japan times

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Maintaining remnants of disaster for future, japan times, 3/11/2016

link to original article:http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/03/11/national/maintaining-remnants-disaster-future/

Sept. 1, known as Disaster Prevention Day, was designated as such by the government in 1960. On this day every year, cities and towns nationwide, as well as schools, companies and even small community groups, run evacuation drills to prepare for natural disasters such as typhoons, landslides and earthquakes.

More and more, the younger generation doesn’t know why Sept. 1 is designated as Disaster Prevention Day. The government chose it because it was on that date that the massive Great Kanto Earthquake nearly Tokyo and the surrounding areas in 1923. The magnitude-7.9 quake resulted in more than 100,000 dead or missing.

Today, as reconstruction and rehabilitation projects are progressing in Miyagi, Fukushima, and Yamagata prefectures, damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, is being repaired, even as some areas experience delays. Today, the governments of those disaster-hit areas are fighting against something intangible; being forgotten.

“We have junior high school students visiting our city from other prefectures on school trips, and less and less of them know about the earthquake,” Yoshitaka Yamazaki, an official in the Commercial Tourism Division of Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, said.

That is why the city will open the Tsunami Remains Taro Kanko Hotel on April 1, an educational facility for disaster prevention. The facility is the renovated former Taro Kanko Hotel that which was hit by tsunami five years ago. The tsunami reached the fourth floor of the six-story building, leaving nothing but the bare steel frame on the first and second floors when the waters receded. The city purchased the hotel in March 2014 and decided to maintain the building as it is and create a commemorative site.

“To enter the building, visitors have to climb the stairs outside the building up to the fifth floor and they can look down and understand how high tsunami can reach,” Yamazaki said in an interview. “We have to pass down the terror of tsunami as a lesson and we expect this spot to help improve disaster risk reduction awareness.”

Governments and residents of the quake-hit areas, including survivors of the earthquake and tsunami, recognize the significance of passing down their experiences and stories of what happened that day to future generations, creating a succession of memories and records.

But, not every razed seawall, turned-over house, or tsunami-ravaged building is suitable to keep. It is difficult to make decisions especially on sites where people died. In some areas, residents are split over the issue because some bereaved family members can’t bear seeing the sites.

Conflicting views

Hiroshi Kameyama, the mayor of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, will make a decision by the end of March on whether the city will leave the ruined building of the former Okawa Elementary School. There, 74 students, about 70 percent of the total, and another 10 teachers died in the tsunami that day as they failed evacuate.

Last month, the city held the first, and probably the last, public hearing on the issue, after conducting a research for two years and issuing a thorough report in December last year with help of civil experts.

In the report, the city proposed scenarios of demolishing the whole building, keeping part of the building and keeping the entire facility, presenting costs, as well as pros and cons for each scenario.

In a survey conducted for the December report, 60.4 percent of city respondents said they want the city to keep either a part of, or the whole building. But, of the residents in districts near the school, 54.4 percent want the city to demolish the whole building, while 45 percent said they support a plan to keep either a part of the building or the entire building.

If kept, the school will become a memorial for mourning, and a place to demonstrate the importance of evacuation, the city notes in the report.

“Keeping the building is just one way to tell our future generations what happened here. But no matter which scenario we choose, it will be a difficult decision to make,” said an official of the city’s Rehabilitation Policy Planning and Evaluation Division.

20 years to decide fate

On Dec. 22, Jin Sato, the mayor of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, was photographed in front of the town’s former disaster prevention center. It was the first time for him to visit in five years. Sato, who was among those who were working in the center on the day of the earthquake, is one of a few survivors of the tsunami.

After the tsunami hit, the three-story building was completely submerged, and Sato barely managed to save his life, by holding onto an antenna and standing on the roof for hours. Of those who were at the building that day, 43, mainly the town officials, were killed or went missing. Sato’s grief for those victims held him back from visiting the building.

The former disaster prevention center is now nothing but a bare steel frame. On Dec. 22, the town had a ceremony in front of the building, handing it over to Miyagi Prefecture. The town had decided to demolish the structure, but the prefecture offered to obtain and manage the site until 2031, 20 years after the quake, to give local residents more time to consider the fate of the memorial icon.

“We hear some saying 20 years is too long to make the decision. But, I want them to know that, even five years after the quake, people here are reluctant to bring up the issue and are hesitant to talk about it even among family,” Mayumi Shiratori, an official at Provincial Reconstruction Division of Miyagi Prefecture Government, told The Japan Times.

Back in 1966 in Hiroshima, it was 21 years after the U.S. atomic bomb attack when the City of Hiroshima decided to keep the half-destructed building of the then Hiroshima products museum, now registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site as the Atomic Bomb Dome.

Delayed recovery

Fukushima Prefecture is lagging behind the other quake-hit prefectures in discussing the issue, partly because, according to the prefecture, almost 100,000 are still living in temporary housing, both within and outside the prefecture, making it almost impossible for them to have opportunities to discuss issue.

That is why the prefecture-run Fukushima Museum took the initiative to start constructing a digital archive of the damage and aftermath, before they are cleared away. It is using a technology known as Mixed Reality, which shows users three-dimensional images through a head-mounted display, allowing them to virtually experience the scenes. The museum is offering visitors a chance to experience the digital archive between Feb. 11 and March 21.

When considering whether or not to retain the quake legacies, it is indispensable for governments to make decisions when they have a consensus from residents.

“But, with this digital archive, those legacies can be retained in images without municipal government decisions,” said an official of the museum. “People of Fukushima Prefecture still have their hands full just taking care of themselves on a daily basis.”

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

link to original article:




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.’ “

’11 Tohoku disaster-displaced to remain in shelters up to 10 years, study finds, japan times, 3/7/2016

link to original article: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/03/07/national/social-issues/11-tohoku-disaster-displaced-remain-shelters-10-years-study-finds/#.Vt0Ishge5sp

Some of the people affected by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan will have to stay in temporary housing up to 10 years after the disaster, a Kyodo News survey found Sunday.

Around 59,000 people, many of whom are elderly, were still living in the prefabricated makeshift housing in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures as of late January, although the number has decreased by almost half from its peak. The country will mark the fifth anniversary of the disaster on Friday.

Forty-six municipalities in the northeastern prefectures were asked when they expected the evacuees to leave the housing complexes.

One municipality — the town of Otsuchi, Iwate, where nearly 2,900 people, a quarter of the town’s total population, are still living in temporary housing — said it would be around March 2021 at the earliest.

Devastated by tsunami on March 11, 2011, the town has been working on moving people to higher ground, but it has faced difficulty finding appropriate land, the office said.

Many other polled municipalities said it would take until 2019 to complete the transfer of evacuees from makeshift housing.

A total of 17 local governments said they could not make any forecast, including 11 in Fukushima, where the ongoing crisis at a tsunami-hit nuclear plant forced some residents to leave their homes.

After the 1995 massive earthquake that struck Kobe and other western Japan areas, it took five years for all the evacuees to leave their makeshift shelters.

Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, with the central government underscoring that the event will be an opportunity to show the world Japan has rebuilt from the 2011 calamity that left over 15,000 people dead or missing.


Tepco admits it should have declared meltdowns at Fukushima plant much earlier, japan times, 2/24/16

original link: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/02/24/national/tepco-admits-initial-assessments-fukushima-meltdowns-wrong/

Nearly five years after the nation’s worst nuclear accident, Tokyo Electric Power Co. has admitted that its staff failed to follow damage assessment guidelines, according to which they should have reported the meltdowns almost immediately.

A Tepco spokesman on Wednesday said the company’s Disaster Management Manual requires a reactor to be declared “in meltdown” if 5 percent or more of its fuel rods are determined to be “damaged.”

Tepco knew the extent of the damage early on. As of March 14, 2011, it estimated that 55 percent of the fuel rod assemblies of the reactor No. 1 and 25 percent of those at reactor No. 3 were “damaged,” based on the levels of radiation detected, Tepco spokesperson Yukako Handa told The Japan Times by phone.

Yet, despite widespread public skepticism at that time, the company refused to use the word “meltdown” for a period of about two months.

This led to widespread public speculation about a cover-up and failure to admit the extent of the damage. The sudden removal of a nuclear regulator spokesman fueled this.

Handa said a meltdown would have been declared if the guidelines had been followed correctly. But she said Tepco reported its estimates of damage to the government immediately — as required by law — and its failure to describe the situation as one of meltdown did not break regulations.

“Executives in charge of public relations at the time of the accident were not aware of the assessment criteria written in the Disaster Management Manual,” Handa said.

“They believed there was no clear definition of a ‘meltdown,’ so they didn’t make any clear remarks about one,’ ” she said.

Handa said Tepco will investigate why it failed to follow the assessment manual.

Wednesday’s announcement by Tepco was the first confirmation that such a manual even exists. NHK broke the news earlier in the day.

Whether to admit a “meltdown” was taking place at the plant was a sensitive topic for both the central government and Tepco from the start.

On March 12, one day after the tsunami knocked out power and cooling facilities, Koichiro Nakamura, a senior official at the now-defunct Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency, told a news conference that a “meltdown of a reactor’s core” may be taking place at the Fukushima plant, given the radiation levels detected.

Nakamura was promptly removed from a PR position at the agency, sparking speculation of a government cover-up of something critical underway at the site.

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


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