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%.
FUKUSHIMA – The government on Wednesday proposed lifting by around mid-August the evacuation order for one of the towns in Fukushima Prefecture that has stood empty since the nuclear crisis began in 2011.
Most of the town of Naraha sits within 20 km of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, but radiation cleanup efforts have been under way in a bid to return around 7,500 residents to their homes.
Naraha is one of 10 remaining municipalities still subject to evacuation orders. The government estimated as of last October that about 79,000 people were unable to return to their homes.
The proposal for Nahara came after the government decided recently to lift all evacuation orders by March 2017 except for areas radiation levels are expected to remain high.
The government told the Naraha Municipal Assembly on Wednesday that it hopes to lift the evacuation order by the mid-August Bon holidays. Yosuke Takagi, senior vice industry minister who is dealing with nuclear disaster issues added that the government does not intend to “force” residents to return home.
“Whether to return is up to each person. . . . Even if we lift the order, we want to continue working substantially on measures to rebuild Nahara,” he said.
A local assembly member said the plan to lift the order by Bon was “abrupt,” while another member pointed out that the town has not recovered to a point where people can return without worrying about food safety or their homes.
As part of preparations, residents have already been allowed to enter the town and stay there for short periods, officials said.
A plan to end rent subsidies for some evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster has come under fresh fire, as it emerged that those subsidies are costing at most 8.09 billion yen this fiscal year.
The evacuees under consideration for having their subsidies cut — at the end of fiscal 2016 — are voluntary evacuees living in homes other than temporary housing structures built for evacuees. The total Fukushima Prefecture relief budget for disaster evacuees this fiscal year, including non-voluntary evacuees, is over 28.8 billion yen, so the subsidies being considered for being cut account for less than 30 percent of the relief budget.
One expert knowledgeable about evacuees says, “The reason that a plan to end these subsidies has arisen even though the financial burden is not large may be that government officials want to try and force voluntary evacuees to return to their homes, without respecting evacuees’ own judgments on the matter.”
Voluntary evacuees are people who evacuated from areas outside of those where the government ordered evacuations. Until November 2012, Fukushima Prefecture did not allow them to use emergency temporary housing set up for evacuees in the prefecture, and many voluntary evacuees moved outside of the prefecture.
According to the Fukushima Prefectural Government, for this fiscal year it allocated about 20.73 billion yen for the temporary homes of non-voluntary evacuees within the prefecture, and 8.09 billion yen for those of evacuees outside the prefecture. The evacuees outside the prefecture include non-voluntary evacuees, but the exact numbers are not known. A Fukushima Prefectural Government official says, “Non-voluntary evacuees have been using compensation for their lost real-estate to buy homes, and most of the people getting rent subsidies outside of Fukushima Prefecture are probably voluntary evacuees.”
Within the prefecture, voluntary evacuees live in around 300 homes, which are not temporary housing structures, but subsidies for their rent are included in the “out-of-prefecture” budget, so the 8.09 billion yen covers all voluntary evacuees from the prefecture.
According to the Cabinet Office, as of April 1 this year, there were evacuees living in 18,742 homes in Fukushima Prefecture other than temporary housing structures, and according to the Fukushima Prefectural Government, evacuees were living in around 10,000 such homes outside of the prefecture. Both numbers include voluntary and non-voluntary evacuees. Neither the Fukushima Prefectural Government nor the central government has yet released exact figures on the number of homes for voluntary evacuees other than temporary housing built after the disaster, nor have they released exact numbers for the total rent paid for them.
Currently, evacuee homes are set to be subsidized until the end of March 2016, with a decision on whether to extend this to be made soon after discussions between the Fukushima Prefectural Government and the Cabinet Office. A plan to end subsidies for voluntary evacuees would extend the deadline for one more year, to the end of March 2017, after which voluntary evacuees would no longer receive them. Although Fukushima Prefecture has money budgeted for subsidizing voluntary evacuees, this money is in effect all paid for by the central government. Tokyo Electric Power Co. has expressed reluctance to pay for voluntary evacuees’ rent, and so far the central government has not billed them for such.
Meanwhile, this fiscal year’s Fukushima Prefecture budget for radiation decontamination measures is 64.39 billion yen, up 13.35 billion yen from the previous fiscal year. The Ministry of the Environment released an estimate in December 2013 that the total costs for decontamination and mid-term storage for radioactive waste would be 3.6 trillion yen.
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TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japan marked the fourth anniversary Wednesday of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country’s northeastern region, left more than 18,000 people dead or missing and triggered the continuing Fukushima nuclear crisis.
The anniversary came as reconstruction in the hard-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima has not progressed as planned, with many evacuees still forced to live away from their hometowns amid the ongoing decommissioning work at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and decontamination work in Fukushima.
In the afternoon, a government-sponsored memorial service was held in Tokyo, attended by Emperor Akihito, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and representatives of people who lost family members, with a moment of silence observed at 2:46 p.m., when the magnitude-9.0 quake occurred four years ago.
At the event, Abe pledged all-out efforts by the government to work out comprehensive disaster prevention measures based on the lessons learned from the 2011 calamity, saying, “We would like to push ahead with creating a country resilient to disasters.”
The emperor said, “It is important for Japanese people to stand together to overcome the still severe conditions for disaster victims.”
Representing people who lost their family members in Miyagi Prefecture, Sayaka Sugawara, 19, said, “I would like to live my life by looking forward so that I can regain what I lost in the disaster.”
In severe cold weather just like four years ago, local people also prayed for the victims.
In Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, a 68-year-old woman cleaned the graves of her mother, her elder brother and his wife, saying, “Someone may come to pray.”
“My sorrow deepens even more after the passage of time,” she said.
In Otsuchi in the prefecture, about 30 city government officials offered silent prayers for tsunami victims in front of the former city hall in which around 40 people including the mayor were killed. Part of the building is expected to be preserved as a disaster memorial.
“I used to talk about our future with my colleagues. Standing now on the front line of reconstruction efforts, I wish they were still alive,” said Mayor Yutaka Ikarigawa.
In Wakabayashi Ward in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, residents prayed in front of a monument bearing 192 victims’ names.
The disaster “seems like a long time ago but it was also like only yesterday,” said Makiko Ito, a 39-year-old company employee mourning the loss of a colleague.
“It is hard recalling the bitter memories of the disaster. But I think today’s drill is important,” said Sachiko Kitamura, 79, who joined one in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture.
The temblor was one of the most powerful quakes on record in Japan, and the ensuing tsunami left 15,891 people dead and 2,584 unaccounted for, most in the three prefectures in the Tohoku region, according to the latest tally released by the National Police Agency on Tuesday.
Among the 228,863 people evacuated due to the multiple disasters, 47,219 Fukushima residents remained outside the prefecture as of Feb. 12 after being hit by the world’s worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear crisis.
None of the nation’s 48 commercial nuclear reactors is active at the moment. Despite persistent safety concerns among the public, the Abe government is pushing toward bringing some of the reactors back online.
Four reactors — two at a plant in southwestern Japan and two at a plant in western Japan — have obtained safety clearance to restart under tighter regulations introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The government has allocated a total of 26.30 trillion yen ($217 billion) for reconstruction work over the five-year period through March 2016, mainly for infrastructural improvement, including relocating communities to higher ground and building coastal levees.
But the reconstruction of residential areas remains slow due to a shortage of construction workers and higher construction material prices.
The number of people living in prefabricated makeshift housing complexes in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures at the end of February totaled 80,372.
The disasters have also taken a heavy toll on survivors, leaving some vulnerable to ill-health as they continue to live in temporary housing. Since the disasters, 3,244 of them have died due to infirmity, suicide and other causes.