensions, and might spur a “plutonium race” in the region.

As a close observer of Japanese nuclear policy decisions from both inside and outside of the government, I know that change in this sector does not happen quickly. But in my view, the Abe government should consider fundamental shifts in nuclear energy policy to recover public trust. Staying on the current path may undermine Japan’s economic and political security. The top priority should be to initiate a national debate and a comprehensive assessment of Japan’s nuclear policy. ”

by The Conversation

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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

source with internal links

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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Only 13% of evacuees in 5 Fukushima municipalities have returned home as of January 2017 — The Mainichi

” FUKUSHIMA (Kyodo) — Only 13 percent of the evacuees from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in five municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture have returned home after evacuation orders were lifted, local authorities said Saturday.

Some residents who used to live in the cities of Tamura and Minamisoma, villages of Kawauchi and Katsurao, and the town of Naraha may be reluctant to return to their homes due to fear of exposing children to radiation, the authorities said.

The evacuation orders to residents in those municipalities were lifted partly or entirely from April 2014 through July 2016. As of January, about 2,500 people out of a combined population of around 19,460 registered as residents of those areas were living there.

Evacuation orders for four more towns and villages in Fukushima Prefecture are scheduled to be lifted this spring, but it is uncertain how many residents will return to those areas as well.

In the prefecture, eight municipalities are still subject to evacuation orders around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant due to high radiation levels. Three nuclear reactors at the plant melted down and the structures housing them were severely damaged by hydrogen gas explosions days after a massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11, 2011 knocked out electric power needed to run critical reactor cooling equipment. ”

by The Mainichi

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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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