FUKUSHIMA – Only 27 evacuees from the Miyakoji district in the radiation-tainted city of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, have returned to their homes since the district’s evacuation advisory was lifted on April 1, it has been learned.
The Tamura Municipal Government had expected 90 residents from 27 families to come back.
The 27 returnees, from 12 families, account for less than 10 percent of the 353 residents in the 112 families there. Miyakoji was part of the 20-km hot zone set up around Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant after the meltdowns of March 11, 2011. It was the first to have its evacuation advisory lifted.
In April 2012, it was redesignated as an area safe enough to permit daytime stays for preparations to remove the evacuation advisory.
【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.
Radiation levels in some localities around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have dropped to well under the government standard of 20 millisieverts per year, according to the latest survey findings, which are consistent with the Abe administration’s intention to lift evacuation orders at the earliest possible dates.
However, the final report on the government survey, released April 18, shows that Fukushima evacuees will be exposed to radiation levels exceeding the government’s long-term target of 1 millisievert per year after they return to their homes.
In particular, individual radiation doses for returnees to Kawauchi, Fukushima Prefecture, where the evacuation order could be lifted as early as July, are estimated to be 3 millisieverts a year.
While an evacuation order for the Miyakoji district in the prefecture’s Tamura city was lifted earlier this month, those working in the forest industry in the district are calculated to be exposed to 2.3 millisieverts of radiation per year, according to the survey results. The report also estimates that farmers and teachers in the district will annually receive radiation doses of 0.9 to 1.2 millisieverts and 0.7 millisievert, respectively.
The government’s decontamination work is aimed at bringing radiation levels in contaminated areas to within 20 millisieverts a year before it gives the go-ahead for residents to return, and eventually to 1 millisievert or less.
Still, some Fukushima evacuees have called for readings to be brought down to 1 millisievert or less as early as possible, and fear exposure to annual radiation levels higher than 1 millisievert.
The Cabinet Office’s working team in charge of assisting the lives of nuclear disaster victims asked the National Institute of Radiological Sciences and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency to measure air dose rates and estimate individual radiation doses in Fukushima Prefecture’s three municipalities of Tamura, Kawauchi and Iitate.
The two agencies conducted a survey in the municipalities’ farmland, mountains, forests, private residences and schools between August and September 2013, and calculated individual radiation exposure by occupation and other categories. The two government-affiliated bodies compiled a midterm report in October last year.
But the government had initially withheld the findings because the midterm report just contains “basic data obtained in the process of investigation,” according to the Cabinet Office.
As The Asahi Shimbun and other parties made inquiries about the findings, the governmental working team released the midterm report on the website of the industry ministry earlier this month.
The government withheld findings on estimated radiation exposure for Fukushima returnees for six months, even though levels exceeded the long-term target of 1 millisievert a year at more than half of surveyed locations.
Individual radiation doses were estimated to be beyond 1 millisievert per year, or 0.23 microsievert an hour, at 24 of all the 43 surveyed sites, including ones in the Miyakoji district in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, The Asahi Shimbun learned April 15.
The revelation comes just two weeks after the central government lifted the evacuation order for the district on April 1.
Last July, the Cabinet Office’s working team in charge of assisting the lives of nuclear disaster victims asked the National Institute of Radiological Sciences and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency to measure air dose rates and estimate individual radiation doses at 43 locations.
The survey covered seven types of living spaces, including private residences, farmland and schools, in the prefecture’s three municipalities of Tamura, Kawauchi and Iitate.
The government’s decontamination work aims at bringing radiation levels in contaminated areas to within 20 millisieverts a year before it gives the go-ahead for residents to return.
It also intends to bring readings to 1 millisievert or less eventually. The International Commission on Radiological Protection says a reading of up to 20 millisieverts is acceptable in areas where cleanup is under way.
The central government has also proposed to distribute devices that measure individual radiation to returned evacuees, so residents can monitor their radiation doses on their own.
But some evacuees from areas affected by the Fukushima No. 1 plant nuclear accident, which was triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, worry about the possibility they may be exposed to high radiation doses after returning to their homes.
For this reason, the government decided to study correlations between air dose rates and individual radiation doses around the crippled facility to prove that the amount of radiation to which residents will be exposed is sufficiently low, even when air dose rates are relatively high.
The National Institute of Radiological Sciences and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency last fall measured radiation levels at several dozens of spots at each of the 43 sites in the three municipalities. They found that individual radiation doses are typically 30 percent lower than air dose rates.
The government-affiliated bodies also discovered that average air dose rates exceeded 0.23 microsievert per hour at 27 of the 43 sites, while they estimated individual radiation doses at over 0.23 microsievert an hour at 24 locations.
In mid-October, the two agencies compiled a midterm report and submitted it to the government. But the Cabinet Office’s working team did not disclose the report until the evacuation order for the Miyakoji district was lifted. According to a member of the team, this was because the finding “has no direct relationship with lifting the evacuation orders.”
Although the government held numerous meetings with Miyakoji residents to discuss lifting the evacuation order, it never presented the survey results, nor did it even refer to the existence of the data.
The government only presented an outline of the results to the three municipalities earlier in April.
Asked to disclose the findings, the government released the survey results to The Asahi Shimbun and posted the midterm report on the website of the industry ministry.
The working team said it planned to reveal the survey’s findings and analysis of the data on April 18 after fine-tuning its final report. But the team changed its mind because The Asahi Shimbun’s request to disclose the findings made it realize that public interest in the survey was greater than expected.