An NHK survey has found that the number of evacuees who have died from poor health since the 2011 disaster has topped 3,000.
NHK asked local authorities about the deaths of evacuees as of the end of March. Most victims are believed to have died due to poor health brought on by the fatigue and stress of moving to temporary shelters.
The survey found that 3,076 people have died in 10 prefectures. The number rose by 388 from last year’s figure.
More than a half of all the victims are from Fukushima Prefecture. The number of people who died from poor health was 88 more than those killed by the quake and tsunami.
Many of the Fukushima victims are from municipalities near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
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.
State and local government officials say they have detected radioactive substances exceeding government safety limits in soil at the bottom of agricultural dams and reservoirs in Fukushima Prefecture.
The agriculture ministry and the Fukushima prefectural government found 8,000 becquerels or more per kilogram of radioactive substances in 568 out of the 1,940 dams and reservoirs they inspected between last June and December.
108 were in the evacuation zones around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, and 460 were further away.
Officials detected 370,000 becquerels per kilogram in the soil of a reservoir 58 kilometers away from the plant.
It is the highest reading so far recorded outside the evacuation zones, and more than 46 times the government limit of 8,000 becquerels for radioactive waste.
The state government is obliged to dispose of radioactive waste beyond this limit.
Prefectural officials say rain may have carried radioactive substances into the waters from surrounding forests.
Water from the reservoir with the highest reading outside the evacuation zones is being used for rice paddies nearby. But officials say they have not found radiation levels exceeding food safety limits in locally-produced rice, probably because radioactive substances in the soil barely dissolve in water.
The head of an association of residents says officials have told them they will not be exposed to radiation as long as there is water in the reservoir.
But he says they fear radioactive levels may surge if it dries up. He is urging the state government to address the problem as soon as possible.
An NHK survey shows that an increasing number of people who evacuated after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami have left the temporary housing where their families live.
NHK conducts an annual survey at a temporary housing complex in Ishinomaki city, Miyagi Prefecture. The 1,100-unit Kaisei housing complex is the largest in the affected areas.
370 people responded to the 3rd survey this year. 33.2 percent said some family members have gone to live elsewhere. That’s a 40 percent increase from the survey taken 2 years ago.
38.4 percent said their families had to split up because the living space was too small. Some others cited worsening family relations and divorce.
Professor Yasuo Yamazaki of Ishinomaki Senshu University, who studies the lives of the evacuees at the Kaisei complex, says younger people are leaving temporary housing because it is inconvenient to commute to work or school.
He says it is important that municipalities and volunteer groups work together to support those elderly people who tend to get left behind.
Japan’s Reconstruction Agency has found that nearly 70 percent of people who evacuated from towns hosting the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant do not plan to return.
The agency surveyed evacuees from Okuma and Futaba towns in October. All residents of the towns left after the plant’s nuclear accident.
Of around 2,760 households from Okuma, 67 percent said they’ve given up on returning. Nine percent said they want to. 20 percent were undecided.
Among 1,730 households from Futaba, 65 percent said they won’t return, 10 percent said they hope to, and 17 percent were undecided.
Of the respondents from both towns who said they will not return, around 70 percent cited concerns about the safety of the damaged plant and radiation exposure.
About 65 percent said it will take too long before they are allowed to go back.
Reconstruction minister Takumi Nemoto told reporters that his agency will consult the towns to draw up plans to build public housing for evacuees and implement reconstruction projects.