FUKUSHIMA–Takashi Sato arrives at Onami Elementary School around 7:30 a.m., changes his navy uniform for a sky blue sweat suit, and starts his daily routine surrounded by empty classrooms and vacant hallways.
His constant smile and cheerful demeanor betray any sense of loneliness he may feel.
The 11-year-old is the only pupil at the school.
Forty-one children used to play in the yard at Onami Elementary School. But on March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, leading to meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, 57 kilometers southeast of the school.
As fears of radiation spread, the number of elementary school pupils in Fukushima Prefecture fell below 100,000, down nearly 19,000 from before the nuclear accident.
Onami Elementary School and another elementary school in the prefecture now have only one pupil.
Takashi’s school day usually starts outside, where he is greeted by his teacher, Kei Omuro, 41, and the vice principal, Kazuaki Sato, 50. The boy gleefully replies, “Good morning.”
Before his first class starts, Takashi does some exercise, such as running and skipping, on the soft new soil brought in after accumulated radioactive substances were removed.
The mountainous area where the school is located had relatively high radiation levels in Fukushima city. A schoolyard dosimeter now shows 0.3 microsievert per hour, slightly lower than in central parts of the city.
A photo of 10 smiling children, who attended the school until the 2012 academic year ended in March, hangs on the back of Takashi’s classroom.
Seven sixth-graders went on to junior high school. Two younger pupils transferred to a nearby elementary school because of the dwindling population at Onami Elementary School.
Takashi, now a sixth-grader, is the only one in the photo who remained.
When asked if he feels lonely without a classmate, he says, “I probably got used to it in about a week.”
Takashi said he makes it a rule not to say he is lonely.
“I keep it in here,” he says, holding his chest with both hands.
Takashi’s first class on April 23 is arithmetic. He and Omuro bow to each other when the class begins at 8:30 a.m.
The 60-square-meter classroom has only two desks–one for the pupil and one for the teacher–where they solve problems together. Takashi is good at arithmetic.
When Takashi appears drowsy, Omuro tells him to go to the restroom to wash his face.
“I could fall into a rut because we are alone,” Omuro says after Takashi leaves. “I make it a point not to.”
The fourth class is English, where Takashi learns how to introduce himself to a stranger.
“Hello, my name is Sato Takashi,” he says in a tense, cracking voice. “Uh. … What’s your name?”
The lesson brings out Omura’s sympathy for his young student.
“Usually, pupils practice conversations with their classmates on the same level, but Takashi has to partner with an adult,” the teacher says. “I feel sorry for him.”
Takashi’s lunch companions are also adults–Omuro, Sato and two school employees. He plays catch with Sato at lunch break.
The boy’s routine at school can take a strange turn.
At 1:30 p.m., he goes to a broadcasting booth, and speaks into a microphone to tell his nonexistent schoolmates: “Let’s start cleaning.”
He plays music and returns to his classroom to wash the floor.
He returns to the booth after 15 minutes to announce the end of the cleaning task. “Thanks for a job well done,” he tells the school.
Omuro never asks Takashi if he feels lonely.
He says he cannot forget when Takashi learned he would be the only pupil from the new academic year during the last school lunch in March.
“Takashi was visibly upset,” Omuro says, with tears in his eyes.
Masaaki Abe, 54, principal of the Onami Elementary School, says he wants Takashi to get in touch with as many people as possible at the elementary school to nurture his social development.
He meets Takashi at the school entrance at 7:30 a.m. Around the same time, Yoshinobu Sakuma, 60, a school janitor, cleans around the entrance to greet the school’s only pupil.
Local residents have played a big part in Takashi’s school life.
The Onami district solicited contributions in March and donated 300,000 yen ($3,000) to the elementary school to spend on Takashi’s education.
Yoshitsugu Yamaki, 54, who heads the local athletic association, says he plans to liven up the May annual sports festival organized by residents and Onami Elementary School.
“We will ask for help from the women’s division of the agricultural cooperative association and serve rice balls and miso soup with pork and vegetables,” Yamaki says.
This year, Takashi may take part as a member of a school team that includes teachers and school employees.
Despite the enthusiasm for local events, residents who evacuated from the Onami district are not expected to return anytime soon.
“We have to keep up our efforts to encourage them to gradually return to their hometown, starting with attending events such as the sports festival and the summer festival,” Yamaki says.
As a sixth-grader, Takashi will move on to a junior high school next year.
Yamaki says he hopes the elementary school will not be closed after Takashi graduates.
Fukushima, April 20 (Jiji Press)–Progress toward postdisaster reconstruction has been patchy in areas tainted with radioactive substances from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s
One year has passed since Japan began work to realign the evacuation zones set around the plant in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima shortly after the nuclear accident into three types of new zones depending on the levels of contamination, including one where estimated annual radiation doses are under 20 millisieverts and preparations can be started so that residents can resume their lives there after the evacuation orders are lifted in the near future.
One of the other two is an area where annual doses are between above 20 millisieverts and 50 millisieverts and residents need to wait some years to resume their lives, and the remaining one is an area where annual doses are above 50 millisieverts and residents cannot return home at least for five years.
The evacuation zone realignment has already been completed for nine of the 11 Fukushima municipalities concerned and is seen to finish by summer this year for the two others.
Moves toward reconstruction have progressed steadily in places where the realignment finished early. But in other places, buildings and infrastructure are turning into ruins, making reconstruction even more difficult.
Radioactive decontamination following last year’s nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant has not been completed at more than 80 percent of homes.
Japan’s environment ministry studied the progress of government-funded removal of radioactive substances being undertaken by 58 cities, towns and villages in 7 prefectures around Fukushima as of the end of August.
It says work had been completed at 69 percent of educational facilities such as schools and childcare centers that were scheduled for decontamination.
51 percent of roads had been treated.
But the ministry found that among nearly 100,000 homes slated for removal of radioactive substances, the process was finished at only about 17,000 or 18 percent of them.
As for parks and sports facilities, 38 percent of them had been decontaminated.
Tokyo, Oct. 24 (Jiji Press)–The Japanese industry ministry on Wednesday expressed a reluctance to adopt a proposal from academics that high-level radioactive waste be stored for possibly decades or centuries as an interim measure until new processing technologies are developed.
The Science Council of Japan submitted the proposal last month to the Japan Atomic Energy Commission of the Cabinet Office.
At a meeting of the commission the same day, however, the industry ministry explained that the most internationally endorsed method for dealing with such waste is geological disposal to keep it deep underground for tens of thousands of years.
While the science council in its proposal did not refer to ways for final disposal of high-level radioactive waste, the ministry stressed at the meeting that the international consensus is that final disposal methods should be clarified.
By HIROYUKI MAEGAWA/ Correspondent
GENEVA–Last year’s nuclear disaster is an ongoing “humanitarian crisis,” according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which released its World Disasters Report 2012 on Oct. 16.
The report, subtitled “Focus on forced migration and displacement,” described the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant as a technological disaster leading to the “evacuation and resettlement of affected communities.”
The report included the Fukushima crisis in a chapter dealing with the estimated 15 million people who are displaced each year by development projects, many of them in developing countries.
The report quoted an evacuee from an exclusion zone within a 20-kilometer radius of the Fukushima plant as saying: “We followed the authorities’ instructions and ended up somewhere where the radioactivity was still high.”
The report said comments like this highlight “the complex mix of anger, distress and uncertainty.”
While the report said the radiation exposure doses in Fukushima Prefecture are far lower than in Chernobyl, it quoted a physician as saying: “It is difficult to reveal what potential health effects may occur long term stretching into the future.”
Governments have generally not emphasized potential threats in the vicinity of nuclear power plants, IFRC Under Secretary General Matthias Schmale told a news conference. He said governments should ensure such information is made more transparent, and added that the Fukushima disaster has not ended.
Fukushima, Aug. 9 (Jiji Press)–The town of Naraha in Fukushima Prefecture will have its exclusion zone status lifted at midnight Thursday, after it was imposed in the wake of last year’s nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
It will be downgraded to a zone with annual radiation levels under 20 millisieverts, where temporary visits will be allowed and the central government will make preparations for the lifting of the evacuation order.
The government will begin full decontamination work within this month. It plans to complete decontamination of the area by March 2014.
Among 11 municipalities around the plant, Naraha is the fifth to get a revision under the government’s new evacuation zoning.
Excluding the southern industrial section, almost the entire town is within the exclusion zone set after the March 11 accident last year. Forbidden to enter the zone, most of approximately 7,600 residents are living as evacuees in the nearby city of Iwaki.
Tokyo, Aug. 1 (Jiji Press)–The government will start a survey of Fukushima Prefecture evacuees as early as next week in order to reflect their opinions on envisaged “temporary towns” for areas affected by the nuclear crisis, informed sources said Wednesday.
Starting with people from the town of Kawamata and the village of Katsurao in the northeastern prefecture’s Futaba county, the Reconstruction Agency plans to hear opinions from evacuees and get an idea about how many would wish to settle in such temporary towns.
The survey will be conducted before the agency begins full-fledged discussions on ways to support evacuees and the legal issues to be cleared to realize the project.
The temporary town plan is being studied by four towns in the county seriously affected by radioactive fallout from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The survey, to be conducted jointly by the agency and the prefectural and municipal governments, will cover a total of 12 municipalities with designated evacuation zones, including eight Futaba towns and villages. Similar projects may be implemented by more municipalities later.
IITATE, Fukushima–Progress in rezoning evacuation areas contaminated with radioactive emissions has stalled, with the government’s new zoning system enacted in only four of the 11 municipalities surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
On Tuesday, the new zoning system was implemented in Iitate. The entire village had previously been designated as an expanded evacuation zone, but has now been divided into three areas based on contamination levels.
The government had initially planned to implement the new zoning system in all 11 municipalities by April 1. However, it remains unclear when the system will be introduced in the remaining seven municipalities.
Furthermore, the four municipalities where rezoning has been completed still face various difficulties, such as rebuilding residents’ livelihoods and ongoing decontamination work.
The new zoning system aims to intensively promote decontamination work in areas where radiation levels are relatively low and encourage residents to return home.
Areas previously classified as evacuation zones based on radiation and distance from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant have been sorted into three new zoning categories. Areas are classified after precisely measuring radiation levels.
Iitate Mayor Norio Kanno attended a ceremony to send off resident-organized patrol groups Tuesday. At the ceremony, Kanno said: “We’ve met a number of times to discuss how we should rebuild our city–even though each effort was small. I’ll continue to do my best so residents can return home as soon as possible.”
Most areas in Iitate were designated as either restricted residency zones, where residents will be able to return within several years, or zones being prepared for residents’ return, where residents may return as soon as decontamination is completed. However, the village’s Nagadoro district was designated a residency prohibited zone, and residents will not be able to return for at least five years.
Rezoning procedures in the village had been delayed after some residents objected to the government’s policy of differentiating compensation payments based on which zones residents lived in. Under the government’s plan, people living in zones being prepared for residents’ return would be paid 100,000 yen per month. However, people living in the other two zone types would be paid lump sums–2.4 million yen for those in restricted residency zones, and 6 million yen for those in residency prohibited zones.
Thanks to rezoning, industries and businesses that operate indoors, such as manufacturers and financial institutions, were allowed to return to work–except for those in the Nagadoro district.
“Reconstruction in the village would have been delayed even further without the new zoning system,” Kanno said.
Iitate’s main industries are livestock and agriculture, but many farmers have already given up their livelihoods. As a result, it will be difficult for the village to rebuild its economy and ensure that there are enough jobs for residents. According to a survey conducted by the village in May, 33.1 percent of respondents said they “did not have plans to return.”
About three months have passed since most areas in Minami-Soma city’s Odaka district were designated as zones being prepared for residents’ return. Since then, people have been allowed to freely enter those areas.
However, the water supply and sewage system have yet to be restored in the district, which was home to about 430 businesses before the Great East Japan Earthquake. Of that number, only eight have resumed operations, while 37 were preparing to reopen as of June 15. Twenty-four have decided to permanently close.
A 63-year-old man said he visits his home in Odaka district from Tochigi Prefecture, where he is now staying, to occasionally clean up. He said he refrains from drinking water while he is there because the nearest portable toilet–one of 21 built by the city–is about a kilometer away from his house.
The Minami-Soma municipal government said it is trying to restore the sewage system and water supplies. However, an official said, “We have no specific date for when these services will resume.”
The new zoning system was introduced in Kawauchi village on April 1. While middle and primary schools and day care centers have reopened in former emergency evacuation preparation zones, only 39 children–17 percent of the figure before the Great East Japan Earthquake–attend the facilities.
A 34-year-old woman living at a temporary house in Koriyama said she lost her job after the disaster. The woman, a mother of two, said she is hesitant to go back home. “My 8-year-old daughter begs for us to return home, but I don’t think I can find a new job in Kawauchi,” she said.
Criticisms on rezoning
Some residents in municipalities that have yet to be rezoned are critical of the fact that the new categories are based solely on radiation levels and ignore actual living conditions.
In Okuma, a town designated as a no-entry zone, 95 percent of the town, including the town center, government buildings, banking institutions and shopping areas, is expected to be classified as a residency prohibited zone. As the remaining areas are near the mountains and surrounded by residency prohibited zones, it is unlikely many people will return there.
“Even though we’re allowed to return to parts of our town, we would hardly be able to get everyday items. It would be difficult to live there,” Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe said. The town government plans not to return for at least five years.
The Futaba municipal government has asked the central government to designate the entire town as a residency prohibited zone, and hopes the town will be treated in a uniform fashion in all regards, including compensation payments.
“The reality is that we can’t live in the town anyway, even if there are some differences in radiation levels,” Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa said.
(Jul. 19, 2012)
The government will create a team to support a “temporary town” plan for four Fukushima Prefecture municipalities evacuated because of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdown crisis, sources said.
The team will involve officials from the Reconstruction Agency; the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry; the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry; the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry; and the education ministry, the sources said.
The team, which is slated to hold its first meeting this week, will exchange opinions with local people to find what they need under the temporary town plan, the sources said.
The plan is being studied by the towns of Futaba, Okuma, Namie and Tomioka, all located near the stricken Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s plant.
The temporary towns are expected to have schools, shops as well as administrative functions.
Reconstruction minister Tatsuo Hirano has said the central government will work out concrete support measures after conducting a survey by this fall to collect local opinions about the temporary town plan.
Taxation and resident registration are among issues that must be finalized because the temporary towns will be created within other municipalities, something that would be unprecedented.
Analysts say the state also needs to provide support to municipalities that may host the temporary towns, such as the cities of Iwaki and Minamisoma, which are located in Fukushima Prefecture.
In addition, central government agencies will likely be asked to join hands in tackling issues such as buying land and securing buildings necessary for the temporary towns.
For the time being, members of the planned central government team will hold working-level discussions with Futaba, Okuma, Namie and Tomioka, and four other municipalities in Fukushima, the sources said.
FUKUSHIMA — The central government’s efforts to reclassify evacuation areas around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant under a new zoning system for decontamination and financial compensation has been significantly delayed as residents in the affected regions continue to demand “fair” compensation.
Under the reclassification that the government had earlier planned to implement on April 1, the 11 municipalities falling within the evacuation zones near the damaged nuclear plant would be divided into three new zones based on radiation levels.
Financial compensation for emotional distress for residents is proposed as follows: (1) a lump sum of 6 million yen per person for residents living in zones where return is restricted for a minimum of at least five years, (2) a lump sum of 2.4 million yen per person for residents in zones where return is expected to be possible in several years, and (3) 100,000 yen per person per month for residents in zones currently being prepared for the lifting of evacuation orders.
Compensation for land and homes would also vary by zones under the proposed scheme.
Two months have passed since the government initially planned to implement the reclassification scheme, and of the 11 concerned municipalities, only three — the cities of Minamisoma and Tamura and the village of Kawauchi — have agreed to the suggested conditions.
The prefectural town of Tomioka, where radiation levels are higher in its northern regions, would be divided into three zones under the plan. Tomioka officials have resisted the reclassification, stating that as long as villagers are not offered equal compensation across the board, the town will not accept the scheme.
“With the current lack of progress in decontamination and rebuilding infrastructure, many residents will not be able to return even after the reclassification takes place, and living conditions will not change,” says Tomio Midorikawa, chief of the Tomioka Municipal Government’s consumer and environmental protection division. “Given that, it is ridiculous to judge the impact of damage through radiation levels alone, differentiating between sets of residents who were forced to evacuate.”
The town of Futaba, which would also be subjected to a three-zone reclassification, has taken a similar stance.
“When we think about the conditions of financial compensation, it is difficult to accept the reclassification,” says an official with the municipal government’s headquarters for disaster control. “Is true reconstruction possible when only residents whose homes are in low-radiation areas return?”
In an appeal for equal compensation and the tightening of standards on maximum allowable annual radiation doses, Tomioka residents launched a signature campaign in April. Having already collected signatures from some 5,000 residents — one-third of the town’s population — the petition will be soon submitted to the Tomioka Municipal Government.
Ryoichi Murai, a 61-year-old Tomioka resident, who is taking shelter in the prefectural city of Iwaki and participated in the signature campaign, urges the central government not to discriminate against residents.
“If evacuees from the same town are subjected to varying amounts of financial compensation, a sense of unfairness will grow between them,” Murai says. “I don’t want us to be discriminated against via this compensation system.”
The Minamisoma Municipal Government agreed to the reclassification plan in April, judging that decontamination and reconstruction would be delayed if the city continued to be classified as a no-go zone. However, it argues that classification and compensation are separate issues, and is appealing to the central government to compensate all residents equally.
Meanwhile, the town of Naraha is expected to fall entirely under the “evacuation order release preparatory zone,” which means all its residents would receive the same amount of compensation. The town government is planning to conduct a resident survey toward approval of the reclassification.