Labor groups protest reopening of rail lines near Fukushima — CounterPunch

” Labor activists have protested the reopening this month of a railway line in parts of northeast Japan where they believe radiation levels are still dangerous.

The Joban Line runs from Nippori Station in Tokyo to Iwanuma Station, just south of Sendai City. It is one of main connections between northeast Tokyo’s major station of Ueno up along the coast through Chiba, Ibaraki and Miyagi prefectures.

This region was severely damaged by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th, 2011, while the subsequent Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster meant that large areas through which trains pass were contaminated by radiation.

The Joban Line was directly hit by the massive tsunami wave in 2011, sweeping train carriages away. Though parts of the line were quickly reopened that same year, two sections of the line—between Tatsuta and Odaka stations, and between Soma and Hamayoshida—remained closed, with passengers served by buses for some of the stations.

However, the operator, East Japan Railway Company (JR East), and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, have been keen to reopen the whole line as part of the northeast Japan reconstruction efforts. The Joban Line represents a valuable source of income from both passengers traveling between Sendai and Tokyo as well as freight.

Following decontamination measures, rail services resumed from Iwaki to Tatsuta in late 2014. However, north of Tatsuta lies the areas located within a 20km radius of the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which is widely considered a no-go zone.

In July this year, JR East resumed services on the 9.4-kilometer stretch between Odaka and Haranomachi stations as the evacuation order was lifted for the southern part of Minamisoma City, though few residents are willing to return to a community so close to the contaminated area. Media reports suggest only 10-20% are coming back to live in the area.

On December 10th, the previously closed 23.2-kilometer northern section of line between Soma and Hamayoshida reopened for rail services. It means passengers will now be served by a further six stations on the section, though three of these (Shinchi, Yamashita and Sakamoto stations) had to be relocated inland by up to 1.1 kilometers as an anti-tsunami measure. Along with the construction of elevated tracks, the total cost of the latest reopening is said to be 40 billion yen ($350 million).

By spring 2017, the line will be reopened between Namie and Odaka, and then later in the year between Tatsuta and Tomioka. The final section linking Tomioka and Namie, passing through somewhat infamous areas like Futaba, is set to reopen by the end of fiscal 2019 (end of March 2020).

Local tourist bodies are naturally delighted and are pulling out all the stops to attract people. At the newly reopened stations, passengers are able to buy commemorative tickets, take hiking trips, and even try on historical armor.

Lingering Doubts over Radiation

Official announcements say that radiation levels have fallen and clean-up efforts will remove any health risk. Last August, JR East began decontamination tests on parts of the railway between Yonomori and Futaba stations where the radioactivity remains high. It has reported that falling radiation levels can be confirmed at six inspection points along the line, making it confident that decontamination measures are working.

However, the legacy of the Fukushima disaster is a lingering distrust for government and corporate claims about radiation. Activists allege that authorities and JR East are putting profits and the appearance of safety over the genuine health of rail workers and passengers. Just as with the gradual lifting of restrictions on entering the areas around the Joban Line, reopening the railway is, they say, an attempt to encourage evacuated residents to return and tourists to visit even though health risks may remain.

This pressure to reconstruct the region quickly and maintain an impression of safety to Japan and the rest of the world comes from the very top, as demonstrated by the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s now notorious claim that the Fukushima disaster was “under control” in his speech in September 2013 during the final (and successful) Tokyo bid to win the 2020 Olympic Games. Abe also officiated at the opening of the rebuilt Shinchi Station on December 10th.

Protests Against Reopening

The rank and file rail unions Doro-Mito (National Railway Motive Power Union of Mito) and Doro-Chiba (National Railway Motive Power Union of Chiba) have long protested the ambitions of JR East as part of their campaigns against the operator’s growing policies of rationalization and outsourcing.

On December 10th, around 50 activists from Doro-Mito and associated groups opposed the Joban Line reopening by demonstrating at the Sendai branch of JR East in the morning. A small number of train drivers from the union also went on strike that day. This was coordinated with other protests and actions in Fukushima City and Tokyo at JR sites. At an afternoon protest outside the JR East headquarters in Shinjuku, central Tokyo, around 150 unionists demonstrated.

These are just the most recent examples of actions by this network of medium-sized yet feisty unions, which have waged several strikes and protests since JR East began reopening parts of the track following the 2011 disaster. Unionists have fought to block the reopening in order to protect the well-being of workers as well as the general public.

Other unions and labor groups have apparently remained silent on the Joban Line issue, as have the major anti-nuclear power protest organisations. The mainstream media has also given the Joban Line protests almost no coverage, though the reopening itself was extensively celebrated.

Doro-Mito and Doro-Chiba are the largest groups in a network of militant unions called Doro-Soren, affiliated with the Japan Revolutionary Communist League. Other smaller unions have been established in Tokyo, Fukushima, Niigata and elsewhere. While the overall numbers of unionized workers remain only in the hundreds, organizers hope to create a national union in the future.

The unions have held small strikes on the Joban Line issue alongside their regular strikes and protests against labor conditions, as well as participating in general rallies against the restarting of nuclear power plants in Japan. In this way, the issues of neoliberalism and nuclear power have become aligned in a new and invigorating way.

The Doro-Soren network is also associated with NAZEN, which was formed in August 2011 as a youth group to fight the nuclear industry. The various groups have taken part in annual protests at Fukushima on the anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami, regularly mobilizing over 1,000 demonstrators. … 

by William Andrews

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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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Tepco settles suit over suicide of Fukushima dairy farmer — The Japan Times

” Tokyo Electric Power Co. has agreed to make a payment to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a dairy farmer who committed suicide after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, the family’s lawyers said.

The settlement was reached Tuesday in the Tokyo District Court. The exact sum was not disclosed, though the family had been seeking around ¥128 million in damages.

Tepco, operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, agreed to give money to the family of Shigekiyo Kanno, who died at age 54, but rejected the family’s request for an apology in the settlement document.

The Kanno family’s lawyers said they agreed to settle the case because Tepco “can be seen to have acknowledged the causal connection” between the suicide and the nuclear disaster, and because the settlement payment reached a level acceptable to the family.

According to the suit, Kanno owned around 40 dairy cows in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, about 50 km from the nuclear complex. Milk shipments were suspended following the nuclear disaster triggered by the earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011.

He had to give up most of his herd and was also worried he would not be able to repay his loans.

He committed suicide in a barn in June 2011 while his wife, Vanessa, and their two sons were in the Philippines, her home country. He left messages on the barn wall that said, “If only there was no nuclear power plant” and “I no longer have the spirit to work.”

In May 2013, his wife and children filed a lawsuit seeking damages over Kanno’s death, saying he killed himself in despair over the future.

Vanessa Kanno, 37, said in a statement Tuesday: “I am not fully satisfied with the content of the settlement, but I’ve decided to resolve the issue to return to a peaceful life as soon as possible. I never want this kind of sad thing to happen again” to anyone else.

Tepco issued a statement that said, “We mourn the loss of Mr. Kanno from the bottom of our heart.” ”

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Fukushima’s educational facilities — Akira Hino, Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center

” 1. Current State of Fukushima Prefecture

Four years have passed since the earthquake and nuclear accident, but almost no progress has been made toward Fukushima Prefecture’s recovery. In particular, the recovery of the Futaba area and its vicinity has just gotten underway. The reason for this delay in recovery has been radioactive contamination resulting from the nuclear accident. The radioactive substances are dispersed widely over Fukushima Prefecture.

Iwaki and Soma suffered damage from the tsunami, but were relatively less affected by radioactive contamination, and thus progress is being made little by little toward recovery in those areas. On the other hand, in the Nakadori region (middle third of the prefecture), where the cities of Koriyama and Fukushima are located, removal of radioactive contamination (decontamination and disposal of waste materials) is necessary for recovery, but that has not been completed yet. In some cases, even after decontamination, radiation doses rise again, so there is no end in sight. The reason this is happening is that no effort has been made to decontaminate the montane forests that cover much of Fukushima Prefecture, and radioactive materials are transported in from the forests by winds and rain.

Two towns in the Futaba area, Okuma and Futaba, have “agreed” to accept interim storage facilities, and the shipment of radioactive wastes into the area has begun. There has been almost no progress on acquiring land for this, however, and when shipments of waste started to arrive only 2% of the total planned area had been secured. Difficulties are expected in future negotiations with the more than 2000 land owners.

Although in these ways the recovery has made no progress, there has been a move toward allowing memories of the nuclear accident to fade away. Divisions among the citizens are being created regarding the question of radiation, and expressions of concern from people about the danger are being contained at the citizen level. There is a growing tendency to call those who talk about the danger “alarmists” or “troublemakers,” so it is becoming difficult for people to discuss it.

Moreover, there have been cases in which compensation paid to the evacuees has caused divisions. For example, a survey has highlighted the concerns felt by citizens of Iwaki City, where many people from the Futaba area evacuated, noting, “The citizens of Iwaki are trying to understand the nuclear evacuees, but they cannot accept the discrepancies in compensation from TEPCO.” 1) Iwaki suffered damage from the earthquake and tsunami. People whose houses were swept away by the tsunami are having to live in temporary emergency housing or rented housing, just like the nuclear disaster evacuees, but they have received no compensation at all, quite unlike the fact that the nuclear disaster evacuees are receiving compensation for their situation. Under such circumstances, it is understandable that many of Iwaki’s citizens feel strongly dissatisfied.

Prime Minister Abe keeps saying that Japan will not recover without the revival of Fukushima, but it is not the citizens of Fukushima that he has in mind, but rather companies and the economy. For example, can the restoration of National Highway 6 or reopening of the closed sections of the Joban Expressway be called “recovery”? These roads merely pass through the Futaba area, from which all of the citizens were evacuated. The people are not allowed to live in the evacuation zones, and there is still no outlook for the return of Futaba’s citizens to their hometown.

Fukushima Prefecture map

2. Educational Facilities Impacted by the Nuclear Disaster

(1) Futaba’s Schools Have Reopened, but…

Prior to the nuclear accident, the Futaba area had about 6,400 children studying at 28 elementary and junior high schools (17 elementary schools and 11 junior highs). After the accident, one by one, the schools gradually reopened in towns and villages throughout the prefecture, and currently 22 of Futaba’s schools have reopened (13 elementary schools and nine junior highs). However, no more than 657 students (as of the 2014 academic year) have returned to Futaba’s schools. Currently, no more than about 10% of the students have returned. Whenever a school reopens, the media report on it, but people feel suspicious about the media’s stance. There is conspicuous coverage giving the impression that reopening means a return to normal. The current reality is that they have barely reached the “starting line.”

(2) Problems with Facilities and Equipment

The existing school facilities include temporary school buildings and schools that had formerly been closed. In some cases, even factories have been converted into schools. When the schools were reopened, they had to start all over again from zero. The preparations for reopening began with arranging for desks and chairs, and through the efforts of the school staff to improvise educational materials and teaching tools, it became possible to provide a minimal level of educational activities. In the four years that have passed, a certain amount of teaching materials and tools have been obtained, but there are still schools lacking special purpose rooms or gymnasiums.

For the children to attend these schools, they have to take school buses from their places of refuge, and commutes of one hour each way are not unusual. Because the times of the buses need to be considered, there are insufficient opportunities to engage in after-school learning support or club activities. Ways have had to be devised to conduct school events in accordance with the small numbers of students along with the conditions of the facilities and equipment. Some of the schools have no incoming students or none graduating, and there have been years in which they were unable to hold entrance or graduation ceremonies, which are important school events. Such conditions are by no means “back to normal.”

(3) Evacuee Schools Outside of Futaba

There are also some elementary and junior high schools located outside of the Futaba area that were forced to move due to the effects of the nuclear accident.

The elementary and junior high schools of Odaka-ku, Minamisoma are currently holding classes in temporary facilities erected on the grounds of elementary and junior high schools in Kashima-ku. In contrast to the 1,091 students at the time of the earthquake disaster, the number had fallen to 258 students as of the 2014 academic year. In other words, no more than about 25% have returned.

The three elementary schools of Iitate Village have currently reopened in Kawamata, and the junior high school has reopened in Iino. About half of the children present before the earthquake disaster have returned. Almost all of them are commuting by school bus from the area around Fukushima City.

The elementary and junior high schools of Miyakoji-district, Tamura City resumed classes in 2011, using closed school buildings in Funehiki. After the national government’s evacuation order was rescinded, they returned to their original school buildings in April 2014, but when that happened about 20% of the students transferred to other schools. Although the facilities had been decontaminated, there were still major concerns about radiation.

Sad to say, one school has closed: Onami elementary school in Fukushima City. After the nuclear accident, the Onami district had extremely high radiation doses, and one family after another moved away for safety. The last remaining students graduated at the end of the 2013 academic year, and the school closed from 2014. No one could have predicted that such circumstances would arise in an area 60 km distant from the nuclear power plant.

3. Status of Students and School Staff

(1) Issues Affecting the Students

The children of the Futaba area are facing many problems. In particular, junior high school students reaching adolescence have been heavily affected by life as refugees due to the earthquake disaster and nuclear accident. Their parents or guardians who have lost their jobs continue to spend the day at home, there is no place they can be alone in the cramped temporary housing, and at home they have to listen to quarreling or other things they do not want to hear. As a result, there are children who have distanced themselves from their homes.

As a result of the evacuation necessitated by the nuclear accident, the number of families living apart and the number of households with divorced parents are increasing. Moreover, households where a parent or guardian has lost his or her job are able to get by somehow at this time by receiving compensation payments, but they continue to live with the fear that there is no guarantee of their ability to live in peace in the future.

It is best for children to grow up close to their important family, seeing their parents or guardians at work. There are a growing number of children, however, in the midst of circumstances that offer no view at all of what is ahead, who therefore cannot dream of their own future. The biggest victims of the nuclear accident are the children.

(2) Exhausted Teaching Staff

The schools’ teaching staff have been exhausting themselves on a daily basis caring for their students. Each day they seek emotional closeness with the children and improvise their educational activities.

The school staff themselves, however, are refugees. Living in a place to which they are unaccustomed is also a source of unease. In addition, some of them are caring for aging parents or dealing with emotional instability in their own children, making it harder for them to do well by their students. Moreover, each time they make temporary sojourns to visit their homes in the Futaba area, they find their houses are breaking down. It is quite a psychologically trying situation.

These days, society overall is attempting to return to its pre-earthquake state, as if the earthquake disaster and nuclear accident had never happened. While dealing with their own unsettled state of mind, the teaching staff are providing emotional care for their students while trying to meet society’s demands. This unjust situation has continued with no let-up since the earthquake disaster. Thus, there are concerns that the number of people taking sick leave due to psychological disorders will increase.

(3) Psychological Support for the Students and School Staff

Under these circumstances, school counselors have been assigned to all elementary and junior high schools in Fukushima Prefecture. However, they are allotted only one visit to each school per week, so they are unable to provide sufficient support. There are not enough counselors in Fukushima Prefecture, so in some cases the prefecture is having counselors from other prefectures (including the far-distant Kansai region) visit once a week. Fukushima Prefecture shoulders the costs of travel and lodging in those cases, so it is inefficient from a budgetary perspective. Rather than using the budget in that way, it would be desirable for the government to ensure a budget for continual allocation of staff who can meet with the children every day.

4. Current Conditions and Issues of Education in Fukushima Prefecture

(1) Decreasing Numbers of Children and Consolidation of Elementary and Junior High Schools

There are 13,308 children below the age of 18 (as of October 2014) who have evacuated away from Fukushima Prefecture. The number of child refugees has been decreasing, but they are still numerous.

Also, as the number of children has decreased, there has been an increasing tendency to consolidate schools in Fukushima Prefecture. Through the 2014 academic year, consolidations were occurring mostly in the Aizu region—the mountainous western third of the prefecture. From 2015, though, six elementary schools and four junior high schools will be combined into one of each kind of school (one elementary school and one junior high school) in Miwa district, Iwaki in southern coastal Fukushima Prefecture. In neighboring Ishikawa Town, six elementary schools and two junior high schools will be combined into one of each kind of school.

A draft of guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in January 2015 used the term “appropriate scale,” indicating an intention to promote consolidation of smaller schools. There are concerns that MEXT’s guidelines will affect cities, towns and villages, which are the entities empowered to establish schools. It is unacceptable for schools, which serve as the heart of a community, to be discarded so easily.

(2) Education Policies of Fukushima Prefecture

One matter of concern these days regarding school education is academic advancement. It is important to increase the students’ academic abilities. All of the faculty are striving day in and day out to help their students grow. Their academic advancement itself, however, is being strained by the demands of society.

With one new policy after another on academic advancement being served from above together with criticisms of poor results on scholastic achievement tests, the faculty have too many things to do and are unable to provide educational activities as they would like to. Both the faculty and the students wind up exhausted.

Calls for improving the students’ physical strength are also on the rise. The press has reported that the children of Fukushima Prefecture have been tending to gain weight. Radioactive contamination from the nuclear accident has caused a sharp reduction in chances for the children to play outdoors. In addition, to avoid exposure during travel to and from school, in many cases they go by school bus or their parents drop them off and pick them up.

Fukushima Prefecture maintains that under these circumstances, it is necessary to improve the students’ physical strength. To tell the children to go out like good kids and play in a decontaminated schoolyard, however, would be the height of irresponsibility.

The children’s parents worry that they could risk exposure to radiation if they were involved in activities outside or that their children might get thyroid cancer. Fukushima Prefecture is being called upon to take measures to eliminate these kinds of worries. Countermeasures are being sought such as creating indoor physical education facilities in each district so that the students can obtain exercise at ease without worrying about exposure.

(3) The Kind of Education Needed Now

The government’s meddling in schools, trying to force various policies on them, is in no way leading to improved academic abilities. Would it not be better for them to trust the faculty and give them more leeway? It is the faculty on the scene that best understands the children they see before them. Would it not be the faculty that could devise ways of guiding the children, bringing out the children’s own abilities and helping them achieve real academic ability?

What is important is to urge policies to be created that improve academic abilities, not to cram the children’s heads full of knowledge. It is necessary to get close to the children, meet their gaze and explain to them the importance of learning. It is important to teach the children how to study, so that years later, after they graduate from school, they will have the ability to continue studying on their own. That means nurturing the power to live.

Academic abilities that can be assessed quantitatively, as the Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education wants, are nothing more than one aspect of education. I think that educating the children in a way that does not nip their desire to learn in the bud leads to real advancement of their academic abilities.

It will also be necessary to provide education on radiation in Fukushima Prefecture, where the nuclear accident occurred. This does not mean instruction from the point of view that “radiation is all around us. It’s useful in many fields in today’s society,” as has been taught. The radioactive substances that were spread by the nuclear accident are dangerous for their harmful effects on the human body. For that, the faculty themselves need to study radiation properly. Then through radiation education, they must teach the children properly about the danger of radiation so that the children themselves can acquire the means to protect themselves from radiation.

Unfortunately, discrimination against people from Fukushima on account of radioactive contamination is actually occurring. We must teach the children the spirit not to allow discrimination or prejudice and the strength not to succumb to such things. We must include the perspective of human rights education as a part of education on radiation.
It is important that education on radiation and on human rights be promoted starting from Fukushima Prefecture, which has been affected by the nuclear accident. ”

Akira Hino is Director of Nuclear Disaster Countermeasures Fukushima Prefecture Teacher’s Union

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Minami-Soma lambastes government, Tepco for remaining mum on rice contamination; Study: Cesium from Fukushima debris removal likely spread 50 km — The Asahi Shimbun

(1) ” Residents of Minami-Soma in Fukushima Prefecture expressed anger with the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. for keeping them in the dark about radiation that contaminated local rice crops.

“We cannot help but distrust the agriculture ministry, which did not promptly let us know of the matter, despite it being a serious issue,” said Minami-Soma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai.

According to the agriculture ministry, cesium levels of rice harvested in mid-August last year in Minami-Soma exceeded the safety standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram.

The ministry had determined that the removal of debris from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused radioactive substances to spread to 14 paddies outside the evacuation zone in Minami-Soma, more than 20 kilometers from the stricken nuclear plant.

The ministry informed TEPCO of the problem in March and ordered the utility to to take preventive measures. However, the ministry failed to inform the city of Minami-Soma of the situation. … ”

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(2) ” Radioactive substances released during rubble-removal work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant last year likely spread to areas nearly 50 kilometers away, according to a research team at Kyoto University.

The agriculture ministry earlier raised the likelihood that debris-removal operations on Aug. 19, 2013, led to cesium levels exceeding the safety standard detected in rice harvested more than 20 km from the plant.

Akio Koizumi, a health and environment science professor at Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Medicine, and four other scientists discovered that the wind likely carried the cesium more than twice that distance.

The researchers set up air sampling instruments at three points in residential areas of Fukushima Prefecture and have measured radioactive cesium concentrations every week since September 2012 to estimate residents’ exposure to radiation.

From samples collected between Aug. 15 and 22 last year, they found a reading of 1.28 millibecquerels per cubic meter at a location in Soma, 48 km northwest of the plant. That radioactivity level was more than six times higher than usual.

Radioactivity levels were 20 to 30 times higher than normal in Minami-Soma, 27 km north-northwest of the Fukushima plant. And there were almost no changes in cesium concentrations in Kawauchi, 22 km west-southwest of the plant, the researchers said.

Based on the wind’s speed and direction at the time, as well as size of the collected particles, Koizumi and his colleagues concluded that the radioactive cesium came from the Fukushima No. 1 plant as the result of the Aug. 19, 2013, clearance work at the No. 3 reactor.

The team also found that cesium levels at the measuring point in Minami-Soma surged in both May and June 2013. They attributed the increase to debris-clearing operations at the facility.

The research results indicate that future rubble removal at the nuclear plant could disperse radioactive materials over much broader areas surrounding the facility.

In March this year, the scientists presented their findings to the Environment Ministry. It has also been reported that the agriculture ministry instructed Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the nuclear plant, to take measures to prevent the release of radioactive substances in the debris-removal work at the site.

TEPCO currently plans to resume debris-removal efforts by the end of July, starting with the dismantling of a cover installed on the No. 1 reactor building, where highly contaminated rubble remains to be removed.

The utility acknowledged that the Aug. 19 operations released a maximum 4 trillion becquerels–more than 10,000 times the usual levels at the site–over four hours, and apologized to residents for “causing trouble.”

However, TEPCO argued that it is unclear whether the increase in cesium readings was related to debris-clearing work. ”

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‘Fukushima fish ends in garbage’: Radioactive fears blight Japan’s seafood industry — RT

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” Due to radiation fears, Fukushima Prefecture fishermen have to dump most of their catch. Two years into the nuclear disaster, the world is growing weary of Japan’s seafood, with South Korea even banning Japanese fish and seafood imports.

Fish has traditionally not only been an integral part of Japanese food culture, but also one of its prized exports. In 2011, before the Fukushima disaster, Japan maintained one of the world’s largest fishing fleets and accounted for almost 15 percent of global catches, according to Forbes.

However, there are serious concerns now, although the industry seems to be on a slow, but sure recovery route.

The concerns mainly arise over catches made in the waters close to the Fukushima nuclear power plant. After it was established that the hydraulic system at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was severely irradiated, fears grew that the contamination could spread into the Pacific.

“There is significant contamination in the bottom segment, especially in the pond and the river system, where we can find a very high amount of radioactive cesium accumulated,” Yamashike Yosuke, Environmental Engineering Professor at Kyoto University, told RT.

Many Japanese seafood firms are under threat as there are five prefectures possibly affected by contamination in the sea, accounting for almost 40,000 tons of fish per year, RT’s Aleksey Yaroshevsky reports from Soma, a coastal town in the Fukushima prefecture.

Fish factories around the Fukushima prefecture now have to take radiation measurements.

“We’re taking samples from every catch we make and if we ever find even the slightest trace of radiation, we’ll destroy the whole catch. So far there has been none, this fish is safe,” Akihisa Sato assured RT, a worker in a fish laboratory in Soma, Japan.

But Japanese fishermen can’t convince customers that their fish is safe, even though the authorities insist they’re doing their best to show they’ve got a grip on the problem. In September, South Korea became the first country to ban seafood imports from Japan.

“The situation is pretty much under control. We’ve built fences [so as] not to let polluted ground waters leak into the ocean,” maintained Youshimi Hitosugi, a Fukushima nuclear plant operator in TEPCO’s Corporate Communications Department.

But despite lab workers assurances that the fish was free of any harmful particles and TEPCO standing firm that the nearby waters are clear of radiation, Yaroshevsky learnt that most of the seafood he personally saw at the port of Soma will never make it to the shelves of fish markets or restaurant tables.

“Most of the fish caught within the 30 kilometer radius is thrown into the garbage because it is radiated. And TEPCO is paying to local fishermen for it, so that they’re happy and keep silent on that. Some of it though makes it to stores, but only locally,” economist Hirokai Kurosaki revealed to RT.

So far work hasn’t stopped in Soma, despite the port being in the heart of the area ravaged by the 2011 tsunami and just a few kilometers from the Fukushima nuclear power plant heavily contaminated by radiation. Seafood of all shapes and sizes continues to land in Soma several times a day, only to end up being thrown away. “