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Volunteers in earthquake-hit areas exceed 130,000, 4/30/11, yomiuri shinbun

The Yomiuri Shimbun

More than 130,000 people have volunteered their time and energy to help with disaster relief in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures since the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

During the Golden Week holidays, the average number of volunteers working in the areas each day will likely triple to around 8,000, the survey showed.

Offers of help have been so numerous that some local governments have decided to temporarily stop accepting volunteers–partly because they were not prepared to handle the flood of people expected during the holiday period and also to prevent overcrowding and confusion on the roads.

Social welfare councils in the prefectures that coordinate volunteer activities have urged people to check beforehand on the conditions and needs in disaster-hit areas.

According to the disaster volunteer coordination office of the Cabinet Secretariat, each prefecture has a volunteer center, as do 66 municipalities. In Iwate Prefecture, there are 20 municipal centers. Miyagi Prefecture has 17, and Fukushima Prefecture has 29.

The city government of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, has decided not to accept new individual volunteers during Golden Week. There are more than 1,000 volunteers active in the city each day–the largest number in the prefecture–and the city government said they have more than enough help.

Ishinomaki Senshu University has served as the city’s volunteer reception center since March 15. Currently, more than 1,000 people are staying in tents or cars near the center.

The city government was spooked by the prospect of a huge surge in volunteers. Anticipating more than 2,000 people could inundate Ishinomaki during Golden Week, the city government worried whether it would be able to organize them all.

The city government of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, has also decided not to accept new volunteers from April 27 to May 8 because of a shortage of accommodations. Takekiyo Yoshida, senior director of the city’s social welfare council, said: “There are still a lot of people that need the help volunteers can give. I hope people will still be willing to come at other times.”

The city government of Iwanuma in the prefecture, on the other hand, was still accepting new volunteers. Municipal governments in coastal Iwate Prefecture also continued to accept volunteers, but the government of Otsuchicho was only taking groups of five or more ahead of the expected Golden Week surge.

But in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture–close to the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant–volunteers are in very short supply. After a stay-indoors advisory was lifted in parts of the town, requests from residents for help with removing rubble have increased, and there are not enough hands for the job. So far, about 100 volunteers have worked in the town, but a disaster-relief volunteer center official said, “We expect the number to grow to 300 or so during Golden Week.”

Of the 29 municipal volunteer centers in the prefecture, nine are actively seeking new volunteers, mainly in coastal areas hit by the tsunami.

Kiyomi Tsujimoto, a government adviser to the prime minister in charge of volunteer activities, said at a press conference Thursday there were 415 groups and organizations contributing to the volunteer effort. She said the government will continue to allow certified volunteers to drive on expressways free of charge. But she asked people to refrain from using their own cars when going to disaster-hit areas to volunteer.

Disaster sites lure Japanese holiday-week helpers, 4/29/11, AP

Friday, Apr. 29, 2011

By TOMOKO A. HOSAKA –
ISHINOMAKI, Japan — Dozens of volunteers donned white disposable jumpsuits, rubber boots and hard hats at the 370-year-old Jionin Buddhist temple cemetery Friday, sacrificing holiday time to help shovel away layers of tsunami mud and debris.
Others did more intricate work, tenderly wiping dirt off Buddhist statues and stone carvings.
It’s not the way out-of-towners normally spend the start of the so-called Golden Week holiday, when Japanese commonly leave big cities to visit their home towns, take hot spring vacations or travel abroad. But after last month’s earthquake and tsunami decimated northeastern coastal towns and left an estimated 26,000 Japanese either dead or missing, these are not normal times.

Volunteer Yusaku Masubuchi, 35, helps clean a cemetery at Jionin temple in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan, Friday, April 29, 2011. Many volunteers poured into the disaster-hit region at the beginning of the annual Golden Week holiday which began Friday in Japan.

“I saw the devastation on TV and felt I had to do something,” said Junko Sugino, 49, as she dragged a crate of mud through the narrow lanes between the tombstones.
“This is hard work, but it’s something that has to be done by people. Machines can’t fit into these tiny spaces,” she said.
Sugino, from the western city of Nara, is among tens of thousands of helpers expected to converge on Japan’s northeast in coming days.
At hard-hit Ishinomaki city’s Senshu University, which has become one of the region’s largest volunteer centers, administrators have been so deluged by inquiries they’ve started telling applicants to stay home or postpone their trip until after Golden Week.
Some 1,500 volunteers already are camped on the university’s sports fields, Ishinomaki welfare department manager Katsuhito Ito said.
Farther north, in Iwate Prefecture, officials are bracing for an influx of volunteers on four-day tours organized by travel agencies through May 8.
They’re paying 19,000 yen ($232) for bus fare, accommodations and the opportunity to remove rubble from homes in the cities of Yamada, Otsuchi and Noda, said Iwate official Susumu Sugawara.
Noriyuki Owaki, 37, another of the workers at the Jionin temple cemetery said he’s never volunteered for anything before, but decided almost immediately after the March 11 disaster that he would help out during Golden Week.
“It’s meaningful work, because you’re dealing with so many families’ memories,” Oikawa said of his cemetery toils.
Also on Friday, at Tokyo’s Gokokuji temple, the Dalai Lama presided over prayers for victims of the twin disasters. The spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists said that despite the suffering and destruction there is “no reason to feel discouraged and remain hopeless.”
While Japanese communities have long had a tradition of looking out for one another, organized non-profit-backed volunteer groups who parachute into trouble spots are relatively new.
The 1995 earthquake in the city of Kobe was a watershed moment for volunteerism in Japan, said Charles McJilton, founder the Second Harvest Japan national food bank.
Many people wanted to help Kobe victims, but the government was unable to handle the influx of volunteers. That experience led to a new law on nonprofit organizations in 1998 that allowed citizens to incorporate as legal entities, McJilton said.
“There hadn’t been a history of volunteerism, but there’s a tremendous surge of interest in volunteering right now,” said David Campbell, who directs the U.S.-based nonprofit All Hands Volunteers.
In Japan, a string of national holidays at the end of April and beginning of May are collectively called Golden Week. If there’s a downside to the Golden Week volunteer boom, it’s being felt by the traditional tourism industry, which usually cashes in on holiday business.
JTB Corp., the country’s largest travel agency, forecast that people traveling domestically between April 24 and May 5 would drop some 28 percent from the previous year, while travelers abroad would sink nearly 17 percent.
One tourism industry advertising campaign is urging Japanese to visit the damaged Tohuku region, saying that their spending will help with the area’s recovery, saying “Tohoku’s path to recovery may be long and difficult, but we want tourism, one of the region’s main industries, to be a bright spot along the way.”
Prime Minister Naoto Kan has even urged Japanese to open their wallets during the holiday to help prod the post-disaster economy.
But Toshinobu Muto, director of the Tokyo-based Fareast Inc. travel agency said those pleas will likely fall on deaf ears.
“The Japanese have a custom where if their neighbors have it really bad, they try to be quiet, so that kind of mindset makes a lot of people really not want to travel,” Muto said.
Back at the Ishinomoki volunteer center, which has hosted more than 27,000 helpers since March 15, lead coordinator Hideo Otsuki was grateful for the swing from traditional vacations to volunteerism, but wondered how long it would last.
“There is a concern that volunteers may stop coming after Golden Week,” he said. “We hope that’s not the case because we need them.”

Scientists to map radioactive contamination in Fukushima, 4/29/11, asahi

Researchers are planning to create a detailed map showing levels of radioactive contamination around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

About 300 experts from Osaka University, Hiroshima University, the University of Tokyo and other academic and research institutions will start collecting soil samples in May at up to 10,000 locations in 1,500 designated areas, mainly in Fukushima Prefecture, to create a soil-pollution map.

The map will be designed primarily to help designate evacuation areas.

The science ministry intends to use the map as a picture of the situation concerning radioactive pollution in areas around the crippled plant

The project was formed on the initiative of three scientists: Mamoru Fujiwara, associate professor, Osaka University Research Center for Nuclear Physics; Masaharu Hoshi, professor, Hiroshima University Research Institute for Nuclear Medicine and Biology; and Takaharu Otsuka, professor, University of Tokyo Center for Nuclear Study.

In response to a call by the researchers, experts nationwide in nuclear physics, environmental radioactivity and meteorology have offered to help.

The group will also receive support from a Russian research institute of radiation medicine, which carried out environmental surveys in areas contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl accident.

Around mid-May, the team will start its work by dividing the area around the stricken nuclear power plant spanning 100 kilometers north-south and 60 kilometers east-west into 1,500 2-kilometer square zones. The researchers will collect soil samples at five to seven points in each zone to measure levels of such radioactive isotopes as iodine-131, cesium-137 and strontium-90. The level of radiation in each zone will be shown on the pollution map.

The group also plans to conduct a radiation survey in the 20-kilometer off-limits zone around the plant, and is holding talks with the government for the survey.

Levels of soil pollution are affected by such factors as topographical and meteorological conditions. Measurements at two points in the same area can differ widely.

Detailed pollution data are essential for careful planning of evacuation zones.

The group plans to carry out the survey every few months to update the map.

Regular updates are important because, compared with the areas around the Chernobyl plant, those around the Fukushima plant are more undulating and rainy, according to the researchers. Rain causes soil drainage and significant changes in radiation levels over time.

The group will also study the effects of soil contamination on human health by using data from health checkups of local residents.

It was three years after the Chernobyl accident that a detailed map of cesium-137 contamination was completed.

Since the measurements of iodine-131, which has a short half life of about eight days, in areas around the Chernobyl plant were not sufficient, it was impossible to make an accurate assessment of the effects of this radioactive material on the health of local residents, in particular the correlation between levels of iodine-131 contamination and the incidence of thyroid cancer. Exposure to iodine-131, which is concentrated in the thyroid when absorbed by the body, is believed to increase the risk of thyroid cancer.

The science ministry is also developing its own soil pollution map, but it is currently measuring radiation levels at only 53 locations.

“We hope to work with the researchers and make effective use of the map,” said an official at the ministry.

“An early radiation survey is indispensable for accurately estimating the risk of developing cancer due to exposure to radioactive materials,” said Osaka University’s Fujiwara. “Basic data about soil pollution will also help develop convincing evacuation plans for local residents.”

Updated radiation map shows fewer areas above evacuation standard, 4/28/11, asahi

The science ministry’s updated map of expected levels of accumulated radiation in Fukushima Prefecture showed slightly fewer areas around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that fit the criteria for evacuation.

At least one local government in an area outside the expected evacuation zone is already resisting specific instructions from the central government.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will update the map twice a month. The figures released are estimates for annual radiation exposure until March 11, 2012, a year after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima plant.

The map, used to designate evacuation zones, was updated April 26. Unlike the first post-quake map released on April 11, the latest update shows annual accumulated nuclear exposure estimates within a 20-kilometer radius of the nuclear plant.

The new map was based on radiation levels measured at about 2,100 locations from March 12 through April 21 by the ministry and the Fukushima prefectural government and others.

The estimated annual radiation exposure levels for these areas were calculated on the assumption that residents stay within wooden buildings for 16 hours a day.

The updated map showed 14 such locations within the “planned evacuation area” outside the 20-km radius, including Akougi, Namie town, about 24 km northwest of the plant. Akougi had the highest estimated radiation level, at 235.4 millisieverts.

But the map also showed wide gaps in estimated radiation levels.

For example, 10 millisieverts was expected in Nimaibashi, Iitate village, below the 20-millisievert standard, according to the map.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama on April 26 met the chiefs of municipalities near the plant, including Iitate Mayor Norio Kanno and Michio Furukawa, mayor of Kawamata town, whose jurisdictions fall within the expected 20-millisievert evacuation zone.

Fukuyama asked the mayors to temporarily relocate residents, including to Nagano or Aomori prefectures.

It was the first time the central government suggested specific areas for the relocation of residents.

Both Kanno and Furukawa rejected the request, telling Fukuyama that the residents should be allowed to move to nearby areas within Fukushima Prefecture.

Kanno said he told Fukuyama that Iitate residents have lives and families in their hometown, so it would be difficult for them to leave the area.

He said he is grateful that the central government has been trying to find places for the residents to live together, but they cannot be expected to simply follow the government’s suggestions.

Many schools near nuclear plant remain closed, 12,000 children affected, 4/28/11, mainichi

This photograph shows 249 student handbooks sent to Naraha Junior High School in Aizu Misato, Fukushima Prefecture. The handbooks remain in a cardboard box as it is not clear when the school will reopen. (Mainichi)
The ongoing crisis at a nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan has forced a number of schools near the troubled site to remain closed, affecting about 12,000 children, according to the Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education.

Of 54 elementary and junior high schools near the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, 23 of them had to abandon their plans to reopen for the new school term starting in early April, the Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education said. About 70 percent of 25 schools in the off-limits zones within a 20-kilometer radius of the nuclear plant were unable to move their school functions elsewhere, forcing their pupils to attend classes at schools near their evacuation shelters. Some school officials voiced concern that the situation could break the bonds between the children.

Apart from the off-limits zones, the government had designated areas that were expected to receive high doses of radiation as “planned evacuation zones” and those areas within a 20-30 kilometer radius of the nuclear plant that were not expected to receive high doses of radiation but might need evacuation in times of contingency as “indoor standby zones.” Therefore the schools in those zones have to be closed under Japanese law. Across 12 municipalities in those zones, 54 elementary and junior high schools were forced to remain closed and about 12,000 children were affected.

Of the 54 schools, eight in the off-limits zones were able to move their school functions elsewhere, the Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education said. Six out of 10 schools in the “planned evacuation zones” and 17 out of 19 schools in the “indoor standby zones” moved their school functions outside their areas. Those 31 schools that had moved their educational functions elsewhere opened temporary schools at abandoned school buildings or rented empty classrooms at existing schools.

The remaining 23 schools have no prospects of reopening, and therefore their children apparently had to transfer to schools near evacuation shelters outside the zones in the prefecture or schools near shelters outside the prefecture. The situation is such that the schools have virtually vanished, albeit temporarily. The Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education plans to start assigning in early May teachers from the 23 schools to those schools to which many of their pupils have transferred. The teachers will have two posts concurrently for their old and new schools, respectively.

The reason why the teachers would hold two posts concurrently is that the board of education wants to keep the old school names in their titles, a board of education official said. “We are concerned because this is a problem that affects the children’s mental state. But while the nuclear accident has not been resolved, there are no prospects of the schools reopening. We feel sorry for the children. Once local residents start living in groups at temporary homes and the like, the schools could reopen,” said the official.

(Mainichi Japan) April 28, 2011

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