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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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.
TOMIOKA, Japan (AP) – Whenever Kazuhiro Onuki goes home, to his real home that is, the 66-year-old former librarian dons protective gear from head to toe and hangs a dosimeter around his neck.
Grass grows wild in the backyard. The ceiling leaks. Thieves have ransacked the shelves, leaving papers and clothing all over the floor so there is barely room to walk. Mouse dung is scattered like raisins. There is no running water or electricity.
Above all, radiation is everywhere.
It’s difficult to imagine ever living again in Tomioka, a ghost town about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the former Fukushima Dai-chi nuclear plant. And yet more than three years after meltdowns at the plant forced this community of 16,000 people to flee, Onuki can’t quite make the psychological break to start anew.
His family lived here for four generations. Every time he goes back, he is overcome by emotion. Especially during that brief time in the spring when the cherry blossoms bloom.
“They flower as though nothing has happened,” he said. “They are weeping because all the people have left.”
The Japanese government is pushing ahead with efforts to decontaminate and reopen as much of a 20-kilometer (12-mile) no-go zone around the plant as it can. Authorities declared a tiny corner of the zone safe for living as of April 1, and hope to lift evacuation orders in more areas in the coming months and years.
Former residents have mixed feelings. In their hearts, many want their old lives back. But distrust about the decontamination program runs deep. Will it really be safe? Others among the more than 100,000 displaced have established new lives elsewhere, in the years since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami sent three of Fukushima’s reactors into meltdown.
If the evacuation order is lifted for their area, they will lose a monthly stipend of 100,000 yen ($1,000) they receive from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the owner of the Fukushima plant.
A survey last year found that 16 percent of Tomioka residents wanted to return, 40 percent had decided never to return, and 43 percent were undecided. Two-thirds said they were working before the disaster, but only one-third had jobs at the time of the survey, underlining the challenges to starting over.
Former resident Shigetoshi Suzuki, a friend of Onuki, is outraged the government would even ask such a question: Do you want to go back?
Of course, we all want to return, he said. People like him were effectively forced into retirement, the 65-year-old land surveyor said. If he hadn’t evacuated to a Tokyo suburb with his wife, he would have continued working for his longtime clients.
“It is a ridiculous question,” Suzuki said. “We could have led normal lives. What we have lost can’t be measured in money.”
In protest, he has refused to sign the forms that would allow his property to undergo decontamination.
The government has divided the no-go zone into three areas by radiation level.
The worst areas are marked in pink on official maps and classified as “difficult to return.” They are still enclosed by a barricade.
Yellow designates a “restricted” area, limiting visits to a few hours. No overnight stays are allowed.
The green zones are “in preparations to lift evacuation orders.” They must be decontaminated, which includes scrubbing building surfaces and scraping off the top layer of soil and is being carried out throughout the zones.
Tomioka has all three zones within its boundaries.
The green zones are those where authorities have confirmed radiation exposure can be brought below 20 millisieverts a year.
The long-term goal is to bring annual exposure down to 1 millisievert, or the equivalent of 10 chest X-rays, which was considered the safe level before the disaster, but the government is lifting evacuation orders at higher levels. It says it will monitor the health and exposure of people who move back to such areas.
In the yellow restricted zone, where Sukuki’s and Onuki’s homes lie, a visitor exceeds 1 millisievert in a matter of a few hours.
During a recent visit, Onuki and his wife Michiko walked beneath the pink petals floating from a tunnel of cherry trees, previously a local tourist attraction.
The streets were abandoned, except for a car passing through now and then. The neighborhood was eerily quiet except for the chirping of the nightingales.
“The prime minister says the accident is under control, but we feel the thing could explode the next minute,” said Michiko Onuki, who ran a ceramic and craft shop out of their Tomioka home. “We would have to live in fear of radiation. This town is dead.”
Both wore oversized white astronaut-like gear, which doesn’t keep out radioactive rays out but helps prevent radioactive material from being brought back, outside the no-go zone. Filtered masks covered half their faces. They discarded the gear when they left, so they wouldn’t bring any radiation back to their Tokyo apartment, which they share with an adult son and daughter.
Junji Oshida, 43, whose family ran an upscale restaurant in Tomioka that specialized in eel, was at first devastated that he lost the traditional sauce for the eel that had been passed down over generations.
He has since opened a new restaurant just outside the zone that caters to nuclear cleanup workers. He recreated the sauce and serves pork, which is cheaper than eel. He lives apart from his wife and sons, who are in a Tokyo suburb.
“There is no sense in looking back,” Oshida said, still wearing the eel restaurant’s emblem on his shirt.
Older residents can’t give up so easily, even those who will never be able to return – like Tomioka city assemblyman Seijun Ando, whose home lies in the most irradiated, pink zone.
Ando, 59, said that dividing Tomioka by radiation levels has pitted one group of residents against another, feeding resentment among some. One idea he has is to bring residents from various towns in the no-go zone together to start a new community in another, less radiated part of Fukushima – a place he described as “for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
“I can survive anywhere, although I had a plan for my life that was destroyed from its very roots,” said Ando, tears welling up in his eyes. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suffering. I’m just worried for Tomioka.”
FUKUSHIMA–Nearly half of households that evacuated following the Fukushima nuclear disaster have been split up while close to 70 percent have family members suffering from physical and mental distress, a survey showed.
The number of households forced to live apart exceeds the number that remain together, according the survey, the first by the Fukushima prefectural government that attempted to survey all households that evacuated.
The results were announced on April 28.
Between late January and early February, Fukushima Prefecture mailed the surveys to 62,812 households living within and outside the prefecture.
Of the 20,680 respondents, 16,965 households, or 82 percent, originally lived in the evacuation zone near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, while 3,683 households, or 18 percent, lived outside the zone but voluntarily evacuated after the nuclear accident unfolded in March 2011.
It was unclear if the remaining 32 households were originally within the evacuation zone.
Some 44.7 percent of the households still lived with all family members at their new homes. The figure included single-person households.
But 48.9 percent of households said their family members now live at two or more locations, including 15.6 percent whose family members are scattered at three or more locations, according to the survey.
The results showed that many households in municipalities near the nuclear plant originally contained many family members, but they were forced to give up living together as their lives in evacuation continued.
Families are often divided over the degree of fear about radiation contamination. Locations of workplaces and schools also split families, while many members end up living in separate temporary housing.
The prolonged life in evacuation, now in its fourth year, is taking a toll. The survey revealed that 67.5 percent of all households had family members showing symptoms of physical or psychological distress.
More than 50 percent said the cause of their ailments was that they “can no longer enjoy things as they did before” or they “have trouble sleeping.”
“Being constantly frustrated” and “tending to feel gloomy and depressed” followed, at over 40 percent.
More than one-third of respondents, or 34.8 percent, said their “chronic illness has worsened” since they entered their lives as evacuees.