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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Updated: Fire crews finally extinguish Fukushima blaze in no-go zone as officials battle radiation rumors — The Japan Times; Sparking fears of airborne radiation, wildfire burns in Fukushima ‘no-go zone’ — Common Dreams

The Japan Times:

” A wildfire near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has finally been extinguished after a 12-day battle waged by firefighters and Self-Defense Force troops in special protective gear left 75 hectares of tainted forest scorched, and local officials scrambling to quash radiation rumors.

The wildfire, which was started by lightning, broke out in the town of Namie on April 29 and spread to the adjacent town of Futaba, which co-hosts the meltdown-hit power plant. It was declared extinguished on Wednesday.

Since the area has been a no-go zone since the March 2011 nuclear crisis, residents are basically banned from returning to large portions of the two irradiated towns.

A local task force said that no one was injured by the wildfire and that there has been no significant change in radiation readings.

Because a large swath of the area scorched hadn’t been decontaminated yet, firefighters donned protective gear in addition to goggles, masks and water tanks. They took turns battling the blaze in two-hour shifts to avoid heatstroke.

Ground Self-Defense Force troops and fire authorities mobilized close to 5,000 people while nine municipalities, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, provided helicopters.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government denied online rumors saying the fire was releasing radioactive material into the air from trees and other plant life that absorbed fallout from the power plant, which also lies partly in the town of Okuma. It published data on its website showing no significant change in radiation readings.

“We will let people not only in the prefecture, but also in other parts of Japan know about the accurate information,” a prefectural official said.

The Kii Minpo, a newspaper based in Wakayama Prefecture, said in its May 2 edition that once a fire occurs in a highly contaminated forest, “radioactive substances are said to spread the way pollen scatters,” explaining how radiation can get blown into the air.

The publisher said it received around 30 complaints, including one from a farmer in Fukushima, who criticized the evening daily for allegedly spreading an unsubstantiated rumor.

The daily issued an apology a week later in its Tuesday edition.

“We caused trouble by making a large number of people worried,” it said.

Atsushi Kawamoto, head of the news division, said that while story may have caused some people anxiety, the newspaper will continue to report on matters of interest to its readers.

“That there’s public concern about the spread of radiation is true,” Kawamoto said.

On Tuesday, reconstruction minister Masayoshi Yoshino emphasized that unspecified radiation readings have been unchanged since before the fire.

“We will provide accurate and objective information,” he said.

Commenting on the fact that there are no fire crews in the no-go zone, Yoshino said the Reconstruction Agency will consider what kind of support it can offer there the next time a major fire breaks out. ”

by Kyodo, The Japan Times

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Common Dreams:

” A wildfire broke out in the highly radioactive “no-go zone” near the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant over the weekend, reviving concerns over potential airborne radiation.

Japanese newspaper The Mainichi reports that lightning was likely to blame for sparking the fire Saturday on Mount Juman in Namie, which lies in the Fukushima Prefecture and was one of the areas evacuated following the 2011 meltdown. The area continues to be barred to entry as it is designated a “difficult-to-return zone” due to continually high radiation levels.

Local officials were forced to call in the Japanese military, the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), to help battle the blaze, which continued to burn on Monday. At least 10 hectares of forest have burned so far.

“A total of eight helicopters from Fukushima, Miyagi and Gunma prefectures as well as the SDF discharged water on the site to combat the fire,” The Mainichi reports. “As the fire continued to spread, however, helicopters from the GSDF, Fukushima Prefecture and other parties on May 1 resumed fire extinguishing operations from around 5 am [local time].”

An official with the Ministry of the Environment said Monday that there has been “no major changes to radiation levels” in the region, according to the newspaper, but added that they will “continue to closely watch changes in radiation doses in the surrounding areas.”

In a blog post last year, Anton Beneslavsky, a member of Greenpeace Russia’s firefighting group who has been deployed to fight blazes in nuclear Chernobyl, outlined the specific dangers of wildfires in contaminated areas.

“During a fire, radionuclides like caesium-137, strontium-90 and plutonium rise into the air and travel with the wind,” Beneslavsky wrote. “This is a health concern because when these unstable atoms are inhaled, people become internally exposed to radiation.”

Contaminated forests such as those outside fallout sites like Fukushima and Chernobyl “are ticking time bombs,” scientist and former regional government official Ludmila Komogortseva told Beneslavsky. “Woods and peat accumulate radiation,” she explained “and every moment, every grass burning, every dropped cigarette or camp fire can spark a new disaster.” ”

by Lauren McCauley

source with internal links and video of the wildfire in Fukushima

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’s voluntary evacuees — The Japan Times Editorial

” A citizens’ group supporting the people in Fukushima Prefecture who have fled from their homes in the wake of the March 2011 nuclear disaster has submitted a petition to the Diet with nearly 200,000 signatures asking for the continuation of public housing assistance for the evacuees. The prefectural government announced last year that it plans at the end of next March to terminate the assistance for people who voluntarily left their homes. However, most such evacuees have yet to find new residences.

Halting the housing assistance will place a heavy financial burden on low-income evacuees. Fears also persist over the radioactive contamination in the areas where they lived before the nuclear crisis. Not only the prefecture but the national government, which pays for a large portion of the assistance, should rethink the decision.

As of July, some 89,000 Fukushima people continued to live away from their homes — 48,000 inside the prefecture and 41,000 elsewhere in Japan — after they fled from the dangers posed by the triple meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant. Some evacuees followed the government’s designation of their hometowns as no-go zones due to the high levels of fallout, while others left their homes on their own out of fear of radiation exposure, particularly for their children, and other reasons even though they lived outside the designated evacuation zones.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government has since been providing housing assistance to the nuclear refugees regardless of whether they stayed within the prefecture — and regardless of whether they were forced out by government order or fled by choice — to cover their rent, including for public housing units owned by local governments. Fukushima has offered the aid by annually renewing the application of the Disaster Relief Law, under which a prefectural government carries out relief measures to residents in the event of a disaster — including supply of food, water, clothing and medical services as well as emergency repairs to damaged homes — with a large portion of the cost coming from national coffers. The national government has shouldered most of the expense of the housing assistance regarding Fukushima.

The prefectural government announced in June last year that it would end the assistance for voluntary evacuees at the end of next March. Gov. Masao Uchibori said the termination is aimed at prompting the evacuees to return to their original homes and at helping promote their sense of self-reliance. He explained that living conditions in the prefecture have improved with the development of public infrastructure and progress in the cleanup of radiation-contaminated soil.

According to a prefectural report based on a survey conducted in January and February, the decision will halt housing assistance for 12,436 households. Of the 3,614 households that voluntarily evacuated but remained in the prefecture, 56 percent have not yet found a place where they can live once the assistance is halted. The corresponding figure for the 3,453 such households living outside the prefecture is much higher — nearly 78 percent. The prefecture should pay serious attention to these findings. Some families may not be able to find and pay for a new home, although the prefecture reportedly plans to offer small subsidies for low-income and single-mother households after the large-scale assistance is ended.

The voluntary evacuees are confronted with various difficulties, both financial and psychological. The amount of compensation they received from Tepco is much smaller than that paid out to evacuees from the no-go zones. They also do not receive the monthly damages of some ¥100,000 that Tepco doles out to cover the mental suffering of those from the designated evacuation zones. Many of them face hardships ranging from the loss of their former jobs to separation from family members, long-distance commuting and divorces of couples due to differences over evacuating. The loss of housing assistance will likely result in even more hardships, both financial and emotional.

Many of the voluntary evacuees remain reluctant to go back to their hometowns for a variety of reasons, including the persistent fear of radiation, the desolate conditions of their original homes, and anticipated low levels of medical and other services in their former communities. The national government says it is safe for evacuees to return if the annual cumulative dose in the area is 20 millisieverts (mSv) or less, but that level is much higher than the legal limit of 1 mSv allowed for people in ordinary circumstances. In Ukraine, hit by the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, people are required to migrate if the annual cumulative dose in their area is 5 mSv or more and have “the right to evacuate” if the rate is between 1 mSv and 5 mSv. The national government and Fukushima Prefecture need to address why many of the volunteer evacuees are reluctant to return.

The national government may want to highlight the reconstruction in areas devastated by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami as well as the Fukushima nuclear disaster when Tokyo hosts the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. However, this should not result in the premature termination of vital relief measures for the affected people or untimely lifting of the designation of danger zones hit by the nuclear crisis. The government, which has sought to reactivate the nation’s nuclear power plants idled since the 2011 disaster, should understand why the evacuees felt they had to flee from their homes in the first place. It should not give up its duty of adequately helping the disaster victims. ”

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In Fukushima, a bitter legacy of radiation, trauma and fear — Yale Environment 360

” Japan’s Highway 114 may not be the most famous road in the world. It doesn’t have the cachet of Route 66 or the Pan-American Highway. But it does have one claim to fame. It passes through what for the past five years has been one of the most radioactive landscapes on the planet – heading southeast from the Japanese city of Fukushima to the stricken nuclear power plant, Fukushima Daiichi, through the forested mountains where much of the fallout from the meltdown at the plant in March 2011 fell to earth.

It is a largely empty highway now, winding through abandoned villages and past overgrown rice paddy fields. For two days in August, I traveled its length to assess the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in the company of Baba Isao, an assemblyman who represents the town of Namie, located just three miles from the power plant and one of four major towns that remain evacuated.

At times, the radiation levels seemed scarily high – still too high for permanent occupation. But radiation was just the start. More worrying, I discovered, was the psychological and political fallout from the accident. While the radiation – most of it now from caesium-137, a radioactive isotope with a half-life of 30 years – is decaying, dispersing, or being cleaned up, it is far from clear that this wider trauma has yet peaked. Fukushima is going to be in rehab for decades.

I began my journey with Baba, a small bustling man of 72 years, at Kawamata, a town on Highway 114 that is a gateway to the mountains beyond. These mountains are where the fallout was greatest, and the forests that cover most of their slopes have retained the most radioactivity. The mountains make up most of the government-designated “red zone,” where radiation doses exceed 50 millisieverts a year and which are likely to remain uninhabited for many years.

A second “yellow zone” has doses of 20-50 millisieverts, where returning may soon be possible; and a third “green zone,” with less than 20 millisieverts, is deemed safe to live in, and an organized return is under way or planned. Zones are re-categorized as radioactivity decays and hotspots are decontaminated.

To check progress, I took with me a Geiger counter that measured gamma radiation, the main source of radiation for anyone not eating contaminated food.

Beyond Kawamata, the road was largely empty and houses sat abandoned and overgrown. There was no cellphone signal. At first, houses we measured at the roadside had radiation doses equivalent to only around 2 millisieverts per year, a tenth of the government threshold for reoccupation. But within minutes, as we climbed into the mountains, radiation increased as we moved from green to yellow to red zones.

Despite the radiation, wildlife is thriving in the absence of people, Baba said. There are elk, lynx, monkeys, and bears in the mountains. “Nature here is beautiful,” he said, “but we can’t fish or collect bamboo shoots or eat the mountain vegetables that people used to harvest from the forests.”

We stopped by an abandoned gas station in Tsushima, a village in the lee of Mount Hiyama, where wild boar had excavated the soil right by a vending machine that appeared remarkably intact. The bright-red digital display on an official Geiger counter read the equivalent of 21 millisieverts per year, just above the limit for human habitation.

The day after the disaster at the power plant began, 1,400 people from Namie came to Tsushima after being ordered to evacuate. “I was among them,” said Baba. “We had no information. People were just told to come. When we arrived, we went to the village police station and found that the police there were in full protective clothing against the radiation. They said it was a precaution in case they had to go to the power plant, but they had obviously been told that something serious was going on that the population hadn’t been told. That’s when our suspicion about the honesty of the authorities began.”

Tsushima has since become an unofficial shrine to the disaster. In the window of an abandoned shop are posters with bitter, ironic messages, some directed at the nuclear plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power: “Thanks to TEPCO, we can shed tears at our temporary housing,” read one. “Thanks to TEPCO, we can play pachinko.” But one, in English, just said, “I shall return.”

Back on Highway 114, a car stopped, and a woman got out. Konno Hideko was driving to Namie – day trips are allowed, but overnight stays banned – to clean her parents’ former house and tidy an ancestral grave before relatives visited during an upcoming religious holiday. “My parents are dead now, but I still clean their house,” she said. “There are mice inside and wild boar have been in. We won’t ever return to live there. But we might build a new house there one day.”

Further along, Baba stopped the car and walked up a path swathed in vegetation. “This is my house,” he said suddenly, pointing to a barely visible building. It was shuttered. But I noticed laundry still hanging to dry in an upstairs window. On a tour of the grounds, Baba showed me his plum trees. “The fruit is too dangerous to eat now, and we can’t drink the water from the well, either.” We found a shed where he and his schoolteacher wife once kept cattle, and a former hay shed where he stored old election banners.

I checked my meter. It read 26 millisieverts per year in the hay shed, but shot up to an alarming 80 in undergrowth outside. That was four times the safe level for habitation. No wonder Baba had no plans to return. “I am just the son of a farmer. I wonder who has a right to destroy our home and my livelihood,” he mused bitterly. “Please tell the world: No Nukes.”

At his local post office, an official monitor by the road measured 56 millisieverts. Mine agreed, but when we pointed it close to a sprig of moss pushing through the tarmac, it went off the scale. “They measured 500 millisieverts here last week,” Baba said. “Moss accumulates radioactivity.”

As we drove on, the roadside was now marked every few kilometers by massive pyramids of black plastic bags, containing radioactive soil that had been stripped from roadside edges, paddy fields, and house gardens as part of government efforts to decontaminate the land. An estimated 3 million bags, all neatly tagged, now await final disposal at facilities planned along the coast. But the task of transporting the soil is so huge that the authorities are building a new road so trucks can bypass the scenic mountain villages along Highway 114.

Through a checkpoint we came at last to Namie town. Just before my visit, major media such as The Guardian and CNN had published images of the town by a photographer who claimed to have gained secret, unauthorized entry to the “ghost town.” He posed in his images wearing a gas mask to show how dangerous it was.

My visit to the town had required a request in advance, via Baba, but no subterfuge. And I found Namie a surprisingly busy “ghost town.” Nobody is yet allowed to live there. But some 4,000 people work there every day, repairing the railway line and roads, building new houses, and knocking down quake-damaged shops, preparing for the planned return of its citizens in April 2017.

There was plenty of earthquake damage, and vegetation pushed through cracks in the roads and the pavement in the front yards. Black bags were everywhere. But the traffic lights functioned, and drivers obeyed them; there was a 7-Eleven and the vending machines had Coke in them. Nobody wore protective clothing or masks. My biggest safety concern was not radiation, but the news, conveyed over the town’s public address system on the afternoon I was there, that a bear had been spotted in the suburbs.

Despite its proximity to the power plant, average radiation levels in the town were down to around 2 millisieverts per year in Namie – lower, in fact, than I recorded in Fukushima City, which was never evacuated.

“I have no idea how many people will come back,” said Baba. “They have a lot of misgivings because of the radioactive contamination. And I think their fears are totally justified. It is totally unthinkable for me to return to my old place, so I cannot encourage them to return to theirs.” He quoted a survey of the town’s 21,000 former residents showing that only 18 percent wanted to come back. That sounded similar to nearby Naraha town, where only a fifth returned after the all-clear was given last year.

People especially feared for their children. The biggest concern was reports of an epidemic of thyroid cancer among children exposed to radioactive iodine in the days after the accident. An ultrasound screening program had found an apparent 30-fold increase in cysts, nodules, and some cancers in children’s thyroid glands. It had made headline news.

But at the Fukushima Medical University, doctors and medical researchers insisted that radiation doses were far too low to pose a serious cancer risk, not least because contaminated foodstuffs that could have harbored the iodine were rapidly withdrawn from sale. Ken Nollet, an American who is director of radiation health at the university, insists that the apparent epidemic was evidence only of better searching for disease. He told me a Korean screening study using the same techniques on a non-exposed population found similar rates to those in Fukushima’s contaminated zone.

Thanks to the rapid, if chaotic, evacuation of the area after the power plant began its meltdown, and the controls of foodstuffs, doctors say they believe there are unlikely to be many, if any, deaths among the public from radiation from the Fukushima accident. “A few members of the public got a CT scan’s worth of radiation; almost nobody received more than the dose from a barium meal,” said Nollet.

But there have been deaths nonetheless. Some 60 old people died as a direct result of the evacuation, including several who died of hunger after being left behind, said a doctor at Soma hospital, Sae Ochi. And depression remains widespread among evacuees, she says. There have been around 85 suicides linked to its after-effects. “It’s post-traumatic stress,” said Masaharu Maeda at Fukushima Medical University. “People with very negative views about the risks of radiation are more likely to be depressed. It’s a vicious circle.”

Some doctors told me that while the initial evacuation was necessary, the failure to plan a swift return as radiation levels fell had been disastrous. Apart from a few high-dose areas in the mountains, the psychological risks of staying away exceed the radiological risks of coming back. But the confusion has contributed to a serious loss of trust among the public for medical, as well as nuclear, authorities. “When we try to explain the situation,” says Nollet, “we are seen as complicit in nuclear power.”

It seems increasingly unlikely that the majority of families will return to the abandoned towns as the official all-clear is given. As we drove back from Namie, I dropped in on a group of old women living in an evacuation camp outside Kawamata. One told me they wanted to return to their old homes, but that “most young people simply won’t go back. They fear for their children, but also they have moved on in their lives, with new jobs and their children in new schools.”

And maybe that is not a bad thing. At a kindergarten in Soma City, just outside the exclusion zone, teachers told me that, away from the fear of radiation, there was a baby boom going on there. The crop of new students this year was the largest since the accident. ”

by Fred Pearce

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Arirang special: Fukushima and its aftermath (후쿠시마, 그 이후) — Arirang

This is an excellent video that explains concerns of radiation exposure in Japan and the safety standards for radiation in foods sold in Korea.

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