New proposal suggests removing Fukushima plant’s melted nuclear fuel from side — The Mainichi

” A method to remove melted nuclear fuel debris on the bottom of the containment vessels of Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant’s first, second and third reactors from the side was proposed by the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation (NDF) on July 31.

Hajimu Yamana, head of the NDF, which is tasked with considering how to remove fuel debris from the reactors, for the first time explained the organization’s specific method proposal to the heads of local governments at a countermeasures for the decommissioning and handling of the contaminated water council meeting held in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.

The method would focus on prioritizing the removal of debris from the bottom of the vessels from the side, using robotic arms and other remote devices while flushing water over the debris. However, ways to block radiation and countermeasures against the scattering of airborne radioactive dust still remain unsolved. The central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) plan to finalize their policy to remove the debris and amend the decommission schedule in September.

In all three of the reactors, contaminated water has collected at the bottom of the containment vessels. The NDF had previously considered a “flooding method” that would fill the containment vessels completely with water to block radiation from leaking. However, measures to repair the containment vessels and prevent leakage of the radioactive water would be difficult, so the plan was put aside for having “too many issues.” “

by The Mainichi

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Radioactive hot particles still afloat throughout Japan six years after Fukushima meltdowns — BuzzFlash

” Radioactive particles of uranium, thorium, radium, cesium, strontium, polonium, tellurium and americium are still afloat throughout Northern Japan more than six years after a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant causing three full-blown nuclear meltdowns. That was the conclusion reached by two of the world’s leading radiation experts after conducting an extensive five-year monitoring project.

Arnie Gundersen and Marco Kaltofen authored the peer reviewed study titled, Radioactively-hot particles detected in dusts and soils from Northern Japan by combination of gamma spectrometry, autoradiography, and SEM/EDS analysis and implications in radiation risk assessment, published July 27, 2017, in Science of the Total Environment (STOLEN).

Gundersen represents Fairewinds Associates and is a nuclear engineer, former power plant operator and industry executive, turned whistleblower, and was CNN’s play-by-play on-air expert during the 2011 meltdowns. Kaltofen, of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), is a licensed civil engineer and is renowned as a leading experts on radioactive contamination in the environment.

415 samples of “dust and surface soil” were “analyzed sequentially by gamma spectrometry, autoradiography, and scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray analysis” between 2011 and 2016. 180 of the samples came from Japan while another 235 were taken from the United States and Canada. The study further clarifies, “Of these 180 Japanese particulate matter samples, 57 were automobile or home air filters, 59 were surface dust samples, 29 were street dusts (accumulated surface soils and dusts) and 33 were vacuum cleaner bag or other dust samples.”

108 of the Japanese samples were taken in 2016, while the other 72 were gathered in 2011 after the meltdowns. Gundersen and Kaltofen tapped 15 volunteer scientists to help collect the dust and soil — mostly from Fukushima Prefecture and Minamisoma City. “A majority of these samples were collected from locations in decontaminated zones cleared for habitation by the National Government of Japan,” the study revealed. For the 108 samples taken in 2016, an “International Medcom Inspector Alert surface contamination monitor (radiation survey meter) was used to identify samples from within low lying areas and on contaminated outdoor surfaces.”

Fairewinds Associates’ video from 2012 features Gundersen collecting five samples of surface soil from random places throughout Tokyo — places including a sidewalk crack, a rooftop garden, and a previously decontaminated children’s playground. The samples were bagged, declared through Customs, and brought back to the U.S. for testing. All five samples were so radioactive that according to Gundersen, they “qualified as radioactive waste here in the United States and would have to be sent to Texas to be disposed of.” Those five examples were not included as part of the recently released study, but Gundersen went back to Tokyo for samples in 2016. Those samples were included, and were radioactive, and according to Gundersen were “similar to what I found in Tokyo in [2012].”

Furthermore, 142 of the 180 samples (about 80 percent) contained cesium 134 and cesium 137. Cesium 134 and 137, two of the most widespread byproducts of the nuclear fission process from uranium-fueled reactors, are released in large quantities in nuclear accidents. Cesium emits intense beta radiation as it decays away to other isotopes, and is very dangerous if ingested or inhaled. On a mildly positive note, the study shows that only four of the 235 dust samples tested in the United States and Canada had detectable levels of cesium from Fukushima.

Cesium, due to its molecular structure, mimics potassium once inside the body, and is often transported to the heart where it can become lodged, thereafter mutating and burning heart tissue which can lead to cardiovascular disease. Other isotopes imitate nutritive substances once inside the body as well. Strontium 90 for example mimics calcium, and is absorbed by bones and teeth.

“Different parts of the human body (nerves, bones, stomach, lung) are impacted differently,” Kaltofen told EnviroNews in an email. “Different cells have radio-sensitivities that vary over many orders of magnitude. The body reacts differently to the same dose received over a short time or a long time; the same as acute or chronic doses in chemical toxicity.”

In contrast to external X-rays, gamma, beta or alpha rays, hot particles are small mobile pieces of radioactive elements that can be breathed in, drunk or eaten in food. The fragments can then become lodged in bodily tissue where they will emanate high-intensity ionizing radiation for months or years, damaging and twisting cells, potentially causing myriad diseases and cancer. The study points out, “Contaminated environmental dusts can accumulate in indoor spaces, potentially causing radiation exposures to humans via inhalation, dermal contact, and ingestion.”

The study also explains, “Given the wide variability in hot particle sizes, activities, and occurrence; some individuals may experience a hot particle dose that is higher or lower than the dose calculated by using averaged environmental data.” For example, a person living in a contaminated area might use a leaf blower or sweep a floor containing a hefty amount of hot particle-laden dust and receive a large does in a short time, whereas other people in the same area, exposed to the same background radiation and environmental averages, may not take as heavy a hit as the housekeeper that sweeps floors for a living. People exposed to more dust on the job, or who simply have bad luck and haphazardly breathe in hot radioactive dust, are at an increased risk for cancer and disease. High winds can also randomly pick up radioactive surface soil, rendering it airborne and endangering any unsuspecting subject unlucky enough to breath it in.

Hot particles, or “internal particle emitters” as they are sometimes called, also carry unique epidemiological risks as compared to a chest X-ray by contrast. The dangers from radiation are calculated by the dose a subject receives, but the manner in which that dose is received can also play a critical factor in the amount of damage to a person’s health.

“Comparing external radiation to hot particles inside the body is an inappropriate analogy,” Gundersen toldEnviroNewsin an email. “Hot particles deliver a lot of energy to a very localized group of cells that surround them and can therefore cause significant localized cell damage. External radiation is diffuse. For example, the weight from a stiletto high heal shoe is the same as the weight while wearing loafers, but the high heal is damaging because its force is localized.”

Kaltofen elaborated with an analogy of his own in a followup email with EnviroNews saying:

Dose is the amount of energy in joules absorbed by tissue. Imagine Fred with a one joule gamma dose to the whole body from living in a dentist’s office over a lifetime, versus Rhonda with exactly the same dose as alpha absorbed by the lung from a hot particle. Standard health physics theory says that Fred will almost certainly be fine, but Rhonda has about a 10 percent chance of dying from lung cancer — even though the doses are the same.

External radiation and internal hot particles both follow exactly the same health physics rules, even though they cause different kinds of biological damage. Our data simply shows that you can’t understand radiation risk without measuring both.

Some isotopes, like plutonium, only pose danger to an organism inside the body. As an alpha emitter, plutonium’s rays are blocked by the skin and not strong enough to penetrate deep into bodily tissue. However, when inhaled or ingested, plutonium’s ionizing alpha rays twist and shred cells, making it one of the most carcinogenic and mutagenic substances on the planet.

“Measuring radioactive dust exposures can be like sitting by a fireplace,” Dr. Kaltofen explained in a press release. “Near the fire you get a little warm, but once in a while the fire throws off a spark that can actually burn you.”

“We weren’t trying to see just somebody’s theoretical average result,” Kaltofen continued in the press release. “We looked at how people actually encounter radioactive dust in their real lives. [By] combining microanalytical methods with traditional health physics models… we found that some people were breathing or ingesting enough radioactive dust to have a real increase in their risk of suffering a future health problem. This was especially true of children and younger people, who inhale or ingest proportionately more dust than adults.”

“Individuals in the contaminated zone, and potentially well outside of the mapped contaminated zone, may receive a dose that is higher than the mean dose calculated from average environmental data, due to inhalation or ingestion of radioactively-hot dust and soil particles,” the study says in summation. “Accurate radiation risk assessments therefore require data for hot particle exposure as well as for exposure to more uniform environmental radioactivity levels.” ”

source with video by Arnie Gundersen

Increases in perinatal mortality in prefectures contaminated by the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in Japan — U.S. National Library of Medicine

This is a spatially stratified longitudinal study.

” Abstract

Descriptive observational studies showed upward jumps in secular European perinatal mortality trends after Chernobyl. The question arises whether the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident entailed similar phenomena in Japan. For 47 prefectures representing 15.2 million births from 2001 to 2014, the Japanese government provides monthly statistics on 69,171 cases of perinatal death of the fetus or the newborn after 22 weeks of pregnancy to 7 days after birth. Employing change-point methodology for detecting alterations in longitudinal data, we analyzed time trends in perinatal mortality in the Japanese prefectures stratified by exposure to estimate and test potential increases in perinatal death proportions after Fukushima possibly associated with the earthquake, the tsunami, or the estimated radiation exposure. Areas with moderate to high levels of radiation were compared with less exposed and unaffected areas, as were highly contaminated areas hit versus untroubled by the earthquake and the tsunami. Ten months after the earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear accident, perinatal mortality in 6 severely contaminated prefectures jumped up from January 2012 onward: jump odds ratio 1.156; 95% confidence interval (1.061, 1.259), P-value 0.0009. There were slight increases in areas with moderate levels of contamination and no increases in the rest of Japan. In severely contaminated areas, the increases of perinatal mortality 10 months after Fukushima were essentially independent of the numbers of dead and missing due to the earthquake and the tsunami. Perinatal mortality in areas contaminated with radioactive substances started to increase 10 months after the nuclear accident relative to the prevailing and stable secular downward trend. These results are consistent with findings in Europe after Chernobyl. Since observational studies as the one presented here may suggest but cannot prove causality because of unknown and uncontrolled factors or confounders, intensified research in various scientific disciplines is urgently needed to better qualify and quantify the association of natural and artificial environmental radiation with detrimental genetic health effects at the population level. ”

by Hagen Heinrich Scherb, Dr rer nat Dipl-Math, Kuniyoshi Mori, MD, and Keiji Hayashi, MD

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The Man who saved Japan, Masao Yoshida — Asia Times

” It was the proverbial 3 a.m. telephone call, three days into the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in March 2011.

Then Prime Minister Naoto Kan was snatching sleep on the couch in his office when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano woke him with the news that the utility in charge of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., was abandoning the stricken facility.

Fearful that this would entail a massive evacuation of northern Japan and possibly Tokyo, Kan’s instinctive first reaction was to call Masao Yoshida, the superintendent at the plant site about a three-hour drive northeast of the capital.

Yoshida assured him that the report was not true. “There are still some things that we can do,” he told the premier. This was as explosions blew out reactor buildings at the plant, crippled by an earthquake and tsunami, and as fears grew that reactors had started to melt down.

Two days earlier, Kan had flown to the plant by helicopter to inspect the accident site first hand. During a 20-minute meeting with Yoshida, he sized him up as a man he could trust in the crisis, especially as the prime minister rapidly lost faith in Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) executives.

Almost nobody associated with the Fukushima disaster came out of it looking good, not Kan, not the regulators (such as they were), and certainly not the executives at Tepco’s downtown headquarters.

The exception was Yoshida, often touted as the “hero” of the Fukushima disaster, although he was too modest to claim the title for himself.

Yoshida is the central figure in a new book on the nuclear meltdowns called Yoshida’s Dilemma, One Man’s Struggle to Avert a Nuclear Catastrophe by Rob Gilhooly, a Japan-based journalist and photographer.

Gilhooly’s book is the best and most comprehensive account of the nuclear disaster in English so far (a Japanese translation is under discussion). Much of the subject matter is technical, but the author is skillful enough to make it readable and accessible to the general reader.

In writing the book Gilhooly drew on interviews with officials at the nuclear plant, extensive visits to the Fukushima area and the plant site, as well as three comprehensive government and private investigations into the accident.

It is not clear from the book whether he interviewed Yoshida on-the-record. Yoshida was known to avoid the limelight and gave very few interviews. He’s not mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements.

Yoshida took early retirement in late 2011 after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He died in July, 2013. The illness is not thought to have been linked to radiation exposure.

Even former PM Kan lamented, “I wish I had had the chance to talk to him at length about the nuclear disaster.” It is rather astonishing that possibly the two key players in the nuclear tragedy never really compared notes.

Yoshida did give one rare interview to a counselor from Kyoto who had earned his gratitude by treating and counseling workers who faced social ostracism and other problems because they worked at Fukushima.

The only time during the interview that Yoshida showed much emotion was when he denied ordering any abandonment of the plant. That is a question that has lingered over the Fukushima story even after his death.

In 2014 the Asahi newspaper published and then retracted a story that Yoshida had ordered the 700 or so plant workers to leave the site.

Yoshida explained to a government investigation committee that he had ordered the evacuation of nonessential personnel from the plant, but kept back 50 to 60 engineering staff to tackle the cascading disaster and at no time contemplated abandoning the plant on Japan’s Pacific coast.

He and his group of engineers became known as the “Fukushima 50” that risked their own lives to contain the calamity.

By most accounts, Yoshida, who had worked for Tepco for 32 years, was a typical Japanese company man, but he surmounted the stereotype in the way he handled the accident.

For example, massive amounts of water were being pumped into the damaged reactors for cooling and as all sources of fresh water were depleted at the site, Tepco executives ordered him not to use sea water as a replacement.

The executives, still apparently under the delusion that the reactors could be brought back into service some day, opposed salt water as it would have contaminated the reactors beyond all repair.

Yoshida ignored these orders from head office and ordered his plant workers to pump seawater into the damaged reactors. This was a critical decision at a critical moment in the disaster.

“Just keep pumping,” he told subordinates. “Pretend you didn’t hear me [tell Tepco executives he was pumping fresh water] and just keep pumping.”

The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission established by the parliament later concluded that (Yoshida’s) disregard for corporate headquarters instructions was possibly the only reason that the reactor cores did not explode.

It was Masao Yoshida’s finest hour. ”

by Todd Crowell, Asia Times

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US sailors who ‘fell sick from Fukushima radiation’ allowed to sue Japan, nuclear plant operator — The Telegraph

” A US appeals court has ruled that hundreds of American navy personnel can pursue a compensation suit against the government of Japan and Tokyo Electric Power Co. for illnesses allegedly caused by exposure to radioactivity in the aftermath of the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled on Thursday that the 318 sailors who have so far joined the $1 billion (£787 million) class action lawsuit do not need to file their case in Japan.

Most of the plaintiffs were aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier that was dispatched to waters off north-east Japan after the March 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima plant. Three reactors suffered catastrophic meltdowns and released large amounts of radiation into the atmosphere after their cooling units were destroyed by a magnitude-9 earthquake and a series of tsunami.

The plaintiffs claim that they were healthy and physically fit before they were exposed to the radiation plume, with some personnel reporting the air on the flight deck tasting “metallic”.

The California-based law firm representing the plaintiffs say they have been affected by a range of complaints, ranging from leukaemia to ulcers, brain cancer, brain tumours, testicular cancer, thyroid illnesses and stomach complaints.

The suit claims that TEPCO is financially responsible for the sailors’ medial treatment because it failed to accurately inform the Japanese government of the scale of the problem.

The Japanese government, the suit alleges, also failed to inform the US that radiation leaking from the plant posed a threat to the crew of the USS Ronald Reagan and other US assets dispatched to assist in “Operation Tomodachi”, meaning “friend” in Japanese.

The case was originally filed in San Diego in 2012, but has been delayed over the question of where it should be heard. The US government has also vehemently denied that any personnel were exposed to levels of radiation that would have had an impact on their health during the Fukushima recovery mission.

Interviewed for the San Diego City Beat newspaper in February, William Zeller said: “Right now, I know I have problems but I’m afraid of actually finding out how bad they really are.”

Formerly a martial arts instructor, he now uses a breathing machine when he goes to sleep due to respiratory problems he blames on his exposure aboard the USS Ronald Reagan in 2011.

“I literally just go to work and go home now”, he said. “I don’t have the energy or pain threshold to deal with anything else”. ”

by Julian Ryall

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In Fukushima, a land where few return — The Japan Times

” A cherry tree is blooming in the spring sunshine outside the home of Masaaki Sakai but there is nobody to see it. The house is empty and boarded up. Weeds poke through the ground. All around are telltale signs of wild boar, which descend from the mountains to root and forage in the fields. Soon, the 60-year-old farmhouse Sakai shared with his mother and grandmother will be demolished.

“I don’t feel especially sad,” Sakai says. “We have rebuilt our lives elsewhere. I can come back and look around — just not live here.”

A few hundred meters away the road is blocked and a beeping dosimeter begins nagging at the bucolic peace. The reading here is a shade over 1 microsievert per hour — a fraction of what it was when Sakai’s family fled in 2011.

The radiation goes up and down, depending on the weather, Sakai says. In gullies and cracks in the road, and up in the trees, it soars. With almost everyone gone, the monkeys who live in the forests have grown bolder, stopping to stare at the odd car that appears instead of fleeing, as they used to.

A cluster of 20 small hamlets spread over 230 square kilometers, Iitate was undone by a quirk of the weather in the days that followed the nuclear accident in March 2011. Wind carried radioactive particles from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which is located about 45 kilometers away, that fell in rain and snow on the night of March 15, 2011. After more than a month of indecision, during which the villagers lived with some of the highest radiation recorded in the disaster (the reading outside the village office on the evening of March 15 was a startling 44.7 microsieverts per hour), the government ordered them to leave.

Now, the government says it is safe to go back. With great fanfare, all but the still heavily contaminated south of Iitate, Nagadoro, was reopened on March 31.

The reopening fulfills a pledge made by Mayor Norio Kanno: Iitate was the first local authority in Fukushima Prefecture to set a date for ending evacuation in 2012, when the mayor promised to reboot the village in five years. The village has a new sports ground, convenience store and udon restaurant. A clinic sees patients twice a week. All that’s missing is people.

Waiting to meet Kanno in the government offices of Iitate, the eye falls on a book displayed in the reception: “The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan.” Listed at No. 12 is the beloved rolling patchwork of forests, hills and fields the mayor has governed for more than two decades — population 6,300, famous for its neat terraces of rice and vegetables, its industrious organic farmers, its wild mushrooms and the black wagyu cow that has taken the name of the area.

The description in the book is mocked by reality outside. The fields are mostly bald, shorn of vegetation in a Promethean attempt to decontaminate it of the radiation that fell six years ago. There is not a cow or a farmer in sight. Tractors sit idle in the fields. The local schools are empty. As for the population, the only part of the village that looks busy is the home for the elderly across the road from Kanno’s office.

“The village will never return to how it used to be before the disaster,” Kanno says, “but it may develop in a different way.”

Recovery has started, Kanno says, wondering whether returnees will be able to start building a village they like.

“Who knows? Maybe one day that may help bring back evacuees or newcomers,” Kanno says. “Life doesn’t improve if you remain pessimistic.”

Even for those who have permanently left, he adds, “it doesn’t mean that their furusato can just disappear.”

The pull of the furusato (hometown) is exceptionally strong in Japan, says Tom Gill, a British anthropologist who has written extensively about Iitate.

Yearning for it “is expressed in countless sentimental ballads,” Gill says. “One particular song, simply titled ‘Furusato,’ has been sung by children attending state schools in Japan since 1914.”

The appeal has persisted despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that the rural/urban imbalance in Japan is more skewed than in any other developed nation, Gill says; just 10 percent of the nation’s population live in the country.

This may partly explain the extraordinary efforts to bring east Fukushima back to life. By one study, more than ¥2.34 trillion has been spent decontaminating an area roughly half the size of Rhode Island.

There has been no official talk of abandoning it. Indeed, any suggestion otherwise could be controversial: When industry minister Yoshio Hachiro called the abandoned communities “towns of death” in September 2011, the subsequent outrage forced him to quit a week later.

Instead, the area was divided into three zones with awkward euphemisms to suggest just the opposite: Communities with annual radiation measuring 20 millisieverts or less (the typical worldwide limit for workers in nuclear plants) are “being prepared for lifting of evacuation order,” districts of 20-50 millisieverts per year are “no-residence zones” and the most heavily contaminated areas of 50 millisieverts or more per year, such as Nagadoro, are “difficult-to-return.”

In September 2015, Naraha, which is located 15 kilometers south of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, became the first town in the prefecture to completely lift the evacuation order imposed after the triple meltdown. Naraha has a publicly built shopping street, a new factory making lithium batteries, a kindergarten and a secondary school.

A team of decontamination workers has been sent to every house — in some cases several times. Of the pre-disaster 7,400 residents, about 1,500 mainly elderly people have returned, the local government says, although that figure is likely inflated.

In Iitate, the cost of decontamination works out at about ¥200 million per household. That, and the passage of time, has dramatically reduced radiation in many areas to below 20 millisieverts a year. However, Kanno says, the cleanup extends to only 20 meters around each house, and three-quarters of the village is forested mountains. In windy weather, radioactive elements are blown back onto the fields and homes.

“All that money, and for what?” asks Nobuyoshi Itoh, a farmer and critic of the mayor. “Would you bring children here and let them roam in the fields and forests?”

Itoh opted to stay in one of the more heavily toxic parts of the village after everyone fled, with little apparent ill effect, although he says his immune system has weakened.

One of the reasons why Iitate was such a pleasant place to live before the nuclear crisis, he recalls, was its unofficial barter system. “Most people here never bought vegetables; they grew them,” he says. “I would bring someone potatoes and they would give me eggs. That’s gone now.”

At most, he says, a few hundred people are back — but they’re invariably older or retired.

“They alone will not sustain the village,” Itoh says. “Who will drive them around or look after them when they are sick?”

As the depth of the disaster facing Iitate became clear, local people began to squabble among themselves. Some were barely scraping a living and wanted to leave, although saying so out loud — abandoning the furusato — was often difficult. Many joined lawsuits against the government.

Even before disaster struck, the village had lost a third of its population since 1970 as its young folk relocated to the cities, mirroring the hollowing-out of rural areas across the country. Some wanted to shift the entire village elsewhere, but Kanno wouldn’t hear of it.

Compensation could be a considerable incentive. In addition to ¥100,000 a month to cover the “mental anguish” of being torn from their old lives, there was extra money for people with houses or farms. A five-year lump sum was worth ¥6 million per person — twice that for Nagadoro. One researcher estimates a rough figure of ¥50 million for the average household, sufficient to leave behind the uncertainties and worries of Iitate and buy a house a few dozen miles away, close enough to return for work or to the village’s cool, tranquil summers.

Many have already done so. Though nobody knows the true figure, the local talk is that perhaps half of the villagers have permanently left. Surveys suggest fewer than 30 percent want to return, and even less in the case of Nagadoro.

Yoshitomo Shigihara, head of the Nagadoro hamlet, says many families made their decision some time ago. His grandchildren, he says, should not have to live in such a place.

“It’s our job to protect them,” Shigihara says. He lives in the city of Fukushima but returns roughly every 10 days to inspect his house and weed the land.

Even with so much money spent, Shigihara doubts whether it will bring many of his friends or relatives back. At 70 years of age, he is not sure that he even wants to return, he says.

“I sometimes get upset thinking about it, but I can’t talk with anyone in Fukushima, even my family, because we often end up quarreling,” he says. “People try to feel out whether the others are receiving benefits, what they are getting or how much they received in compensation. It’s very stressful to talk to anyone in Iitate. I’m starting to hate myself because I end up treating others badly out of frustration.”

Kanno has won six elections since 1996 and has overseen every step of Iitate’s painful rehabilitation, navigating between the anger and despair of his constituents and the official response to the disaster from the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco), operator of the crippled nuclear plant.

He wants more money to complete decontamination work (the government claims it is finished), repair roads and infrastructure. Returnees need financial support, he says. However, it is time, he believes, to end the monthly compensation, which, in his view, induces dependency.

“If people keep saying that life is hard, they will not be able to recover,” he says. “What we need is support for livelihoods.”

A new system gives seed money to people who voluntarily come back to start businesses or farms.

“We don’t want to give the impression that we are influencing people’s decisions or forcing them to return,” the mayor says, using the phrase “kokoro ni fumikomu,” which literally means “to step into hearts.”

Yet, next year, thousands of Iitate evacuees will face a choice: Go back or lose the money that has helped sustain them elsewhere for six years. Evacuation from areas exposed to less than 20 millisieverts per year will be regarded as “voluntary” under the official compensation scheme.

This dilemma was expressed with unusual starkness last month by Masahiro Imamura, the now sacked minister in charge of reconstructing Tohoku. Pressed by a freelance reporter, Imamura tetchily said it was up to the evacuees themselves — their “own responsibility, their own choice” — whether or not to return.

The comment touched a nerve. The government is forcing people to go back, some argued, employing a form of economic blackmail, or worse, kimin seisaku — abandoning them to their fate.

Itoh is angry at the resettlement. For him, politics drives the haste to put the disaster behind.

“It’s inhuman to make people go back to this,” he says. Like the physical damage of radiation, he says, the psychological damage is also invisible: “A lot of people are suffering in silence.”

Itoh believes the government wants to show that the problems of nuclear power can be overcome so it can switch the nation’s idling nuclear reactors back on. Just four are in operation while the fate of 42 others remains in political and legal limbo. Public opinion remains opposed to their restart.

Many people began with high hopes in Iitate but have gradually grown distrustful of the village government, says Kenichi Hasegawa, a farmer who wrote a book titled “Genpatsu ni Furusato o Ubawarete” (“Fukushima’s Stolen Lives”) in 2012. Right from the start, he says, the mayor desperately tried to hide the shocking radiation outside his office.

“Villagers have started losing interest,” Hasegawa says.

Meetings called by the mayor are poorly attended.

“But they hold meetings anyway,” Hasegawa says, “just to say they did.”

Kanno rejects talk of defeatism. A tourist shop is expected to open in August that will attract people to the area, he says. Some villagers are paving entrances to their houses, using money from the reconstruction budget. As for radiation, everyone “has their own idea” about its effects. The lifting of the evacuation is only the start.

Itoh says he once trusted public officials but those days are long gone. By trying to save the village, he says, the mayor may in fact be killing it. ”

by David McNeill and Chie Matsumoto, The Japan Times

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