The operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has rejected requests for additional compensation from residents forced to evacuate because of the nuclear disaster, defying a government mediation center, The Asahi Shimbun has learned.
Prompted by a request from 15,000 residents of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, or more than 70 percent of the town’s population, the central government’s nuclear damage claim dispute resolution center in March issued a proposed settlement calling for Tokyo Electric Power Co. to pay an additional 50,000 yen ($492) per month to each town evacuee.
In the proposed settlement, accepted by the town residents, the mediation center also asked the utility to pay an additional 30,000 yen per month to those aged 75 or older.
But TEPCO rejected the proposal for an across-the-board 50,000-yen payment and said it would offer an additional 20,000 yen a month only to residents 75 years or older who have suffered injuries or illnesses, in letters sent to the town and the dispute resolution center on June 25.
“Its response substantively represents the absolute refusal of the proposal,” Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba commented the following day. “It does not understand the pain of victims at all.”
Because TEPCO has said it would honor compromise settlements proposed by the mediation center, Baba criticized the plant operator for “breaking its vow.”
In March 2012, a year after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the central government’s Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation released guidelines on compensation for the emotional distress of nuclear victims.
According to the guidelines, TEPCO has to pay monthly compensation of 100,000 yen per person to 80,000 residents of mandatory evacuation zones around the nuclear plant.
The company has been complying with the recommendations.
“(The requests from Namie residents) deviate from the guidelines and can undermine a sense of fairness,” Yuji Masuda, a TEPCO managing executive officer, explained at a shareholders’ meeting on June 26.
TEPCO also took issue with the dispute resolution center’s argument that the utility should provide additional compensation because evacuees “are currently living in an extremely unstable condition where they cannot see any future prospects.”
In the letters sent to the town and the center, the utility said the status of those evacuees was already taken into account when the compensation guidelines were compiled.
The Namie residents on June 26 asked the dispute resolution center to persuade TEPCO to pay the proposed extras. The center plans to discuss the issue with the company again, and if TEPCO refuses to accept the proposal, the evacuees will possibly sue the utility for additional compensation.
A local government group, consisting of eight municipalities in the prefecture’s Futaba county, including Namie, has also demanded that TEPCO and the central government make changes to the guidelines and pay additional compensation to all their residents.
TOMIOKA, Fukushima Prefecture–When Keiko Sawauchi returned to her home here on a recent visit, the 60-year-old piano teacher could not even bring herself to look at her “partner.”
It has become too unbearable for her to see the continuing deterioration of her grand piano over time during each visit home.
Sawauchi, who gave piano lessons to children in her neighborhood, never approached the musical instrument during her brief stay in her home, about 7 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, on June 21.
“My son says I can save up my money and buy a new piano,” said Sawauchi, who has evacuated to Chiba Prefecture. “But none of my students will return to an area like this that has a reading of high radiation doses.”
She said her grand piano can no longer produce beautiful notes as it has been damaged by high humidity and neglect. It has been left unattended for the more than three years since she was forced to flee her home when the disaster unfolded at the nuclear complex on March 11, 2011, triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
On this visit, Sawauchi returned to examine the scope of the damage done to her house. She is one of about 3,000 plaintiffs who filed a damage suit against Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, and the central government in March 2013. They are demanding the restoration of their lives before the disaster and compensation in the suit filed with the Fukushima District Court.
Sawauchi’s home sits in an area where the central government says former residents can eventually rebuild their communities after the current and future decontamination operation.
Her visit to her home was the first in about a year. But it is not the residence she had long known.
When she opened the front door, which was almost covered by overgrown plants, she smelled the foul stench of small animals.
Her living and dining rooms were filled with rat droppings.
There were also signs that small animals such as raccoon dogs and masked palm civets had entered and overrun the interior.
In addition, many of her kimono and sashes stored in a Japanese-style chest had been stolen.
“What a mess! This is not my house,” she whispered.
Sawauchi decided to join the suit after she heard Izutaro Managi, a lawyer who leads the secretariat of the team of lawyers representing the plaintiffs.
“It is not anything virtuous for people in Tohoku to endure this,” she recalled Managi saying, referring to the patience and perseverance for which people in the northeastern region are known.
She is aware of the enormity of her adversaries.
“I am just like an ant that is biting the foot of an elephant,” Sawauchi said. “But biting together with others, I want to have TEPCO feel even a slight pang of pain.”
Some of the plaintiffs are facing even the permanent loss of their homes.
Yuji Fukuda, 66, who operated a business to install machinery and devices in Futaba, a town that co-hosts the nuclear complex, said he has no idea when, or even if, he can return to his home to live.
The home of Fukuda and his wife, Ikuko, 59, is situated 5 kilometers from the plant. With an estimated annual radiation dose of more than 50 millisieverts, evacuees from the area are less likely to be able to return for many years.
Radiation levels dropped due to natural decay, but they are still registering at 6-7 microsieverts per hour.
“We cannot tell at all how long we should wait before we are able to return home,” Fukuda said. “We are evacuation refugees, sort of a derelict ship just drifting without anyone at the wheel.”
The floor of Fukuda’s home was so corroded that a group of 24 lawyers and plaintiffs who were visiting that day could not enter at the same time due to the danger of collapse. The house had been left virtually unattended for more than three years. It was difficult for the couple to return to care for their home even for a short period, because of high radiation levels in the neighborhood. Signs that small animals had broken into the house added to their misery.
“Do you understand how humiliating it is for us to have to show our IDs to strangers and gain permission from the central government to even visit our home?” Fukuda asked.
The legal team plans to ask the court to conduct onsite inspections of the homes of evacuees and related facilities by around October.
A suicide-prevention hotline in Fukushima Prefecture received a record 18,194 calls in 2013, signaling that scars from the events of March 2011 still weigh heavily on residents’ minds.
Counselors at the hotline, Fukushima Inochi no Denwa, say consultations related to the triple disaster still stand out from the other issues.
In addition, experts say the content of the consultations has changed over time. Unlike the first days of the natural and man-made disasters, when new supply lines were in dire need, today’s callers often discuss issues regarding their mental distress with the events of 3/11.
In 2011, the hotline actually handled fewer calls than the preceding year (13,677 versus 16,649), but this was only because the telephone network had been damaged by the offshore quake. The hotline’s Koriyama office remained out of service for about a month afterward.
In 2012, calls surged to 17,881 before setting the current record of 18,194 last year.
According to Fukushima Inochi no Denwa, 1,618 calls in 2011 were related to the quake and the nuclear crisis. In 2012, consultations of this kind fell to 826, but counselors spent more hours talking to each person on average.
Counselors said the most recent topics range from arguments between spouses over whether to leave Fukushima because of the radiation, to the way fathers feel estranged from their families after being forced to move out of the house to find work.
Furthermore, a sense of loss and isolation, as well as pessimism about life in general, have recently stood out, the counselors said, adding that many used to mention “a sense of unity” and “the preciousness of life” in the early stage of the disasters.
One recent caller was quoted as saying, “I could not help others when the tsunami hit. It’s hard.” Another caller said: “I took part in rescue operations but could not rescue anyone. Now I have no confidence in continuing my work.”
Shinichiro Watanabe, 66, who heads the hotline, said, “The earthquake and the nuclear accident have affected many Fukushima residents. We will provide consultations to as many people as possible.”
Fukushima University professor Yuji Tsutsui, 49, who studies how disasters affect mental health, said the rise in calls is an alarming sign. He said he believes the aftereffects have reached every corner of residents’ lives over the past three years. The rise in calls also reflects the diversity of the mental problems rooted in March 11.
There are 51 branches of Inochi no Denwa nationwide. The Fukushima call center was set up in 1997 and has two counselors on standby from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. year-round. More than 100 volunteers with two years of counseling training take turns on the phones. The number is 024-536-4343.
Masaharu Tsubokura was in Paris with his fiancee when he received a phone call from his boss in Japan, who abruptly asked him: “When are you coming back to Japan?”
And that, in hindsight, marked the beginning of Tsubokura’s double life. He is no spy, though.
Tsubokura, 32, is a researcher at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science. He also is on staff of a once-a-week outpatient clinic operated by the Minami-Soma Municipal General Hospital, located 23 kilometers north of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. His specialty is radiation exposure.
Tsubokura, on a recent day in late April, was consulting with a women in her 60s about the results of her exposure checkup.
“I’m not sure of the source. Do you feel all right?” he asked.
A miniscule amount of radioactive cesium had been detected in the woman’s body. Questioning the woman about her diet, Tsubokura began to suspect dried persimmons that are grown locally as the cause. The amount of cesium was not sufficient to cause concern about the woman’s health.
Because perceptions regarding exposure differ greatly according to the individual, Tsubokura refrained from saying outright that everything would be all right. He listened to the woman’s concerns, pointed out things about her diet and advised her to return for another examination in two to three months.
Starting a month after the nuclear accident, Tsubokura has continually traveled back and forth between Tokyo and Fukushima. Even now, he spends half the week in Fukushima conducting checkups and exposure tests while consulting with people about their health.
His dual work roles originated with a phone call at the beginning of April 2011 while he on a three-day vacation after attending an international academic conference in Paris. Tsubokura was taking a pleasure cruise along the Seine with his fiancce, Mayuko, 32, when his cellphone beeped.
“When are you coming back? Can I get you to go to Fukushima?”
Tsubokura did not hesitate, and said “Yes.”
The call was from Masahiro Kami, 45, Tsubokura’s supervisor at the Institute of Medical Science. Kami was involved in a medical support project for victims of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster in northeastern Japan. Born in Osaka, Tsubokura was a first-year junior high school student when the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck in 1995, claiming more than 6,000 lives.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake, leaving 18,000 dead or missing, Tsubokura wanted to get involved with providing relief to stricken areas.
Prior to the disaster, the Minami-Soma Municipal General Hospital employed 14 full-time physicians. Afterward, that figure dropped to four and the hospital faced a chronic shortage of doctors.
Mayuko, Tsubokura’s fiancee, broke down in tears back at their Paris hotel room. She was petrified of what might happen, given the huge discharge of radioactive materials being reported at the Fukushima plant.
“Why? Why do you have to be the one to go?” she asked.
As a hematology specialist, Tsubokura knew a fair bit about radiation exposure. “Someone has to go, don’t they? Don’t worry, I’ll be all right,” he said. trying to mollify her.
ILL HEALTH CAUSED BY STRESS
Requests for Tsubokura to “talk about radiation exposure” poured in from Fukushima residents. However, Tsubokura was not entirely sure what he should talk about. Firstly, no residents had been exposed to high doses of radiation that would cause illnesses such as leukemia to suddenly appear. At the same time, the effects of low-dose exposure were not well understood. He decided to be frank with those he spoke to.
“It’s not a situation where you will abruptly die if you don’t evacuate. However, I currently do not know what the long-term effects might be,” he told audiences.
As Tsubokura continued to hold explanatory briefings, complaints and criticism from residents took on a life of their own.
“What are you talking about? You’re receiving money from Tokyo Electric Power Co. to say we ‘haven’t been exposed to large amounts of radiation,’ aren’t you!” “You’re saying Fukushima has been contaminated? If you ridicule Fukushima, you won’t get away with it!”
Even with accusations flying, he continued to hold information sessions. One day he went to eat soba (buckwheat) noodles garnished with edible wild plants. He noticed the food tasted funny. He tried to close his eyes but was unable to: his facial nerves had become paralyzed. The stress of the job was getting to him.
The outpatient service he was providing was becoming a real chore. Patients were venting their anger about the nuclear accident on him. His head and stomach ached and his blood pressure soared to 180. Tsubokura, now married, concealed the situation from his wife. He began taking stomach medication and drugs to lower his blood pressure.
Tatsuya Ozaki, 54, was boarding in the same private residence as Tsubokura at that time. Ozaki is a special mission head to the Seisa Group, which operates various entities including Seisa International High School and was providing medical support to the disaster area. He said, “Coming to a place he was unfamiliar with, Tsubokura, in the beginning, seemed a little perplexed about what exactly it is he should do.”
One evening after support activities had been completed for the day, Ozaki invited Tsubokura to join him at the open-air baths at a local Japanese-style inn.
“I’m so tired,” muttered Tsubokura. Ozaki offered the following encouragement: “I think what you’re telling people is spot-on. For those who want to criticize, just let them. Future generations will make the final judgment about what was correct or not.”
FOLLOWING IN HIS FOOTSTEPS
In October 2011, internal radiation exposure test results for approximately 3,000 children were announced. By and large, the density of the cesium detected was low. Tsubokura wanted to inform residents as quickly as possible to put them at ease and persuaded a reluctant municipal government to make the announcement. The next day a newspaper carried an article with the headline “Small amount of cesium detected in elementary and junior high school students in Minami-Soma.” A nurse scornfully told Tsubokura, “Now all Fukushima children have been labeled as having been exposed to radiation.” Tsubokura was shocked. What he had set out to do with only the best of intentions had backfired.
He wanted to give up on the support activities he was involved with. It was when he was seriously thinking about what he should do that he met Yukiko Banba, 53, who operated a tutoring school near the hospital. “I want you to tell the children the truth about radioactivity,” Banba said. Agreeing, Tsubokura spoke to the kids and fielded their innocent queries: “Is it alright to hold a cat that has played outside?” “Can well water be used for doing laundry?”
Thoughtless comments about Tsubokura continued to be posted on the Internet: “He’s a self-serving academic.” “He’s an agent for Tokyo Electric.” Still, with Banba’s encouragement, Tsubokura continued to hold numerous, small explanatory briefings, drawing audiences of about 20 to 30 people each time. Slowly, the number of residents who came to understand that “Dr. Tsubokura is speaking from a scientific and medical perspective” increased.
Last year, the results of internal radiation exposure tests revealed that no cesium was detected in almost all of the children and more than 90 percent of the adults examined. The number of residents saying “We don’t need to test anymore” is increasing. However, Tsubokura believes “testing should be ongoing to maintain confirmation that no cesium is present and that no changes are occurring.”
Tsubokura has commuted to Fukushima for over three years now. “I was criticized a lot during lectures; however, in balance, I received more thanks from people than not. I’m grateful.” Going forward, he plans to continue making himself available to residents to help alleviate their fears concerning exposure.
Kami, Tsubokura’s supervisor, said, “The people of Fukushima have helped him grow immensely.” Aware of Tsubokura’s efforts, a growing number of younger doctors want to follow in his footsteps. Full-time physicians working at Minami-Soma Municipal General Hospital have also increased beyond the pre-quake total.
PROFILE OF MASAHARU TSUBOKURA
1982: Born in Osaka. His parents worked in the blood products business at the Japanese Red Cross Society
2000: Graduated from Nada High School. Entered the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tokyo
2006: Graduated from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Medicine. Obtained his physician’s license. Started internship at Kameda General Hospital
2008: Became an assistant at the internal medicine (blood) department at Teikyo University Chiba Medical Center
2010: Became a practicing physician of hematology at the Tokyo Metropolitan Komagome Hospital
April 2011: Became a researcher (postgraduate student) at the Institute of Medical Science, University of Tokyo. In May concurrently took on the position of part-time physician at the Minami-Soma Municipal General Hospital.
February 2012: Concurrently took up the position of part-time physician at Soma Central Hospital. Married in October
Tsubokura specializes in hematology
orginal link: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/globe/people/AJ201406060079