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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Fukushima evacuees made to feel small if they don’t return — The Asahi Shimbun

” KAWAUCHI, Fukushima Prefecture–In a rush of sorts, evacuation orders are being lifted from municipalities of this northeastern prefecture that were affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster.

The order was lifted for part of the village of Katsurao on June 12, followed by an area of Kawauchi village on June 14. It will be lifted for a section of Minami-Soma city on July 12.

The central government has decided to have all evacuation orders lifted by March next year, except for in “difficult-to-return” zones where radiation levels remain elevated.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, having toured Katsurao and Kawauchi on June 3, said, “I want to make sure that the livelihood of the communities, as well as family and community ties, is revived as soon as possible.”

Having covered news in Fukushima Prefecture for four years, I cannot believe that everything is so rosy simply because evacuation orders are being lifted.

It is certainly good news that disaster-affected areas are becoming freely accessible again, but I know that some residents are being left behind in the process.

Hiroshi Sekine, 88, and his wife, Makiko, 81, a couple I have known for three years, are from the Kainosaka district of Kawauchi, where the evacuation order has been lifted.

They moved there from the neighboring city of Iwaki in 1959, five years before the first Tokyo Summer Olympic Games.

Deep within the mountains far from the center of the village, the couple reclaimed wasteland and turned it into farmland. They raised four children.

The Sekines, who now live in a public housing unit for disaster survivors elsewhere in Kawauchi, said they are not returning home.

Before the nuclear disaster, Kainosaka, home to 13 households, functioned as a small “community” where people helped out each other.

After five years spent in evacuation, the couple no longer have the energy to restart life in their inconveniently situated home district.

Even if they returned, they would be unable to sustain their life because nobody else is going back to Kainosaka.

“The lifting of the evacuation order is about deregulation,” a central government official told the Sekines. “It is up to you to decide whether you are going back or not.”

Once the evacuation order is lifted, however, the couple’s status switches from “those being forced by the central government into evacuation” to “those choosing to remain in evacuation despite having the option of returning.”

This new status will oblige them to feel apologetic, wary of what others may think of them.

The lifting of evacuation orders scheduled through next spring will allow around 46,000 people to return to their homes.

But many communities, like the Kainosaka district, will never be like what they were before.

How can we prevent people like the Sekines from being made to feel small because the evacuation order has been lifted? That is a complicated question about moral dignity, which cannot be solved with cash.

The Law on Special Measures for the Reconstruction and Revitalization of Fukushima was enacted a year after the onset of the nuclear disaster.

The law designates only “people who have been evacuated from zones under evacuation orders” and “people who have moved back to zones where evacuation orders have been lifted” as those entitled to coverage under the central government’s measures for “ensuring stability.”

When the law was enacted, nobody expected the cleanup of radioactive substances to take so long that it would delay the lifting of the evacuation orders, and that so many residents would choose not to return home after the orders are lifted, a central government official said.

The Sekines will be obliged to continue to live a life different from the one they had before the disaster.

I think people like the Sekines should be given the clearly defined status of “evacuees” by, for example, legally guaranteeing them the right to remain in evacuation. ”

by Susumu Okamoto

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Japan minister rejects calls to quit after Fukushima comment — Bloomberg Business

” Japan’s environment minister, Tamayo Marukawa, has brushed aside calls from opposition lawmakers to resign from her ministerial post after saying the government’s radiation decontamination target for the area around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant had no grounding in scientific evidence.

The controversy stems from comments made by Marukawa, a surprise cabinet pick by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the run-up to last year’s climate talks in Paris, during a Feb. 7 speech in Nagano prefecture.

According to a report from the Shinano Mainichi, a regional newspaper, Marukawa questioned the basis of the government’s long-term goal for reducing additional radiation levels near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to an annual dose of 1 millisievert or less. Some areas near the Fukushima plant exceed an annual dose of 20 millisieverts, according to the latest data compiled by the Environment Ministry.

Despite apologizing and withdrawing the comments, Abe’s opponents in parliament this week demanded that Marukawa, 45, a former television news anchor turned upper house lawmaker, resign from cabinet.

The incident and the minister’s vague stance on whether Japan should approve any new coal-power plants have given Abe’s foes and environmentalists leverage to question her suitability to the environment post. The focus on Marukawa also underscores the challenge she faces in implementing tough rules to combat climate change, while appeasing industries depending on carbon-emitting energy sources.

“I am very disappointed as I had high expectations when we had a new minister before the climate change talks,” Hisayo Takada, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Japan, said by phone Tuesday. “The environment ministry obviously has to work on decontamination and bring the level back to 1 millisievert. Her remarks were unacceptable.”

The International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends a maximum dose of 1 millisievert of additional radiation per year for the general public, and 20 for nuclear workers. While the ICRP views any additional radiation increasing chances of developing cancer, prolonged exposure of 100 millisieverts or more leads to a significant risk of cancer.

The millisievert is a measure of the absorption of radiation by the human body.

Fresh Opportunity

The minister addressed the controversy during a news conference on Feb. 12.

“I would like to offer my sincere apology, especially to the victims of earthquakes, if my comments caused misunderstanding that I don’t take the long-term decontamination target seriously,” she said.

Abe’s appointment of Marukawa, part of a broader push to include more women in senior government positions, was part of a cabinet reorganization in October aimed at reviving the world’s third-largest economy.

Her selection was also seen as presenting Japan with a fresh opportunity to beef up the nation’s environmental credibility in the face of growing criticism that the world’s fifth-largest emitting country isn’t doing enough to combat climate change. Just 44 at the time of her appointment, Marukawa was markedly younger than her predecessor, Yoshio Mochizuki, 68.

“When she took office, her ministry was doing its own projects on smart energy systems and had been increasingly aggressive on coal,” Andrew DeWit, a political economy professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, said by e-mail.

During Marukawa’s speech at the COP21 climate talks in December, she said Japan would establish global warming measures based on any agreement that came out of Paris. She also reiterated Japan’s pledge to cut emissions by 26 percent by 2030 from 2013 levels.

While Marukawa proposed a policy earlier this month that would place greater scrutiny on emissions from the nation’s electricity producers, she’s drawn fire for her unclear stance on new coal-fired power plants. Despite saying late last year that she opposed new coal plants, Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported earlier this month that she would approve four new projects. When pressed at a news conference earlier this month, she stopped short of saying whether she would approve new projects.

Coal Plants

The matter is of urgent interest to Japan’s utilities, which are facing the prospect of increasing competition once the retail electricity market is fully liberalized in April. Coal is the cheapest fuel for thermal power generation.

“Japan is going in a direction that ignores all the measures that need to be beefed up after COP,” Mika Ohbayashi, director at the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, said by phone. “She gave into industry pressures as the power companies prepare for liberalization” because some plants want to use cheap coal as fuel.

In 2012, the environment ministry adopted the 1 millisievert exposure benchmark in the area surrounding the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 1 reactor in accordance with recommendations from the ICRP and the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan.

Japan evacuated 12 towns following the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. Citizens were allowed to return to the town of Hirono six months after the disaster. Evacuation orders weren’t lifted for parts of Tamura and Kawauchi until 2014, and the entirety of Naraha until September.

Clean-up efforts at Fukushima are also ongoing. The prime minister promised in 2013 that the government would take the lead in resolving ongoing water management issues at the Fukushima site ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Two years later, hundreds of tons of water continue to pour into the reactor buildings, while tainted water at other parts of the site are still overflowing into the ocean.

Cabinet Performance

Marukawa’s radiation comments are the latest gaffe to hit Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party in recent weeks. LDP lawmaker Kensuke Miyazaki offered his resignation last week following reports of an extramarital affair. Akira Amari stepped down as economy minister last month over allegations of financial impropriety.

Akira Nagatsuma, member of the opposition’s Democratic Party of Japan and former minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, said on Monday in parliament that Marukawa was unfit to be a minister. Akihiro Hatsushika, a member of the Japan Innovation Party, called for Marukawa to resign on Monday.

“Marukawa’s performance so far suggests she either doesn’t understand her portfolio or simply hasn’t much interest in it,” Rikkyo University’s DeWit said. “But I think she will indeed continue, as the Abe regime can hardly afford to have yet another ministerial resignation while its name-brand growth policy goes south.” ”

by Stephen Stapczynski and Chisaki Watanabe

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Researchers trying to unravel spread of cesium and its impact on ecosystem after Fukushima disaster — The Asahi Shimbun

” More than 90 percent of the fir trees in forests close to the site of Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster are showing signs of abnormality, and plant lice specimens collected in a town more than 30 kilometers from the crippled facility are missing legs or crooked.

But it remains unclear whether the mutations in plants and animals are definitively connected to the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

All that scientists in Japan are prepared to say is they are trying to figure out the effects of radioactive cesium caused by the release of huge amounts of radioactive materials from the triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Scientists are seeking answers to how radioactive cesium spread in forests and the soil after the accident, along with signs of mutation in plants and animals in areas close to the stricken nuclear plant.

Understanding how cesium and other radioactive particles spread after the disaster is key to putting the consequences of the nation’s worst nuclear accident into perspective.

The research has major ramifications in terms of what authorities and residents living near a nuclear power plant can expect if a similar accident occurs again. It also offers valuable insight for evacuees weighing their options about rebuilding their lives near the stricken plant.

Among radioactive substances, cesium-137 is of primary concern as it has a half-life of 30 or so years. As forests were excluded from decontamination work, an undetermined amount of cesium is bound to remain in forests and lie buried in the ground for many years to come.

Mountainous forests cover 70 percent of the Fukushima Prefecture’s land space.

The government-affiliated Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) is among research organizations studying the effects of radioactivity and the way cesium spreads in forested areas.

During a recent field trip in Kawauchi, radiation levels in the air showed 1.2 to 1.3 microsieverts per hour at a survey point.

Cesium in the soil registered between 300,000 and 400,000 becquerels of radioactivity per square meter.

The survey point used to be in a “No Entry Zone,” a designation covering a 20-km radius from the plant, which was evacuated soon after the nuclear accident triggered by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and the towering tsunami it generated.

Now the survey site is designated as a “zone in preparation for the lifting of the evacuation order” in line with a government reassessment of the situation facing affected communities.

Rotting twigs and branches, along with leaf cover, blanket the steep slopes of the cedar forest. During the survey, researchers marked a 66-square-meter rectangular tract as a benchmark and collected rainwater and fallen leaves from the plot.

They also measured the radioactivity of rainwater. The researchers did this by wrapping tree trunks with a cover and collecting rainwater flowing down on to it.

Before the Fukushima disaster, the only data available to JAEA researchers on the long-term transfer of cesium in the soil was limited to work done in laboratories.

“We had to fumble our way to find out in what form cesium existed in the forest and housing areas after it was dispersed from the nuclear plant,” said Kazuki Iijima, who is attached to the agency’s Fukushima Environmental Safety Center.

Scientists had to gingerly examine a proposed method to decontaminate residential areas before cleanup operations got under way.

Cesium in leaves finds its way into the soil through defoliation, according to researchers.

In the case of cedar trees, for example, leaves are replaced every three to four years.

Fallen cedar leaves from the time of the nuclear accident were riddled with cesium, which then seeped into the soil. Each new bed of fallen leaves creates more weight on the topsoil and pushes the cesium down further.

This way, radiation levels in the air in the affected area drop faster than the natural decay of cesium over time.

Researchers’ past studies of the forest showed that only 0.1 percent of the total amount of cesium in the surveyed sites spread from the area over a one-year period.

“Most of it remains on the topsoil up to 5 to 10 centimeters from the surface,” Iijima said.

Because cesium attaches itself to dirt and dissolves in water, it is easily spread. It is also deposited in riverbeds and at the bottom of lakes.

At the Ogaki dam, almost 20 km northwest of the nuclear plant, researchers took cesium measurements of 800,000 becquerels per kilogram at a site 20 cm below the lake bed close to where the Ukedogawa river empties out.

But a reading close to the surface of the lake bed showed below 200,000 becquerels.

The difference, researchers say, is easy to explain: Dirt containing high levels of cesium flowed into the dam in the immediate aftermath of the accident, while dirt with lower radiation levels accumulated on top of it.

Researchers are still trying to figure out whether the release of radioactive materials affected the growth of plants and animals.

Scientists have reported on mutations and abnormalities among species varying from fir trees and plant lice to Japanese monkeys, carp and frogs.

The National Institute of Radiological Sciences (NIRS), a government-affiliated entity, said in late August that the trunks of fir trees are not growing vertically.

Fir trees are among the 44 species that the Environment Ministry asked the NIRS and other research organizations to study in trying to determine the effects of radiation on living creatures.

The NIRS reported that the frequency of these mutations corresponds to a rise in natural background radiation.

More than 90 percent of fir trees in the town of Okuma, just 3.5 kilometers from the crippled plant, showed signs of abnormal growth.

“We need to figure out cumulative radiation doses in fir trees when doing additional research,” said an NIRS researcher.

Among other changes reported: the legs of plant lice collected in Kawamata, a town more than 30 km from the plant, were found to be missing or crooked and the white blood cell count of Japanese monkeys was lower in Fukushima, the prefectural capital, which is about 60 km from the plant.

Other studies by scientists who research living creatures in their field work monitored earthworms, carp, frogs, flies and gold beetles.

After the nuclear disaster, the researchers began looking at problems from a new perspective: flora and fauna affected by radiation.

Manabu Fukumoto, a professor of pathology at Tohoku University’s Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, cautioned not to jump to conclusions that nuclear fallout is the culprit behind all these findings.

“We cannot conclude definitively that they have been caused by radiation until (reliable estimates for) cumulative doses are calculated,” said Fukumoto, who also serves as the chief of the Japanese Radiation Research Society.

But assessing the effect on animals in the wild is proving a challenge for scientists.

Before the Fukushima disaster, most experiments designed to evaluate the impact of radiation on animals had been conducted in laboratories.

In these experiments, animals were exposed to varying intensities of radiation under the supervision of researchers.

In the natural environment, however, estimating their external exposure is difficult as creatures roam rather than stay in one spot.

In addition, doses of their internal exposure can vary significantly, depending on what they preyed on when and how much.

There is also a possibility that some animals, even if they exhibited signs of radiation’s effect, may no longer be alive for analysis. They may have been killed by their natural enemies.

In addition, scientists cannot rule out factors such as fluctuations in temperature, the presence of farm chemicals and heavy-metal contamination behind the abnormalities.

Experts say they need to produce similar results in lab tests based on their monitoring.

“We need to continue to monitor the environment for at least five or six more years,” Fukumoto said. “And at the same time, we should start analyzing the reported phenomena.” ”

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Fukushima evacuees begin three-month stays in their homes ahead of final return – The Japan Times

” FUKUSHIMA – Evacuees from three municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture are being allowed to return home for long-term stays before the central government formally lifts the evacuation order for those areas.

The government says it made the move, which took effect Monday, because radiation levels have dropped sufficiently in Minamisoma, Kawamata and Katsurao since the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The government will decide by November whether to lift the evacuation order after hearing from the evacuees.

The long-term stays are allowed for 14,255 people in 4,647 households, the largest number in the long-stay program so far.

Some areas will remain no-go zones because radiation levels remain high.

As of Monday, 1,308 people in 478 households, some 10 percent of the total, had reported to the government that they would start the long-term stays in their homes.

Decontamination work in residential areas in Kawamata and Katsurao was completed in summer last year, halving the average radiation level in the air to 0.5 microsievert per hour.

In Minamisoma, only 26 percent of decontamination work had been finished by the end of July, but natural falls in radiation levels were taken into consideration.

Dosimeters will be given to each household, while consultants will be dispatched to check the health status of residents. Minamisoma has set next April as its target date for the lifting of the evacuation order, while Katsurao and Kawamata are being less exact and have set the target for next spring.

Long-term stays have already been conducted in Tamura and part of Kawauchi, where evacuation orders have been removed, and in Naraha, where it is slated to be lifted on Wednesday. ”

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Fukushima youths ready to desert irradiated hometowns, survey finds — The Japan Times

” FUKUSHIMA – In 30 to 40 years from now, a majority of the young people living in 12 radiation-contaminated municipalities in Fukushima do not plan to be living in the same place where they experienced the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, it has been learned.

A survey by a panel from the Reconstruction Agency found that more than 50 percent of those respondents between the ages of 10 and 29 stopped short of choosing their prefectural hometowns as the place where they want to be living three or four decades from now.

The 12 municipalities were tainted by fallout from the triple core meltdown that crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s poorly protected Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station in March 2011 — a man-made disaster triggered by the quake and tsunami.

Many of the locales are partially or entirely within the evacuation zone designated around the power plant.

Based on the survey results, the panel plans to draw up proposals on the future of the 12 municipalities as early as this summer, informed sources said.

The survey, conducted in February and March, covered members of some 13,000 households randomly selected from the 77,600 still remaining in the 12 municipalities. Valid answers were only obtained from about 5,100 of the households.

The survey said the proportion of respondents willing to stay in the municipalities where they were residing at the time of the disaster topped 60 percent among those in their 30s or above. For those between 10 and 29, including elementary and junior high school students, the share dropped below 50 percent.

While a majority of those between their 30s and 60s expressed hope of working in their hometowns in the future, the ratio was less than 40 percent for younger people.

“The results are very shocking,” said Satoshi Endo, mayor of the town of Hirono, adding that the town, one of the 12 municipalities listed, needs to create a future vision that appeals to children.

About 60 percent of those who evacuated Hirono have not yet returned.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government will present a clear vision so young people can have hope about their hometowns, a senior official said.

The Reconstruction Agency established the panel last December to discuss the future of the 12 evacuated municipalities.

The proposals will be reflected in the agency’s budget request for fiscal 2016.

The remaining 11 municipalities were the cities of Tamura and Minamisoma, the towns of Kawamata, Naraha, Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba and Namie, and the villages of Kawauchi, Katsurao and Iitate. ”

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