The rate of mortality among nursing home residents in the first year after being evacuated due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was 2.68 times that in the previous five years, while the rate for those who were not evacuated was only 1.68 times, according to a study by researchers involved with hospitals in Fukushima Prefecture’s Soma region in northeastern Japan.
The study was published in an international medical journal by Shuhei Nomura, a researcher at Imperial College London, Masaharu Tsubokura, a physician at the Minamisoma Municipal General Hospital, and others studying evacuation-related mortality risks among elderly evacuees in the wake of the 2011 nuclear disaster.
Nomura and his team had published data on post-evacuation mortality rates at five elderly care facilities in Minamisoma city in 2013. In the latest study, they added data from two facilities in Soma city that were not evacuated for comparison and analysis. The study population comprised 1,215 residents at seven elderly care facilities, including those in the five years before the accident.
From the cases in Minamisoma and Soma cities, evacuation resulted in a mortality rate 1.82 times that of non-evacuation. When focusing only on initial evacuation from the original facility, mortality risk was 3.37 times higher. Meanwhile, no significant increase in mortality risk was found in subsequent evacuation cases thereafter in which preparations were believed to be more adequate.
(Translated by Kyodo News)
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.
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.
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–A sixth-century stone tower and a Shinto shrine are among local cultural assets the town of Okuma wants to protect ahead of a central government plan to construct temporary facilities to store radioactive waste in the vicinity.
A project got under way April 17 to evaluate the town’s heritage that will enable its officials to urge the central government to protect historical sites when considering areas for the temporary storage sites.
The central government is proposing the construction of interim facilities to store radioactive waste from cleanup work at a site straddling Okuma and Futaba, which co-host the embattled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Education officials and local historians plan to examine each historical site to determine a priority of preservation.
“Having shared cultural heritage contributes to the strengthening of ties between local residents,” said Ryuhei Saeki, a member of the Okuma board of education. “We want to carry out an exhaustive investigation so we can preserve sites of great value.”
An official handling the proposed storage project with the Environment Ministry said that officials in Tokyo will give due consideration to sites of historical interest.
“If the towns decide to accept the construction of the facilities, we will consult with local officials over how to deal with cultural heritage sites,” the official said.
According to the central government’s blueprint, the planned site will occupy 16 square kilometers–11 square km in Okuma, or 15 percent of the town’s overall land area, and 5 square km in Futaba.
The Okuma education board said there are cultural properties in at least 50 locations in the town. Among them are a stone tower that is believed to have been built in the sixth century, an excavation site where pottery shards from the Jomon Pottery Culture (8000 B.C.-300 B.C.) have been discovered and an ancient tomb that has not been fully studied.
The officials and historians will examine the historical sites through late May. They will be required to wear protective gear due to high levels of radiation in the area.
Kiyoe Kamata, a 71-year-old historian from Okuma, said he is taking part in the on-site inspection to help preserve Miwatarijinja, a small Shinto shrine.
Kamata, who runs a pear farm, discovered the shrine hidden in a mountainous area of the town after a 25-year search. Even many locals in the community closest to the shrine were not aware of its existence.
“If we can maintain the shrine, the bond between locals may remain strong,” Kamata said.
The nuclear disaster unfolded after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, about a week before residents were scheduled to have a sunset viewing event at the shrine, which had to be canceled.
All the residents in Okuma and Futaba were forced to evacuate after the onset of the nuclear accident. Although evacuation orders have been lifted in other areas, there is no realistic prospect for when all the evacuees of Okuma and Futaba can return home–if at all.
To keep alive the memory of their local cultural heritage, Kamata, who now lives as an evacuee in Sukagawa in the prefecture, published a book at his own expense and gave 500 copies to Okuma residents who scattered across the nation after the nuclear accident. With a flood of requests for copies, 300 more were printed.
Among Futaba’s cultural assets on the proposed construction site is Koriyama Kaizuka, a shell mound from the early part of the Jomon Pottery Culture, which is among the oldest such sites discovered in the prefecture. The former site of an administrative office from the Nara Period (710-784) to the Heian Period (794-1185), known as Koriyama Goban Iseki, is also in the area.
The Futaba education board plans to investigate the two sites to study cultural activities related to fishing and details of the operation of the administrative office in ancient times. But Futaba education officials have yet to determine when to begin their on-site inspection.
According to the Fukushima prefectural board of education, many cultural heritage sites are also left unattended in other areas, not just Okuma and Futaba, where annual radiation doses are estimated to be in excess of 50 millisieverts.
The interim storage facilities will house soil and other waste from decontamination operations taking place in the prefecture for up to 30 years. The central government plans to permanently dispose of the waste outside the prefecture.
Although the Fukushima prefectural government as well as Okuma and Futaba town halls have yet to decide on the proposed facilities, the central government plans to start shipments of waste in January.
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.