The central government is considering permitting residents in the wholly evacuated town of Namie to begin temporary stays at their homes this fall in preparation for the lifting of an evacuation order issued after the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The move was unveiled at the first meeting with Namie residents held in Tokyo on June 23 as part of efforts to end the town’s evacuation. The government also showed a plan to allow residents “special” temporary home stays in mid-August ahead of the preparatory lodging and indicated that it will specify by the turn of the year when to lift the evacuation order.
At the meeting, government officials explained that a formal decision on the schedule will be taken on the basis of opinions expressed at the gathering after consultations with the town office and municipal assembly. After the meeting, Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba told reporters that it would be difficult to carry out the proposed special stays in mid-August because of the time required for hearings with residents and talks with the assembly, adding that the municipal authorities are “considering implementing the trial home stays around mid-September.”
The meeting was attended by about 100 residents. Municipal and national government officials briefed them on several issues, including the outline of a report on the removal of the evacuation order submitted by a study committee comprising experts, the town’s efforts for post-disaster reconstruction, and progress in decontamination and reactor-decommissioning work. Some residents expressed concern about the level of radiation dosage while others complained of difficulties preparing for preparatory and permanent returns due to dilapidation of their residences.
An annual Fukushima prefectural government survey of households still evacuated after the 2011 nuclear accident has found that those with family members complaining of mental and physical disorders accounted for 62.1% of the total in fiscal 2015. The ratio was down 4.2 percentage points from the previous year but showed the stark reality that the protracted evacuee life has had a heavy burden on families forced to live away from home following the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Given continued recognition of post-disaster deaths as related to the devastating earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear accident, the prefectural government is urged to offer long-term assistance to evacuee families.
The results of the survey, which covered evacuees in and outside the prefecture, were announced on June 20. Of the families with members having psychosomatic disorders, households living away from their homes in evacuation zones accounted for 65.3% (down 4.5 points from fiscal 2014). It topped those households voluntarily evacuated from areas not designated for evacuation which constituted 55.8% (down 0.7 point).
Asked about details of the disorders (multiple answers permitted for each question), the largest proportion — 57.3% — cited sleeplessness, followed by 54.6% who said they are “unable to enjoy anything” unlike in pre-disaster days while 50.5% have come to “get tired easily,” 43.8% felt “irritated,” 41.6% “dismal and depressed,” and 39.1% “isolated.”
Sleeplessness was a disorder cited by most families living away from their homes in evacuation zones, at 59.3%, and “getting tired easily” was chosen by most households voluntarily evacuated from areas not designated for evacuation, at 52.9%.
The president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) at the time of the 2011 nuclear accident instructed TEPCO officials not to use the term “core meltdown” in describing the status of its Fukushima Daiichi plant crippled by a devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami, according to a report by a third-party exploratory committee commissioned by the utility.
The panel submitted the report to TEPCO on June 16 acknowledging that the instruction was issued by then President Masataka Shimizu. At that time, TEPCO officials would only say core nuclear reactor parts had been damaged when, in reality, nuclear fuel was melting and falling to the bottom of the reactors. The report said it can be presumed that TEPCO continued such explanations in the early days of the accident due to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The disclosure of top management involvement in playing down the nuclear crisis shows the lack of a sense of risk control and a cover-up mindset, raising questions about corporate governance.
According to the report, Shimizu had a public relations official hand a memo to Sakae Muto, then vice president, who was present at a press conference on the night of March 14, 2011, three days after the accident. The memo had words such as “core meltdown’ written down and a TEPCO staffer hissed into Muto’s ear an instruction not to use the term saying this was at the direction of the Prime Minister’s Office.
At the time of the accident, the proportion of damaged core parts of the Nos. 1-3 reactors at the nuclear complex exceeded 5% of the total from March 14 to 15, a level equivalent to a meltdown under the company’s manual. A TEPCO emergency response team reported the damage ratio to the head office and others concerned, but did not describe it as a core meltdown.
Regarding this response, the committee termed the reference to the damage ratio alone insufficient in terms of communication to relevant municipal authorities and residents, and concluded that “labeling the accident as being tantamount to a core meltdown would have been more reasonable.”
The government lifted at midnight on June 13 its evacuation order for two districts in Kawauchi, a Fukushima Prefecture village near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, leaving the village as a whole no longer subject to evacuation five years and three-plus months after the 2011 nuclear accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant.
Covered by the move were the Ogi and Kainosaka districts, both designated as zones preparing for the lifting of the evacuation order. Previous to becoming such preparatory areas, the two districts were residency-restricted zones. It was the first time that the evacuation order was removed in districts where the status of evacuation had been eased from residency-restricted zones. Advocating “a breakaway from a disaster area,” Kawauchi is seeking to step up efforts to promote the permanent return of residents to their homes, dispel harmful rumors and take other measures for the village’s rebirth.
The village population was 2,749 comprising 1,257 households as of June 1, of which the two districts had 51 people and 19 households.
In September 2011, six months after the nuclear disaster, Kawauchi had an emergency evacuation preparation zone eliminated under the government’s old zoning system. In January the following year, the village declared that it would promote residents’ return home, the first such move among Fukushima municipalities where evacuation areas were in place.
The village has come up with the slogan “Kaeru Kawauchi” (a play on homonyms, with “kaeru” meaning both “return” and “frogs”) punning on the wishes to see the permanent return of residents and on the forest green tree frog species, a symbol of the village. Kawauchi has thus been actively pushing ahead with measures for post-disaster rehabilitation after ending evacuation.