The central government is expected to remove as soon as October the designation of evacuation advisory spots in all of Minamisoma city implemented after the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co. in the wake of reduced radiation levels in the places involved. The move was made clear on Sept. 26 during a meeting between government officials and municipal assembly members at the city hall. The government side also indicated it will continue paying compensation for psychological damage suffered by residents and reimburse their evacuation expenses for three months after the designation is lifted.
The city has a total of 142 spots in seven districts where annual radiation levels exceed the maximum tolerable dose of 20 millisieverts, affecting 152 families. About 80% of some 720 residents in the areas have been evacuated.
Radiation measurements conducted in July and August by the government’s disaster task force in Fukushima city covering the residences of the affected families averaged 0.4 microsievert per hour at a point 1 meter above the ground, about 20% of the level at the time of the evacuation advisory designation. The maximum measurement was 1.08 microsieverts an hour, equivalent to an annual dose of around 5 millisieverts. This raised the prospect of an annual cumulative dose falling below the maximum allowable level of 20 millisieverts, prompting the task force to eliminate the evacuation advisory labeling.
A government ban on road traffic imposed on a section of National Route 6 running north to south through the Hamadori coastal region of Fukushima Prefecture was lifted at midnight on Sept. 14, allowing the entire highway to open to traffic for the first time since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster three and a half years ago. The ban had been in force in a Futaba County area where residency is restricted due to radioactive contamination from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Reopened was a 14-kilometer stretch passing through the towns of Tomioka, Okuma and Futaba. Restrictions on vehicle traffic along a 1.7-km portion of a prefectural road in Tomioka, linking Route 6 and the Tomioka interchange of the Joban Expressway, were also removed. Previously, only vehicles with special permits were allowed to travel the section.
But traffic from the highway to side roads remains closed in principle for crime prevention except for residents with temporary entry permits. Motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians are still not allowed due to the higher risk of exposure to radiation from the nuclear plant. No parking is permitted along the affected stretch.
According to the Environment Ministry, the average amount of radioactivity along the 14-km stretch after decontamination work is 3.8 microsieverts per hour and the maximum hourly count is 17.3 microsieverts measured at a point near the nuclear power plant in Okuma.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake ravaged the Tohoku region, Yuichi Tomohiro immediately headed to Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, as a volunteer worker.
But the young man wanted to do much more to help out, and today, is one of the founders of an online outlet selling traditional handmade gift items from the region to provide assistance to victims.
“I want to give as many consumers as possible an idea of what feelings Tohoku people put into their handmade items,” said Tomohiro, 29, one of the founders of the TOHOK online gift shop (https://tohok.com/).
“I want to become a mediator for both creators and consumers to think together about the future of manufacturing in Tohoku,” added Tomohiro, who lives in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward.
While working as a volunteer after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, 2011, Tomohiro met women in Ishinomaki who had been engaged in oyster farming on Miyagi Prefecture’s Oshika Peninsula until the disaster.
Hearing the women complaining that they “feel sorrow for having no jobs,” Tomohiro suggested they produce good-luck ribbons worn around the wrist or other parts of the body from fishing nets.
Over two years from April 2011, the young man sold 3,000 good-luck ribbons, each priced at 1,000 yen ($9.35), at university festivals and music events throughout Japan.
Encouraged by the success, Tomohiro then released fashion accessories made of horns of deer culled to control their population on the peninsula. But the new products did not sell as well as he expected.
Tomohiro said he realized the difficulty of continuing to persuade customers to purchase Tohoku-featured items just out of sympathy for disaster victims.
The young man thought that presenting high-quality products that have traditionally been manufactured in Tohoku to people across the country under the same brand name will lead to long-continuing assistance for disaster victims.
Tomohiro and his friends spent six months each searching the entire Tohoku region for such traditional, premium articles.
Tomohiro said he was astonished by Tohoku people’s handicrafts.
“A small broom made in Kuji, Iwate Prefecture, is a good example,” he said. “The manufacturing of this item starts with growing the plant to make them. People have been creating the brooms as a second job during the winter, they told me.
“I was surprised at their year-round conscientious efforts.”
Tomohiro and his friends selected 25 gift items made by 12 creators, including stoles crafted from the traditional Aizu cotton weaving technique that dates back four centuries, and “tsutsumiyaki” ceramic pottery made at the kiln workshop in Sendai that catered to the lord of the Date feudal clan.
Then the young people opened their shopping website in March. They also sold their gift items at a special event at a department store in Tokyo in June.
Tomohiro and others decided to sell the traditional handmade products as gift items, because they believed that recipients who are given them as presents can more readily appreciate the careful handiwork of Tohoku craftsmen.
In fact, orders for their products surged around Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and other celebrations, as they expected. A couple in their 30s, for example, bought 60 small brooms as gifts for guests at their wedding reception to take home.
Starting in August, they also began to sell their items at a weekend outdoor market in Tokyo’s Aoyama district.
More than 89,000 evacuees are still living in prefabricated temporary housing in northeastern Japan three and a half years after the 3/11 disaster.
The hard-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima reported that as of the end of August, 89,323 people who lost their homes to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami or were displaced because of the nuclear accident are living in 41,384 temporary housing units in 49 municipalities.
The temporary housing units were only built to last two years.
After the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, it took five years for all residents who moved to temporary accommodation to relocate to permanent housing.
But in the Tohoku disaster, it will likely take longer for the evacuees to find places to settle permanently.
The Reconstruction Agency said the construction of permanent housing units to accommodate evacuees and preparation of land plots for disaster-affected communities will be completed in just 18 municipalities by the end of fiscal 2015, the fifth anniversary of the disaster.
As for the remaining 31 municipalities, local governments will extend the use of temporary housing on a yearly basis as long as permanent housing to accommodate the residents remains short, the Cabinet Office said.
In Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which has the largest number of households who lost their homes to the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami, the city government plans to construct housing units and prepare land plots to accommodate 7,660 households.
But only about 53 percent will be completed by fiscal 2015. The land development projects to create housing lots to accommodate the disaster-affected communities will not be completed until fiscal 2017, city officials said.
“We have no choice but to maintain the temporary housing until then,” a city official said.
In 13 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, the completion of permanent housing for evacuees is nowhere in sight as local governments are still in the process of negotiating with landowners to obtain land plots.
In areas around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, decontamination work and recovery of infrastructure lag behind schedule, and it remains unknown when all evacuees can return home.
In addition to the 89,000 people in temporary housing, there are about 90,000 people who live in 38,000 public and private housing units that are rented by local governments on a temporary basis in the three prefectures.
The government had set the duration period for temporary housing at two years, and the units are becoming increasingly decrepit. Many residents have complained about health problems caused by stress from living in cramped temporary housing.
The salmon run in northeastern Japan this autumn will likely plummet by 40 percent compared with last year due to damage to hatcheries caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
The Fisheries Research Agency said Sept. 9 the sharp decline in returning salmon to spawn in the Tohoku region will impact the economy of the disaster-stricken region. The price of salmon roe–a delicacy–is bound to rise, sources said.
Millions of salmon fry are released from hatcheries to rivers each spring. The adult fish generally return three and a half years later to the rivers where they were released.
The salmon expected to return this year were released shortly after the disaster.
Many hatcheries located at the mouths of rivers were destroyed, killing the fry.
The agency estimates that the number of salmon returning to the region this fiscal year could drop to 5.3 million, down from last year’s 8.9 million.
In fiscal 2011, the salmon catch was also down by 40 percent.
Salmon account for 30 percent of Iwate Prefecture’s fishery products.
“The situation this year will have a huge impact on the local economy,” said Toyomitsu Horii, an official at the agency’s Tohoku National Research Institute.
Salmon is mainly consumed locally in Tohoku as “aramaki sake” (lightly salted salmon).
A lack of roe and of juvenile fish could lead to decline in the number of salmon over the long run, officials cautioned.