The prefectural government in Fukushima says radiation levels in local forests in the year ending in March are down by half compared to 2 years ago.
Officials released the data in a meeting with people who work in the forestry industry in Fukushima. They have been monitoring radiation levels at 362 sites in the prefecture’s forests.
They say the average radiation for the sites was 0.91 microsieverts per hour in the year following the March 11, 2011, nuclear disaster, which was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami.
The officials found that the average radiation level fell by about half to 0.44 microsieverts during the year ending in March 2014.
They say the amount of radioactive materials in new leaves was about one fifth of those contained in leaves that started growing before the disaster.
The prefectural government forecasts forest radiation will drop to around 30 percent from the current level over the next 20 years.
One official from the prefecture’s forestry planning department says workers’ fear of radiation has caused some forests to be abandoned. That’s causing concern about long-term management of forestry resources.
He added the prefecture will continue to monitor radiation and provide more information.
TOMIOKA, Japan (AP) – Whenever Kazuhiro Onuki goes home, to his real home that is, the 66-year-old former librarian dons protective gear from head to toe and hangs a dosimeter around his neck.
Grass grows wild in the backyard. The ceiling leaks. Thieves have ransacked the shelves, leaving papers and clothing all over the floor so there is barely room to walk. Mouse dung is scattered like raisins. There is no running water or electricity.
Above all, radiation is everywhere.
It’s difficult to imagine ever living again in Tomioka, a ghost town about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the former Fukushima Dai-chi nuclear plant. And yet more than three years after meltdowns at the plant forced this community of 16,000 people to flee, Onuki can’t quite make the psychological break to start anew.
His family lived here for four generations. Every time he goes back, he is overcome by emotion. Especially during that brief time in the spring when the cherry blossoms bloom.
“They flower as though nothing has happened,” he said. “They are weeping because all the people have left.”
The Japanese government is pushing ahead with efforts to decontaminate and reopen as much of a 20-kilometer (12-mile) no-go zone around the plant as it can. Authorities declared a tiny corner of the zone safe for living as of April 1, and hope to lift evacuation orders in more areas in the coming months and years.
Former residents have mixed feelings. In their hearts, many want their old lives back. But distrust about the decontamination program runs deep. Will it really be safe? Others among the more than 100,000 displaced have established new lives elsewhere, in the years since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami sent three of Fukushima’s reactors into meltdown.
If the evacuation order is lifted for their area, they will lose a monthly stipend of 100,000 yen ($1,000) they receive from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the owner of the Fukushima plant.
A survey last year found that 16 percent of Tomioka residents wanted to return, 40 percent had decided never to return, and 43 percent were undecided. Two-thirds said they were working before the disaster, but only one-third had jobs at the time of the survey, underlining the challenges to starting over.
Former resident Shigetoshi Suzuki, a friend of Onuki, is outraged the government would even ask such a question: Do you want to go back?
Of course, we all want to return, he said. People like him were effectively forced into retirement, the 65-year-old land surveyor said. If he hadn’t evacuated to a Tokyo suburb with his wife, he would have continued working for his longtime clients.
“It is a ridiculous question,” Suzuki said. “We could have led normal lives. What we have lost can’t be measured in money.”
In protest, he has refused to sign the forms that would allow his property to undergo decontamination.
The government has divided the no-go zone into three areas by radiation level.
The worst areas are marked in pink on official maps and classified as “difficult to return.” They are still enclosed by a barricade.
Yellow designates a “restricted” area, limiting visits to a few hours. No overnight stays are allowed.
The green zones are “in preparations to lift evacuation orders.” They must be decontaminated, which includes scrubbing building surfaces and scraping off the top layer of soil and is being carried out throughout the zones.
Tomioka has all three zones within its boundaries.
The green zones are those where authorities have confirmed radiation exposure can be brought below 20 millisieverts a year.
The long-term goal is to bring annual exposure down to 1 millisievert, or the equivalent of 10 chest X-rays, which was considered the safe level before the disaster, but the government is lifting evacuation orders at higher levels. It says it will monitor the health and exposure of people who move back to such areas.
In the yellow restricted zone, where Sukuki’s and Onuki’s homes lie, a visitor exceeds 1 millisievert in a matter of a few hours.
During a recent visit, Onuki and his wife Michiko walked beneath the pink petals floating from a tunnel of cherry trees, previously a local tourist attraction.
The streets were abandoned, except for a car passing through now and then. The neighborhood was eerily quiet except for the chirping of the nightingales.
“The prime minister says the accident is under control, but we feel the thing could explode the next minute,” said Michiko Onuki, who ran a ceramic and craft shop out of their Tomioka home. “We would have to live in fear of radiation. This town is dead.”
Both wore oversized white astronaut-like gear, which doesn’t keep out radioactive rays out but helps prevent radioactive material from being brought back, outside the no-go zone. Filtered masks covered half their faces. They discarded the gear when they left, so they wouldn’t bring any radiation back to their Tokyo apartment, which they share with an adult son and daughter.
Junji Oshida, 43, whose family ran an upscale restaurant in Tomioka that specialized in eel, was at first devastated that he lost the traditional sauce for the eel that had been passed down over generations.
He has since opened a new restaurant just outside the zone that caters to nuclear cleanup workers. He recreated the sauce and serves pork, which is cheaper than eel. He lives apart from his wife and sons, who are in a Tokyo suburb.
“There is no sense in looking back,” Oshida said, still wearing the eel restaurant’s emblem on his shirt.
Older residents can’t give up so easily, even those who will never be able to return – like Tomioka city assemblyman Seijun Ando, whose home lies in the most irradiated, pink zone.
Ando, 59, said that dividing Tomioka by radiation levels has pitted one group of residents against another, feeding resentment among some. One idea he has is to bring residents from various towns in the no-go zone together to start a new community in another, less radiated part of Fukushima – a place he described as “for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
“I can survive anywhere, although I had a plan for my life that was destroyed from its very roots,” said Ando, tears welling up in his eyes. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suffering. I’m just worried for Tomioka.”
FUKUSHIMA (Kyodo) — Residents of an evacuation zone within 20 kilometers of the disaster-struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant from Saturday are allowed to stay overnight as well at their homes following progress in radiation cleanup work.
Previously, the area’s residents had been allowed to spend only the day inside the evacuation zone.
The change means the residents will be free to spend the entire 24-hour day at home, for the next three months, after which the evacuation order may be lifted permanently.
However, because of the lingering fear of radiation, only 40 residents of 18 households applied to return home from evacuation housing, out of 276 residents of 134 households in the zone of Kawauchi village, Fukushima Prefecture.
The central government is in talks with the Kawauchi municipal authority and residents about lifting the evacuation order completely, given the progress in decontamination work.
If lifted, the zone in Kawauchi would become the second case of an evacuation order being lifted on an area within a 20-kilometer radius of the Fukushima plant, following the Miyakoji district in the city of Tamura, also in Fukushima.
A total of 10 municipalities including Kawauchi village are still subject to evacuation orders around the plant devastated by a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011.
Katsutoshi Kusano, 69, and his wife Shigeko, 68, said they have returned home in the village from a temporary housing in the city of Koriyama in Fukushima as they “remain attached to” their house and garden.
A manga that describes the reality of daily life at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant through the eyes of a worker is enjoying popularity.
“Ichiefu” (1F), written by Kazuto Tatsuta, 49, first appeared in autumn 2013 as a serial comic in the weekly magazine “Morning,” published by Kodansha Ltd. Ichiefu stands for the Fukushima No. 1 plant among locals.
The comic was published in book form on April 23. The publisher shipped a total of 150,000 copies of the first volume, which is an unusually large number for a little-known manga artist.
Tatsuta said he changed jobs repeatedly after graduating from university. At the same time, he also worked as a comic strip artist.
It was when he was considering another job change that the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami occurred, triggering the nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant.
While seeking a better-paying job, Tatsuta also wondered what part he could do as a citizen of Japan to help. As a result, he began to work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant from June 2012 for a total of six months.
“Ichiefu” describes the situation at the plant in great detail. The descriptions of equipment, such as the masks and protective gear the workers used, and the procedures they took to measure radiation levels make readers feel as if they are there and reading actual worker manuals.
The comic also depicts intimate practices only workers there would know. For example, the workers always say “Be safe” to each other before starting their shifts.
Each of the workers was also required to stop working when his dosimeter issued a fourth warning sound.
“As a manga artist, I was interested in the overall atmosphere and scenery at the plant. But in those days, I was too busy working to do anything with it,” Tatsuta recalled.
When the amount of radiation he was exposed to reached the maximum annual limit after six months, he temporarily returned home to Tokyo. It was then that he decided to write the manga because what he was reading and hearing in the media about the situation at the plant was different from what he experienced and saw himself.
“The media were reporting that the workers in the plant were placed under miserable working conditions. But the working conditions there are not that different from those in other workplaces,” Tatsuta said. “In the compound (of the nuclear plant), workers eat meals and enjoy chatting (like those in other workplaces do).
“It was physically hard to work while wearing all the protective gear, though. That is because it was hot,” he added. “Besides I was not able to scratch my nose when it was itchy. And answering the call of nature or relieving oneself was a problem, so I refrained from drinking water as much as possible.”
Despite the tense working conditions depicted in the media, the descriptions of daily life presented by Tatsuta’s comic shows a much more easygoing atmosphere. Some readers who also worked at the plant sent messages to Tatsuta saying they felt nostalgic after reading his work.
At present, the serial comic still runs in the weekly magazine. After some time, however, he wants to work at the plant again.
“I have this growing feeling that I want to see the situation at the plant through to the end. Though I worked there for only six months, there were many drastic changes during that period,” Tatsuta said.
For example, a full face mask was initially necessary to wear in certain places. But (six months later when Tatsuta left), only a simple mask was sufficient there.
“Though we cannot currently see an end, the situation at the plant is making progress little by little. As a worker, I want to continue to be part of the process until workers like me are no longer necessary,” he added.
【Translated by The Japan Times】An evacuation order for part of the Miyakoji district of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, was lifted April 1, but many residents haven’t returned yet because of lingering concerns about radiation. They are also worried about the lack of jobs, shops and medical services.
The area was the first in the 20-km-radius exclusion zone set up around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after the March 2011 meltdowns to have its evacuation order canceled.
Of the 357 residents and 117 households registered as of the end of February, only one family had returned by April 10. This means the tally hasn’t climbed much from the 90 people and 27 households that had entered the long-stay program as of March.
Masami Konnai, 62, a board member of Miyakoji’s Jikenjo district, who returned with his wife and father last August as part of the long-stay program, put up Children’s Day carp streamers in his garden for the first time since the disaster to welcome his 5-year-old grandson, who will visit next month.
“I also want to show that people are living here,” Konnai said. “I want others to see that the area is moving toward restoration.”
Konnai and other residents plan to resume community cleaning activities and hold a summer festival at the nearby shrine to revitalize the district.
The government ended its decontamination work in the area last June. It then let people apply for long-term stays in August so they could make preparations for returning to their homes.
The central and municipal governments suggested lifting the evacuation order in November, but demurred after residents feared that proper living conditions hadn’t been established. The decision was finally made in February.
Even in a part of Miyakoji that is more than 20 km away from the nuclear plant and where more than 80 percent of the town’s population used to live, only 30 percent of the residents have returned since the evacuation order was lifted in September 2011.
To improve living conditions in Miyakoji as a whole, the municipal government opened two shopping facilities on April 6 and reopened three elementary and junior high schools on April 7. A convenience store is expected to open this autumn.
In an area within 20 km of the plant, however, there are still places giving off radiation beyond the long-term reduction goal of 1 millisievert per year, or 0.23 microsieverts per hour.
Many young families are hesitant to go back because of radiation, lack of sufficient medical services and employment, and the fact that they have settled into the places they evacuated to. And of the 152 students enrolled in the schools, 60 percent are commuting by bus from such locations.
To back the government’s policy of encouraging returnees, Tepco will offer one-off compensation payments of ¥900,000 to people who return within a year of the order being lifted. But the monthly allowances of ¥100,000 for psychological damage will end a year from now.
This section, appearing every third Monday, focuses on topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published on April 11.