asahi shinbun

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FIVE YEARS AFTER: ‘Don’t abandon us,’ victims of Fukushima nuclear accident say, asahi, 3/3/2016

Miyako Kumamoto longs for the days of sharing fresh home-grown produce with her friends in the clean mountain air of Fukushima Prefecture.

But now, the 73-year-old fears she will be forced to live alone on the streets of Tokyo under government policies concerning evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“It is wrong for the central government to say ‘return home’ and to lift evacuation orders even though its own declaration of an emergency situation for the nuclear accident remains in place,” Kumamoto told a protest rally of about 780 people at Tokyo’s Hibiya Park on March 2.

Saying the government is ignoring their opinions and safety concerns about radiation levels, the protesters slammed Tokyo’s push for evacuees to return to their homes near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. They later marched near government offices and in front of the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the nuclear plant.

The rally was hosted by a national organization called Hidanren, which comprises plaintiffs in lawsuits against the central government and TEPCO, and joined by Fukushima residents who are still living in evacuation nearly five years after the nuclear disaster started in March 2011.

Before the rally, Hidanren gave a government official a letter addressed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The letter demanded a retraction of policies that “abandon the nuclear victims.”

The central government plans to lift evacuation orders around the Fukushima nuclear plant by the end of March 2017, except for “difficult-to-return” zones where annual radiation doses still exceed 50 millisieverts.

Fukushima residents who were not living in evacuation zones but still fled after the nuclear disaster unfolded have been provided free housing by the Fukushima prefectural government. The prefecture has decided to terminate that program for the “voluntary” evacuees in April 2017.

Kenichi Hasegawa, a 62-year-old co-representative of Hidanren, told the demonstrators that government officials showed no intention of changing the policies.

“I felt outrage,” Hasegawa said. “Let’s raise our voices and stand up against them together.”

According to the Fukushima prefectural government, around 165,000 people evacuated their homes due to the nuclear disaster as of May 2012. As of January 2016, 100,000 remained living in evacuation, including around 5,700 in Tokyo.

Kumamoto, whose husband died in 2007, has been living in public housing in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward since April 2011.

She had moved from Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, to Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, in 2003. For years in Tamura, she and her husband grew fruits and vegetables in a field. She said cooking and eating the food with her friends was more important than anything else.

The area where she lived in Tamura, between 20 and 30 kilometers from the nuclear plant, was designated an emergency evacuation preparation zone after the meltdowns. The designation was lifted in September 2011, and city workers have since decontaminated the area.

But Kumamoto said the radiation has not been lowered to a level that reassures her that she can safely return home.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has asked Kumamoto to reapply for public housing if she wants to continue living there after April 2017.

“If I am not picked in the lottery, I would have to wander around in the streets,” Kumamoto said.

Yukiko Kameya, 71, has lived with her husband in Tokyo’s Minato Ward since fleeing from Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, after the disaster.

Most areas in Futaba are still designated as “difficult-to-return zones,” with annual radiation doses exceeding 50 millisieverts.

Futaba is also a candidate site for interim storage of soil and debris contaminated with radioactive substances from the nuclear accident.

“Since we cannot return there, I want a place to live to be guaranteed,” Kameya said. “I want the land to be returned to the state before the accident.”

After the rally at Hibiya Park, Kameya led a march in front of a ministry office building and TEPCO’s headquarters.

She shouted, “Return my hometown.”

Aki Hashimoto, 60, who traveled from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, to attend the rally, said a friend in Tokyo once asked, “Are you still making a fuss over the issue?”

Hashimoto said the frustration and disappointment over that comment have not eased.

“I do not want the nuclear accident to be forgotten,” Hashimoto said.

(This article was written by Miki Aoki, Mana Nagano, and Jun Sato.)

Three ex-TEPCO executives indicted over Fukushima nuclear disaster, asahi, 2/29/2016

original article: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201602290064

Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. will finally have to explain in court their actions–or inaction–in relation to the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant five years ago.

Court-appointed lawyers serving as prosecutors filed indictments at the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 29 against the three former executives on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

Former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69, are accused of failing to implement safety measures despite being aware of the possibility that such an accident could unfold at the utility’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The indictment says the three knew beforehand that a tsunami exceeding 10 meters could hit the plant, flood a reactor building, cause a loss of electric power, and lead to an explosion. But they still did not take adequate measures to safeguard the plant.

The Fukushima No. 1 plant is located 10 meters above sea level.

A tsunami greater than 10 meters did hit the plant site following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. The waves flooded reactor buildings, knocked out power and caused hydrogen gas explosions.

A number of patients at hospitals in the vicinity of the stricken nuclear plant died or were injured in the subsequent evacuation. The indictment said the three former executives should be held criminally responsibility for these deaths and injuries.

The three former executives are expected to plead innocent at their trial.

However, the trial is expected to bring into the open internal TEPCO documents that have not been released until now.

After a criminal complaint was submitted by residents and citizens groups, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office decided in September 2013 not to indict the former executives, citing the difficulty in predicting such an accident.

However, in July 2014, the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution overrode the prosecutors’ decision and sent the case back to them for a further look.

But the prosecutors again decided not to indict the three.

In July 2015, the inquest committee handed down a second decision stating the three former executives should be indicted because “they bore the obligation to hold a high level of attention in order to prepare against the remote chance of an accident.”

Before they submitted the indictment to the court, the five court-appointed lawyers serving as prosecutors read over the former executives’ responses to questioning by prosecutors.

TEPCO issued a statement on Feb. 29 saying it would refrain from commenting on a legal case.

TEPCO discovers after 5 years that it could have quickly declared Fukushima plant meltdown, asahi, 2/25/2016

original article: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201602250043

Nearly five years later, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Feb. 24 that it has discovered a guideline in its operational manual that would have allowed it to announce meltdowns in the nuclear disaster in only days instead of the two months it actually took.

TEPCO apologized for failing to be aware for such a long time of the guideline on how to declare meltdowns at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

While the utility announced that reactor cores had been damaged at the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors by March 14 and at the No. 2 reactor by March 15, it did not admit that meltdowns had occurred in the three reactors until May 2011.

Based on its “nuclear disaster countermeasures manual,” which was revised 11 months before the disaster, the utility could have instead declared meltdowns at the three reactors by those dates, it said.

“We sincerely apologize for failing to confirm the presence of the guideline in the manual for five years,” a TEPCO spokesperson said Feb. 24.

The company will conduct an internal investigation to determine why it failed to promptly determine and announce meltdowns based on the manual.

In the few days after the Fukushima crisis unfurled, core meltdowns at the No. 1 to No. 3 reactors dispersed a large amount of radioactive materials into the environment.

Video footage of TEPCO’s in-house teleconferences around the time show that company executives recognized the possibility of meltdowns at the reactors from the early stages of the crisis.

But the company maintained that the reactors suffered “core damage,” a condition in which nuclear fuel inside a reactor core is damaged, rather than a “meltdown” at news conferences and in its announcements. In May it officially acknowledged that meltdowns had occurred.

The utility has explained that the delay was caused by the lack of a basis to assess meltdowns in the wake of an accident.

Early on March 14, 2011, TEPCO confirmed that the No. 3 unit had suffered damage to 30 percent of its reactor core and 55 percent of the No. 1 reactor’s core was damaged, based on rising radiation levels inside reactor containment vessels. It also determined that 35 percent of the No. 2 reactor’s core was damaged on the evening of March 15.

The newly discovered guideline in the disaster countermeasures manual, which was revised in April 2010, stipulates that the company should declare a meltdown when damage to a reactor core exceeds 5 percent, TEPCO officials said.

Company officials failed to announce the meltdowns because they were unaware of the guideline in the manual, according to TEPCO.

The existence of such a standard was confirmed earlier this month during an in-house investigation into how the utility responded to the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The investigation is being conducted at the request of Niigata Prefecture where TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, which the company aims to restart, is located.

In a statement on Feb. 24, Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida called on TEPCO to conduct a thorough internal investigation to uncover the “truth behind its concealment of meltdowns,” including determining who gave instructions.

By JIN NISHIKAWA/ Staff Writer

For some Fukushima mothers, protecting children from radiation comes at heavy price, asahi, 2/23/2015

Three-and-a-half years after fleeing to central Japan, a mother received a package from her husband who had opted to remain at their home in Fukushima Prefecture despite the nuclear disaster.

From Tamura, about 35 kilometers west of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the father sent snacks for the couple’s two children. The cardboard box also contained divorce papers.

“I cannot send money to my family whom I cannot see,” the husband told his wife.

She still refused to return home.

Thanks to decontamination work, radiation levels have fallen around the nuclear plant since the triple meltdown caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. And families are returning to their hometowns, trying to resume normal lives.

But many mothers, distrustful of the government’s safety assurances, still harbor fears that radiation will affect the health of their children. As a result of these concerns, families are being torn apart, friendships have ended, and a social divide remains wide in Fukushima communities.

Around 70,000 people are still not allowed to return to their homes located in evacuation zones designated by the central government. And an estimated 18,000 people from Fukushima Prefecture whose homes were outside those zones remain living in evacuation.

The government is pushing for Fukushima residents to return home and trying to counter false rumors about the nuclear disaster.

More families in Fukushima Prefecture are willing to buy food produced in the prefecture–but not all.

A 40-year-old mother who once lived on the coast of Fukushima Prefecture and moved farther inland to Koriyama said she still fears for the health of her 11-year-old daughter.

Her classmates started serving “kyushoku” school lunches containing Fukushima rice and vegetables that passed the screening for radioactive materials. But the fifth-grader has instead eaten from a bento lunch box prepared by her mother.

The daughter says that eating her own lunch led to teasing from her classmates. She heard one of them say behind her back: “You aren’t eating kyushoku. Are you neurotic?”

She does not talk to that classmate anymore, although they used to be friends.

“I now feel a bit more at ease even when I am different from other students,” the daughter said.

Her mother expressed concerns about her daughter’s social life, but protecting her child’s health takes precedence.

“My daughter may fall ill sometime,” the mother said. “I feel almost overwhelmed by such a fear.”

An official of the Fukushima prefectural board of education said a certain number of students act differently from other students because of health concerns over radiation.

“Although the number is limited, some students bring bento to their schools,” the official said. “Some students wear surgical masks when they participate in footraces during outdoor school athletic meets.

“The feelings toward radiation vary from person to person, so we cannot force them (to behave in the same way as other students).”

Sung Woncheol, a professor of sociology at Chukyo University, and others have conducted surveys on mothers whose children were 1 to 2 years old when the nuclear disaster started. The mothers live in Fukushima city and eight other municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture.

Of the 1,200 mothers who responded to the survey in 2015, 50 percent said they had concerns about child-rearing in Fukushima Prefecture.

Nearly 30 percent said they avoid or try to avoid using food products from Fukushima Prefecture, compared with more than 80 percent six months after the disaster.

But for some mothers, the passage of nearly five years since the disaster unfolded has not erased their fears of radiation.

The 36-year-old mother who received the divorce papers from her husband in autumn 2014 continues to live with her children in the central Japan city to which she had no previous connection.

A month after the nuclear disaster, she fled with her then 1-year-old son and her daughter, 10, from their home, even though it was not located in an evacuation zone.

She said she left Fukushima Prefecture because she “could not trust the data released by the central government.”

The mother still has not told her children that their parents are divorced.

“I believe I could protect the health of my children,” the woman said. “But my family has collapsed.”

By NATSUKI EDOGAWA/ Staff Writer

TEPCO ordered to pay couple who ‘voluntarily’ fled Fukushima after nuclear disaster, asahi, 2/19/2016

original article: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201602190066

KYOTO–The Kyoto District Court ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. to pay 30.46 million yen ($267,000) to a couple for mental illnesses the husband suffered following their “voluntary evacuation” from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The district court’s unprecedented ruling on Feb. 18 said the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant contributed to the insomnia and depression the husband developed after his family fled Fukushima Prefecture in 2011.

Although the plaintiffs did not live in a government-designated evacuation zone around the plant, the court said evacuating voluntarily is “appropriate when the hazard from the accident and conflicting information remained.”

The ruling was the first to award damages to voluntary evacuees, according to a private group of lawyers involved in lawsuits against TEPCO and the central government over the nuclear disaster.

The man, who is in his 40s, his wife and three children were seeking a total of 180 million yen against TEPCO.

According to the ruling, the husband and wife had managed a company that operated restaurants in Fukushima Prefecture. The family fled their home a few days after the nuclear accident started in March 2011 and moved to Kyoto in may that year.

The court acknowledged the man suffered severe mental stress because he had to leave his hometown and quit his position as representative of the company.

TEPCO had paid a total of 2.92 million yen to the family based on the central government’s compensation standards for residents who evacuated on their own.

The utility argued that its payments were appropriate because they were based on guidelines set by a central government panel addressing disputes over compensation for nuclear accidents. The guidelines dictate uniform and fixed payments for residents who left areas outside designated evacuation zones.

However, the district court said these guidelines “simply show a list of damages that can be broken down and the scope of damages.”

The court concluded that compensation amounts should instead reflect the personal circumstances of evacuees in nuclear accident-related cases.

It ordered TEPCO to compensate the couple for the period through August 2012, when radiation levels dropped to a certain level and information on the nuclear accident became more stable and accurate.

Specifically, the court said the husband and wife are entitled to part of the monthly remuneration of 400,000 yen to 760,000 yen they had received each for having to suspend their business following the nuclear accident.

But the court dismissed the damage claims of the couple’s three children, saying their compensation was already covered by TEPCO’s payments.

About 10,000 evacuees are involved in 21 damages suits filed in Fukushima Prefecture, Tokyo, Osaka and elsewhere.

An estimated 18,000 people from Fukushima Prefecture are still living in voluntary evacuation, according to the prefectural government.

By YUTO YONEDA/ Staff Writer

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