kawauchi, mainichi shinbun, naraha, return to fomer town, tamura

(Editorial) As I See It: Tips for residents negotiating with gov’t on 3.11-related issues, mainichi shinbun, 3/18/14

The Fukushima prefectural city of Tamura’s Miyakoji district will be the first of the prefecture’s 11 municipalities to have its government-issued evacuation order lifted, allowing residents who fled after the outbreak of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster to return home starting April 1.

While some have rejoiced over the government’s decision, many are dissatisfied. A Mainichi Shimbun survey was taken between January and February this year of all Miyakoji households, to which 73 percent responded. Of these respondents, 47 percent said they wanted the termination of the evacuation order to wait until spring of 2015 or beyond, while 39 percent said they hoped it would happen this coming spring.

Evacuation orders are expected to be lifted in other prefectural municipalities, including the village of Kawauchi and the town of Naraha, as decontamination work is completed. And for the residents of those municipalities who will be forced to negotiate with the national government, I’d like to share some tips on the government’s tactics, based on what I learned from covering the situation in Miyakoji.

Firstly, it is important to read between the lines, and into the intent of what the government is ostensibly saying.

At a residents’ information session on Feb. 23, 2014, government officials announced the reversal of the evacuation order on the Miyakoji district’s eastern strip, a community of 117 households in the Abukuma Mountains. Residents opposed to lifting the order cited a range of reasons, including concerns about the effects of radiation on food from the area’s mountains and rivers and insufficient decontamination; blocked access to the Pacific Ocean side of the city, where residents had previously gone to shop and receive medical treatment; and dissatisfaction with the early termination of compensation for emotional distress.

In the latter half of the session, as if to demonstrate that there was nothing more to be discussed, government officials proposed lifting the evacuation order on April 1, and the meeting was adjourned. I made clear my suspicions about the hasty manner in which the conclusion was drawn, to which a bureaucrat at the meeting said, “Bureaucrats are smart.”

The remark was not meant as an insult to the residents. Rather, it implied that the meeting had been carried out according to a pre-planned strategy on the part of the government.

In June 2013, at a meeting held with residents soon after decontamination work had been carried out in Miyakoji, the government proposed a special overnight stay period for residents so they could visit their families’ graves and hold summer festivals. Most residents were under the impression that their stay would last the duration of the summer only, but the government extended it to a much longer period from August to October without any consultation with the residents. This had been a strategic move toward lifting the district’s evacuation order in November, a decision that would have to be made in October.

While this proposal was dropped due to residents’ objections, there was no discussion among the residents about the government’s motives in approaching them with the cloying suggestion that “you must want to go home for the summer.” It wasn’t until autumn had come to an end that residents grew angry that the government was always waiting to see what moves the residents would make before making its own sudden moves. Residents should have pursued the true intent behind the government officials’ remarks.

Secondly, the divisions that emerged between residents can become a major obstacle. Miyakoji residents were still relatively laid-back in the summer of last year, but they had harsh things to say about the situation by the time December rolled around. Some complained that when they opposed to termination of the evacuation order, they were accused of just being after compensation money, while others lamented that relationships between community members were broken beyond repair, and that they were constantly having to be careful not to step on anyone’s toes.

Eastern Miyakoji comprises four sections. In early 2014, one section asked for the evacuation order to be rescinded. Meanwhile, two sections with relatively high levels of radiation argued for an extended evacuation and additional decontamination, and another division was unable to reach a consensus. The national and city governments held meetings with each of the sections separately in January, but discussion of a possible timing for lifting the evacuation order was discussed only at a meeting with residents who wanted to return to Miyakoji. The voices of those yearning for a prompt termination of the evacuation order influenced the government’s Feb. 23 announcement to do so for the entire eastern part of Miyakoji in April. Ultimately, the divisions that had cut through Miyakoji residents had reinforced the government’s decision.

Thirdly, we must be cognizant that the government has a script in mind. The announcement at the Feb. 23 meeting to terminate the evacuation order sounded like something out of a dramatic performance. A resident had remarked that when they suggested having the order lifted, “a resident from another section of Miyakoji responded in a way that could be interpreted as a threat,” and proposed that for this reason, the government make the decision.

As soon as this proposal was made, officials from the Cabinet Office who had heretofore been silent cited the “right of abode” guaranteed in Article 22 of the Constitution and said, “The government has done everything it can. It would be appropriate to lift the evacuation order on April 1.” Similar remarks were made by government officials toward establishing a fait accompli. These phrases were uttered repeatedly in a wooden voice as if they were being read off a script; government sources have since admitted to having previously mapped out possible scenarios that might unfold at the meeting.

To counter the possibility of just one group of residents calling for something and the government rushing to realize it, residents must develop a strategy by choosing an eloquent facilitator from the community, deciding on areas of compromise, and formulating a script for expressing dissent against government decisions.

Fourthly, a sense of resignation can keep residents from being effective, and must be resisted. Among the reasons Miyakoji residents were unable to fight the April 1 lifting of evacuation orders was because of an overwhelming sense that “the government will do what it wants anyway,” and that “the government only says it will consider our requests.” But the residents are up against public servants. Because the job of public servants is to serve the public, residents need not hold back. Some have undoubtedly been made to feel “small” as a result of living in cramped temporary housing facilities for so long, but such people were robbed of their livelihoods and natural environments as a result of the government’s nuclear policy, due to no fault of their own. Residents should approach meetings with the government with the intention of “making use” of public servants.

The fifth point I found through my reporting of the Miyakoji situation is the closed nature of many of the meetings between the government and local residents. The government’s information sessions with Miyakoji residents were open to the public starting June 2013, but many of the meetings hosted by the Ministry of the Environment and the Fukushima Prefectural Government tend to be held behind closed doors. Authorities often say that their meetings are held privately to guarantee that resident participants can speak freely, or because such meetings have always been held that way. But residents should demand that a third party record the meetings’ proceedings and that the meetings be held publicly so they can receive advice from around the country.

Hopefully the five items I’ve outlined above will be of help to residents who face negotiations with the government regarding the lifting of evacuation orders and the construction of mid-term storage facilities for radiation-contaminated waste. (By Akio Fujiwara, Koriyama Bureau)

About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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