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Five years on, Fukushima evacuees voice lingering anger, fear and distrust, japan times, 3/9/16

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Five years after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that devastated northern Japan in March 2011, some 100,000 evacuees have still not returned to their homes in Fukushima Prefecture, parts of which were heavily contaminated by radiation in the wake of the reactor meltdowns.

Of these evacuees, just over half are living inside the prefecture, while 43,000 are scattered across the rest of the archipelago. Of the roughly 57,000 displaced within Fukushima, 18,322 are still living in temporary housing units.

The government has begun lifting the compulsory evacuation orders for some communities in the former no-go zone surrounding Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, and plans to remove any remaining restrictions in March of next year.

However, many Fukushima evacuees are reluctant to return. They fear that radiation in some areas is still high despite the huge decontamination effort that has been underway for the past five years. They also worry that compensation for their ordeal since March 2011 from the government and Tepco will be cut or disappear altogether if they decide to restart life in their former hometowns. Those who chose to vacate their homes outside the designated exclusion zone are also deeply concerned about the prospect of losing the right to stay in temporary accommodation a year from now and being left with no choice but to return.

At a recent event in Tokyo titled “Voices of the Evacuees of Fukushima,” and at a press conference last week organized by the Liaison Committee for Organizations of Victims of the Nuclear Disaster, a handful of representatives of these thousands of uprooted Fukushima residents spoke out about the ordeal that began five years ago with the earthquake, tsunami and multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, and which continues to exact a toll to this day. Here are some of those voices:

Mr. Segaya, who would only be identified by his surname due to privacy concerns, has been living in Saitama Prefecture with his family since opting to evacuate from his home in Koriyama, 60 km west of Fukushima No. 1.

“Many evacuees have fears about whether the decontamination efforts by the government are accurate or not and how they are carried out,” Segaya said. “In Koriyama and Fukushima, sometimes they cut down trees and sometimes they don’t. In one city, where they cut down trees, they burn them non-stop. In the other, the trees can’t be burned in incinerators. We are not sure which is better. To be honest, some say that the radiation doesn’t drop if trees are cut down. So you hear stories of people with different accounts — some have cut their trees chopped in half and saw a lowering of radiation, others didn’t see any drop.”

Segaya is most concerned about the safety of his children if he moves back to Koriyama.

“When our kids come back from playing in the dirt in Saitama, my wife yells at them saying, ‘What are you doing?’ I just smile at them because they are boys and just pat them lightly on the head to scold them, but if this were to happen in Fukushima, soft scolding wouldn’t be enough,” he said. “In Fukushima we don’t know which areas are decontaminated and which aren’t. At our home in Koriyama the geiger counter sadly still rings.”

Segaya explained that in Koriyama it rains a lot, which is another source of fear for evacuees who return.

The water, he said, can reach “up to around my knees, and the dirt rises and spreads when it dries up. When I call the Koriyama council to tell them about the situation, all I get is ‘At this point, we cannot tell you what to do about this issue.’ So even if I’m told it’s safe to go back, I don’t feel like I want to return.”

Segaya said that following the disaster, his two eldest sons were covered in cysts “like frogs,” and he feared the growths might be cancerous.

“The Fukushima Medical University doctors say that cysts are common, and that they show up and disappear, but I can’t trust them. Similarly, he said, “Even if they say it’s decontaminated, I can’t bring myself to (have my family) return to somewhere where the radiation is still so high.”

Speaking about job prospects and the difficulties in getting back on his feet, Segaya said the Japanese job-hunting system — shūkatsu in Japanese — can be a drawn-out process involving months of sitting written tests and attending group workshops and interviews.

“At my age, to go through applying for another job, sadly, I don’t have the courage,” Segaya explained. “And now our savings are depleting. When the housing compensation stops, what do we do?

“Do I sell our house, which is surrounded with bags full of contaminated soil? I know it will sell. People living in the Hamadori region (on the coast) would buy the house because the radiation level there is much higher than here. But is it right to sell a house like that? Something in me questions the ethics of that.”

Kayo Watanabe left her home in Fukushima city, 60 km northwest of the No. 1 plant, at the height of uncertainty about the true extent of the 2011 nuclear disaster. She now lives with her children in Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture, 45 km farther inland from the stricken nuclear plant on the coast. As is the case with many other evacuee families, her husband didn’t follow them. He is still working in Fukushima, the city where his extended family also lives.

“We are in the fifth floor of a welfare housing building with no elevator, so I have to climb the stairs every day,” Watanabe said. “It’s an old building dating back to 1985. At the time (of the disasters) there was no heating and we had to take cold showers. Daily life is very inconvenient.”

There are still many mother-and-children clusters of evacuees, Watanabe explained, but some have gone back, preferring for their families to be together.

However, she said, “I’m still concerned about going back while the decontamination is not finished.”

Watanabe said that her husband visits after work, but the journeys back and forth on top of his work commute leave him exhausted.

“My children are getting used to the situation of not having a father around, which is not good,” she said. “There are a lot of divorces, too. When families are apart, this happens.”

During the unfolding nuclear disaster, Mr. Suzuki, his wife and four children made the decision to leave their home in Nihonmatsu, 45 km northwest of the stricken No. 1 nuclear plant.

“Why did I and my family evacuate? Simple: It’s because I feared radiation. I still remember the 1986 Chernobyl accident and knew how terrible radiation is,” said Suzuki, who didn’t give his first name. “Our house in Fukushima was an old one. It was my wife’s father’s old wooden house, with thin walls and space where outside air comes through.”

“We were at this house on March 27, 2011, and when I measured the radiation, it was about 9 microsieverts outside, and inside 3 to 4 microsieverts. When I measured it after the decontamination, it was about 0.2 microsieverts, and now it’s between 0.1 and 0.2 microsieverts, and it’s basically the same inside the house and outside. So, when dust and wind comes in, or when the cat we have comes in, radiation enters the house. But I can’t just kill the cat.”

The government’s decontamination efforts have involved the removal of topsoil and other contaminated material in areas registering high radioactivity in a bid to bring levels down to an acceptable level. These materials are then sealed in black plastic bags and stored in their thousands at temporary sites across the prefecture. Material registering higher than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram is classed as radioactive waste.

“In 2012, when we measured the soil, it was 80,000 becquerels (per kg),” Suzuki said. “They will decontaminate the houses, but not the mountains. So we have to continue to stay away.”

Suzuki said that traveling between Yonezawa, where his family are living, Nihonmatsu and Fukushima city, he spends ¥50,000 on gasoline a month. This puts a strain on his finances because he only makes ¥150,000 a month.

“I want to say that the compensation should continue,” Suzuki said. “They (the government and Tepco) don’t even take any responsibility, and I want to tell them to go to hell. The responsibility lies with the government and Tepco, so they should provide us with a range of options. Instead, it’s only one option: ‘Go back because it’s safe,’ and also saying that we, those still staying away, are overreacting. But safety — our safety — is not what the government or Tepco should decide, right? The fact is, the radiation level at my house in Fukushima is still too high.”

Mr. Arai is a “voluntary” evacuee from Iwaki, a city 50 km south of Fukushima No. 1. He is now living with his family in a public housing unit in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, alongside 84 families from Tohoku, the majority from Fukushima.

“People think we live off high compensation money, but the fact is that it is very low. And this will end at the end of March next year,” said Arai. “It’s been years since the disaster and there are various concerns people harbor. But, I beg you, please let us live somewhere until we all feel assured, and then can say thank you.”

“It is not just economic issues,” Arai continued. “There are many evacuees who are elderly with illnesses, for whom moving around is not easy. I had to evacuate with my four children and 90-something-year-old parents when I first came to Tokyo, and moved around several times until I found this housing.

“It was very difficult and we stumbled upon many hardships along the way,” Arai explained. “Our children are having to struggle through with scholarships and side jobs. We can’t even live up to our responsibilities as parents to provide for our children.”

Kenichi Hasegawa, a dairy farmer from Iitate, a village 40 km northwest of Fukushima No. 1, was forced to evacuate on April 22, 2011. Although he has been living in a temporary housing facility in Date city, 20 km farther north, ever since, Hasegawa is completely against the lifting of the remaining evacuation orders for areas surrounding the nuclear plant.

“Those of us directly affected by the Fukushima accident are very much concerned and very much against this move,” he said. “However, the government is trying to push forward with the (Tokyo 2020) Olympics as a way to cover up the situation and send out the message that Japan is now safe.”

Hasegawa says decontamination work in Iitate has been going on for three years but is still only 50 percent complete. The government has declared that decontamination of the village will be complete by the end of the year.

“I believe that this is completely impossible,” said Hasegawa. “We are all being forced to face the decision of whether to abandon our village or to return despite the fact that radiation levels in the village are still very high.

“I believe that one of our greatest concerns as regards contamination and radiation levels in our village is the soil. As for my own home, there is a forest area just behind it, and the official word is that the decontamination there has already been finished. So, I did my own sampling of the soil in this area that has been declared decontaminated, and the result of this sampling was actually 2,600 becquerels per kg of the soil behind my house. This is three times the national standard.”

Hasegawa explained that the analysis of topsoil he collected was performed by Nihon University professor Koji Itonaga, who also measured radiation levels in his cedar trees.

Iitate was only evacuated a month after the nuclear meltdowns, although it was exposed to higher levels of radiation than most areas within the original evacuation zone at the height of the disaster.

“At first the designation was made with just this straight circle around the plant, and we were designated as being outside of the 30 km area,” explained Hasegawa. “We were completely left behind and not included at all within the evacuation. However, because the contamination levels in Iitate were so high that they could no longer be hidden, a month later Iitate was included in the compulsory evacuation area.

“We know now, for example, that the data from SPEEDI about where the flume was going and so on was very clear — that the radiation was going northwest of the plant at the time — yet this data was hidden,” said Hasegawa.

SPEEDI is a supercomputer that provides real-time assessment of radiation levels in nuclear emergencies.

Hasegawa says he is receiving monthly compensation of ¥100,000 from Tepco for mental stress caused by the disaster. However, compensation for individuals who lost their businesses following the disaster is calculated according to the amount of sales of that business.

“If the business did not actually have profits at the time — if it was even in the red, for example, prior to the disaster — then there is no compensation being given for this. So the compensation we are receiving corresponds to the profits that were declared by that business,” said Hasegawa.

Kazuhiko Amano worked as the head of the evacuation center set up at the Big Palette convention site from April 2011 until the following year.

“The nuclear accident is not over,” he said. “It is clear the evacuees need on-going support. They lost their jobs and daily lives through no fault of their own, so I believe the government needs to provide them with security.

“The evacuees are mentally weakened from thinking all day about whether they will or will not return to their hometowns. As their lives as evacuees lengthen, we are seeing many secondary deaths,” he said, referring to those recognized as being linked to the triple disaster rather than directly caused by the initial quake and tsunami. “These are especially high among those from Fukushima compared to evacuees from Miyagi and Iwate prefectures.”

Out of the overall total number of deaths, said Amano, “For Miyagi and Iwate, the percentage of secondary deaths is 8 percent. For Fukushima, it is 55 percent. This is an unusually high number. So, this also suggests that the biggest challenge for Fukushima is the ‘recovery of the soul.’ “

Tainted cities irate over Tepco’s slow compensation payments: survey, japan times, 11/15/2015

via fukushima minpo.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has paid a mere 11.4 percent of the ¥55.3 billion in nuclear redress claims filed by municipalities damaged by the Fukushima disaster, a survey shows, and some are seeking action to speed the process up.

Negotiations have crawled along for four years and eight months since the triple reactor meltdown, and the foot-dragging is wreaking havoc on the fiscal affairs of dozens of municipalities.

The survey by the daily Fukushima Minpo is based on responses from all 59 cities, towns and villages in Fukushima Prefecture as of Oct. 30. All but three municipalities are claiming damages.

The claims average ¥988.2 million, but 11 are demanding more than ¥1 billion.

The largest claim, for ¥19.2 billion, was filed by the town of Futaba, which co-hosts the defunct Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Next are a ¥7.1 billion one filed by Koriyama, a ¥5.9 billion claim by Fukushima and a ¥3.5 billion claim by Iwaki.

Tokyo Electric’s payment ratio is 4.4 points higher than the 7.0 percent rate logged in the previous survey in August 2013, which showed Tepco, as the utility is known, had only paid ¥2.4 billion of the ¥34.2 billion in claims filed at that time.

But the utility is still perceived as lagging with the payments.

The municipalities demand compensation because the evacuations decimated their populations, causing residential and fixed asset tax revenues to evaporate. Rising labor costs are another reason as new officials had to be hired to deal with the nuclear crisis.

Tepco said payment has been slow as “it takes time to scrutinize the claims because the amount is so huge.”

Asked if Tepco’s untimely redress is affecting fiscal management, 10 municipalities replied that “it greatly affects (management),” and 26 replied “it has an impact.”

For example, town of Kori, which said nonpayment has had a heavy impact on its finances, has received only 23.1 percent of what it claimed.

“We are spending part of tax revenue to cover the lack of payment, which leads to curbs on other projects,” the town said. If compensation remain sluggish, it might delay more projects and lower quality of services, it said.

The town of Tomioka said: “We are working on rebuilding local facilities ahead of residents’ return. But the money is not being paid and we are struggling to secure revenue.”

Based on these situations, 15 municipalities are considering applying for settlement mediation with the Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation, via a process known as alternative dispute resolution. Most have filed massive compensation claims or have evacuation zones in their midst.

Futaba, one of the 15, hasn’t received any compensation and is consulting with lawyers about applying to the dispute committee.

Officials in the city of Yabuki said, “We will eye ADR, but it all depends on (Tepco’s) response.” Tepco has paid only 4 percent of Yabuki’s claims.

Others are being cautious.

Officials in Tamura are concerned that the application procedure will increase its paperwork and take a long time to prepare. “It could impose a new burden on us,” the city said in the survey.

The city of Motomiya will see if applying for mediation is really effective.

“Filing an application could mean shutting down further negotiations (with Tepco),” it said.

On the other hand, Fukushima and the town of Kori have already applied and reached settlements on water and other projects.

The remaining 39 municipalities signaled they have no plans to apply.

The city of Date said it does not plan to resort to ADR.

“ADR is a measure to speed up damages owed to companies. It does not work with damages owed to municipalities,” it said.

But it is possible the number of mediation applications will increase, since some are simply waiting to see what happens.

“We will decide what to do while watching others’ movements,” the city of Sukagawa said.

“We are working on early payment by accepting damage claims for projects whose specific standards for estimates are complete,” Tepco explained.

“When we receive claims for other projects, we are taking proper steps while listening to their situations,” the utility said.

This section, appearing every third Monday, features topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published on Nov. 1.

Tainted cities irate over Tepco’s slow compensation payments: survey

Iwaki mulls preserving Toyoma junior high as reminder of disaster, fukushima minpo, 3/30/2014

The Iwaki municipal government is considering preservation of the Toyoma Junior High School complex, which was damaged by tsunami in the Great East Japan Earthquake, as a reminder of the disaster for future generations. The local government unveiled the plan at a meeting of a group of local residents in Iwaki on March 29 to report a master plan for areas that include the Toyoma district. The city government will make a final decision on whether to preserve the school after hearing the opinions of local residents. An official of the Fukushima prefectural government said, “Although damaged by tsunami, it is technically possible to preserve the school without demolishing it.”

Under the city’s land readjustment project for post-disaster reconstruction, an open space for disaster prevention is scheduled to be set up in the school’s premises. As a result, the school is slated for relocation to a new building to be constructed close to Toyoma Elementary School.

In connection with the move, the local residents’ group had requested the Fukushima prefectural government and the Iwaki municipal office to preserve the damaged school building from the standpoint of disaster-prevention education. Based on the group’s request, the prefectural government conducted an on-site survey to check the feasibility of preserving the building. It determined through the survey that it is technically possible to use the school building as a disaster reminder without hampering its functions as a disaster-prevention open space.

THREE YEARS AFTER: Daughter of TEPCO worker struggles with family discord, asahi, 3/8/14

IWAKI, Fukushima Prefecture–A teenage girl whose family has fallen apart since the Fukushima nuclear crisis unfolded is finally coming to terms with her father’s job.

Haruka Yashiro’s father, 51, works for Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Her family lived in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, within 20 kilometers of the plant, where a triple meltdown was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.

“You said it would be OK, but it wasn’t OK in the end!” her mother, now 49, bawled at her husband in the summer of 2011, the 18-year-old Haruka recalls. They were staying in an apartment–the family’s fourth evacuation shelter–in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture.

Her father just remained silent, she says.

Haruka, then a first-year high school student, recalls shutting herself up in the lavatory. Weeping quietly so she would not be overheard, she tried to comprehend how this had happened to her family.

On the second day of the nuclear crisis, the family had to evacuate and sleep in their car.

Haruka’s father was called back to the nuclear plant to help bring the situation under control. He was only able to return to his family’s shelter eight days a month. Haruka watched as her father’s slender build became even skinnier, and his cheeks grew hollow.

Her mother deleted about 30 names from her cellphone directory after acquaintances began accusing her of “pretending to be a victim” and calling on her to “take responsibility.”

Even Haruka’s grandmother, who evacuated to Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, did not want to be associated with the family. “Do you realize how ashamed I feel because your husband works for TEPCO?” she told her daughter, who broke into tears.

This was in spite of the fact that Haruka’s mother, who worked for a TEPCO group company in her youth, followed the advice of Haruka’s grandmother to marry an employee of TEPCO, which was considered a secure employer.

Soon after, Haruka’s parents stopped talking to each other. Instead, she would receive e-mails from her father and relay the messages to her mother.

Whenever she saw footage of anti-nuclear protests on TV news programs, Haruka says she felt resentful, as if the protesters were accusing her father.

“They didn’t even know the locations of nuclear plants that provided electricity to Tokyo,” she says of her thoughts at the time. “And none of them wants to learn how hard my father is working. They’re sort of irresponsible, aren’t they?”

But deep inside, she also worried that people would shun her if she talked about her father to anyone. As a result, she rarely mentioned him in conversation while in high school.

A turning point came in the summer of 2012, when Haruka was among 300 high school students from disaster-stricken areas in northeastern Japan invited to visit the United States on a short-term program organized by a nonprofit entity and a private company. As she sat through discussions with her fellow participants and U.S. students, Haruka realized she was gaining more courage to speak openly.

Back in Japan, Haruka joined a meeting in Tokyo where high school students from disaster areas discussed challenges facing northeastern Japan. She made up her mind to tell her own story after she listened to a high school student from Miyagi Prefecture who recounted how she lost her mother to the tsunami.

Haruka said she was so nervous that she trembled while speaking, but everybody listened to her story, some in tears.

The disaster gave her the opportunity to become stronger, she said.

After relocating to Iwaki in the spring of 2012, Haruka joined a group that organizes bus tours to the city in hopes of increasing tourism, which plummeted after the 3/11 disaster. The group was initiated by one of Haruka’s fellow high school participants in the U.S. visit program.

The bus tour program began in May 2013 with the support of a travel agency and is currently in its third phase.

On a recent tour, Haruka told tourists from the Tokyo metropolitan area that she is the daughter of a TEPCO employee who is working to end the nuclear crisis.

“Please never forget that we used to live in Naraha,” she told them.

One tourist responded with a hug. Another said her father and his colleagues were “heroes.”

Haruka says at that moment she felt that she finally spoke out for her father, who has turned taciturn and has seldom smiled since the onset of the nuclear disaster.

At home, however, relationships are still fractured. Her mother has not forgiven Haruka’s grandmother for what she said.

Her father, who is working to extract nuclear fuel from the No. 4 reactor at the crippled plant, comes home only on weekends. Even when he is back, he and Haruka’s mother don’t look each other in the eye.

Haruka graduated from high school on March 1. From April, she will be studying architecture at a university in Fukushima Prefecture.

“I wish our family could sit together in the living room and chat happily as we used to do,” she said. “But I have no idea what I could do to make that happen.”

However, with her newly found courage, she does plan to confront her grandmother and ask why she said what she did to her mother. She says she is confident that her action could help re-establish relationships within the family.

Fukushima Local Govts to Get 7.6-B.-Yen State Subsidies for Housing, jiji, 11/8/13

Tokyo, Nov. 8 (Jiji Press)–The Reconstruction Agency said Friday that it will grant Fukushima Prefecture and two municipalities there 7,634 million yen in subsidies for housing for evacuees from the March 2011 nuclear accident in the northeastern Japan prefecture.
In the second allocation of such state subsidies, the prefecture as well as the town of Kori and the village of Kawauchi will receive the money for construction of public housing and parking lots for the long-term evacuees.
The Fukushima prefectural government plans to build 3,700 public housing units in total by fiscal 2015 for evacuees from the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. It will use the coming funds to acquire land lots for 563 units in the cities of Minamisoma and Iwaki.
The subsidy program was created in the current fiscal year to March, with 50.3 billion yen in the pipeline. By the end of December, the agency plans to invite applications for the third allocation.


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