The anxiety of residents near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is unimaginable as they are unsure of the degree of danger that the complex poses to them and whether more residents will be evacuated — even though more than one month has passed since the tsunami hit the plant.
The government has announced that it will designate most areas in five municipalities situated farther than 20 kilometers from the plant — where the cumulative amount of radiation is feared to reach 20 millisieverts per year — as a “planned evacuation zone” and evacuate all residents within a month.
Furthermore, the government will designate areas that are situated within a radius of 20-30 kilometers from the complex but are not part of the planned evacuation zone as an “emergency evacuation preparation zone.” Children, expecting mothers and those who need nursing care will be urged to refrain from entering the zone because it is difficult for them to promptly escape in case of emergency.
The new evacuation plan is better than the existing one in that it takes into account the amount of radiation, wind directions and geographical features of the areas concerned. The current arrangement gives uniform evacuation orders and indoor standby advisory notices according to the distance from the plant. Still, the new plan appears insufficient to relieve evacuees’ concerns.
Most residents of areas within a 20-30-kilometer radius of the Fukushima nuclear plant swiftly moved to evacuation shelters shortly after an indoor standby advisory was issued in these areas. However, a large number of them have reportedly returned home — mostly for health reasons.
For example, infants and handicapped children who acted restlessly at evacuation shelters were reprimanded and began to show abnormal behavior because of stress. The conditions of elderly people who needed nursing care worsened while they were staying at shelters, and people with chronic diseases sometimes showed serious symptoms because no medicine for their illnesses was available at evacuation shelters. Moreover, family members of some of these patients suffered from depression.
However, there is a serious shortage of food, gasoline and pharmaceutical products in their neighborhoods because few shops are open and commodity distributors and volunteers are hardly able to enter areas within a 30-kilometer radius of the plant.
One doctor who entered a disaster-hit area said he transported food to evacuation shelters he visited and provided medical care to evacuees after hearing of the serious food shortages. One evacuee had told the doctor that he managed to get only three potatoes after lining up at a supply station for three hours while another said he was hesitant to ask local government officials for food because they appeared exhausted.
Psychotherapists working in quake- and tsunami-ravaged areas warn that many children are showing signs of mental instability. “There are some bulimic children and others whose eyes lack focus. But the parents of these children are mostly unaware of such symptoms because they are mentally exhausted themselves,” one of them said.
The government intends to ask nursery schools and kindergartens in an emergency evacuation preparation zone to close while urging residents to be always prepared to flee in case of emergency. However, as these residents have returned home because they could not stand staying at evacuation shelters, they cannot easily flee unless there are homes available where they can stay without concern. Unless these problems are solved, elderly and handicapped people in the five municipalities designated as a planned evacuation zone will be left behind.
It is extremely difficult to predict when radiation leaks from the nuclear complex will stop and what effects the low-level radiation will have on the affected areas from a long-term perspective. Moreover, local governments in disaster-hit areas are confused over the nuclear disaster. Under the circumstances, it is understandable that the government faces difficulties in implementing effective measures to ensure the safety of residents.
However, if most residents are evacuated from the zone, those left behind will be further isolated and distressed. The government should offer places where evacuees can feel secure and can receive sufficient care.
(Mainichi Japan) April 14, 2011