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‘Voluntary’ Fukushima evacuees denounce end of free housing, new assistance plan, asahi, 2/8/2016

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The Fukushima prefectural government is maintaining its plan to terminate the free housing program for “voluntary” evacuees from the nuclear disaster despite a barrage of criticism and complaints expressed during an explanatory meeting.

Fukushima officials told the briefing session in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward on Feb. 7 that in April 2017, free housing will no longer be available to people who fled from homes located outside government-designated evacuation zones around the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Instead, the officials said, new assistance measures, including subsidies for moving and rent, will be offered.

Many of the 30 or so people in attendance, including evacuees, blasted the planned measures as insufficient.

“It just sounds like the prefectural government wants to make us return to the area as soon as possible and terminate the assistance,” one of them said. “Even though the nuclear accident has not yet come to an end, how can they say we should go back there?”

According to the prefectural government, about 6,000 households voluntarily evacuated to areas outside Fukushima Prefecture after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011. An estimated 5,700 voluntary evacuees were living in Tokyo in January this year.

Based on the Disaster Relief Law, the prefectural government has offered public housing and other free accommodations to nuclear evacuees regardless of whether their original homes were in state-designated evacuation zones.

The government is now moving to lift all evacuation orders around the nuclear plant except for certain areas where radiation levels are expected to remain high.

“We held discussions with the central government while taking the situation into consideration, and the central government agreed to extend the program to March next year,” a prefectural government official told the meeting. “It would be difficult to further extend the period.”

The new measures include up to 100,000 yen ($853) in subsidies for moving expenses, as well as preferential treatment in relocating to prefectural government-run housing.

For low-income households who continue to live in private apartments and other housing as evacuees, the prefecture will cover half the monthly rent up to 30,000 yen for the first year and one-third of the rent up to 20,000 yen for the second year.

“We cannot live with a subsidy of 30,000 yen,” one of the evacuees said at the meeting. “Do they understand the rent in Tokyo?”

A representative of Hinan Seikatsu o Mamoru Kai (group that protects evacuation life), which comprises evacuees living in areas around Tokyo, indicated that the proposed measures would put too much of a financial burden on many of the voluntary evacuees.

“Our biggest difficulty is the housing issue,” he said. “We strongly demand that the prefectural government withdraw the termination of the free housing program.”

Masaaki Matsumoto, chief of the prefectural government’s Evacuees Support Division, defended the plan and said the government does not intend to force evacuees to return home.

“The environment in Fukushima is being prepared for people to live in,” Matsumoto said. “By setting up the subsidy system, we also responded to those who want to continue their evacuation.”

By JUN SATO/ Staff Writer

55 schools still unusable in 3/11 disaster-hit prefectures, asahi, 2/4/2016

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Fifty-five public elementary schools and junior high schools in the three prefectures hardest hit by the March 2011 disaster remain unusable, including 30 around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The schools in the northeastern prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima have been operating interim schools elsewhere since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku region and set off the nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant.

Kumamachi Elementary School in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, is located about 3 kilometers from the plant in an area designated as difficult-to-return zone because of high radiation levels.

In December, an Asahi Shimbun reporter wearing a protective suit visited the school with a town resident who had temporarily returned to the area.

The schoolyard was covered in grass that was so tall it almost concealed the soccer goals. Footprints of wild animals were also seen.

Satchels and other school goods were scattered on the floor of a classroom seen through a window. These items were apparently left behind when the town was evacuated as the nuclear disaster unfolded in 2011.

Before the triple meltdown at the plant, 333 pupils were enrolled at the school.

Since the disaster, the school has run classes at a rented room of a former school in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. Only 23 children attend classes at the new school.

By SATORU SEMBA/ Staff Writer


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