Australian news, and some related international items

12 yrs after Fukushima nuclear disaster, gov’t not facing evacuees’ hardship

March 11, 2023 (Mainichi Japan) Editorial:

Today marks 12 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. Over 22,000 lives were lost due to the cataclysm, including a massive tsunami that struck coastal regions and the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Today, some 31,000 people are still living as evacuees. Around 90% of them are residents of Fukushima Prefecture. In municipalities mostly within so-called “difficult-to-return zones” where radiation levels are high, many residents have been barred from coming back, and reconstruction has been delayed.

The government is proceeding with decontamination of the areas it has designated as bases for reconstruction within these zones. However, they account for less than 10% of the zones’ total area. It also plans to prepare places outside these reconstruction bases so that people who want to return to those areas can do so, but it is expected that decontamination will be limited to the homes to which people want to return and the surrounding roads. This has left residents who want the whole area decontaminated at a loss.

Local ties lost

The town of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture is a prime example of the difficult circumstances. The current population stands below 2,000 — less than a tenth of what it was before the 2011 disaster. The fact that it has the largest area of difficult-to-return zones, accounting for 80% of the entire town, has put it at a significant disadvantage.

“Even if just one part is decontaminated and a person comes back alone, they can’t live in a mountain village. The government first needs to prepare an environment in which the local community can maintain itself,” stressed Shigeru Sasaki, 68, who has evacuated within Fukushima Prefecture.

Before the disaster, Sasaki lived in the eastern part of the Tsushima district, located in a gorge in Namie. When the Obon season arrived, residents in the settlement would go out together and cut the grass along roads and work together to protect the community.

Since the nuclear disaster, however, the entire Tsushima district has been off-limits as a place to dwell. Sasaki is the deputy leader of a group of 650 plaintiffs in a class action against the government and Fukushima Daiichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Holdings Inc. They are calling for the town to be restored to its original state, bringing radiation levels down to what they were before the disaster, but their claims were rejected by a district court. They are now appealing.

Last year, there was a change in government policy that struck a nerve with those whose lives were turned upside down by the nuclear disaster. The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida effectively extended the operating life of existing nuclear reactors, which had been set at a maximum of 60 years, and also set out to promote replacing them with next-generation nuclear power plants. It is thus lowering the banner of “freedom from reliance on nuclear power” that had been held up from the time of the meltdown.

Sasaki was unable to hide his anger. “We see Tsushima in such a state, yet the government is acting as if the problems in Fukushima are over,” he said.

Meanwhile, some residents have voiced concerns that moves to go back to nuclear power will cause memories of the disaster to fade.

Since 2012, the year after the Fukushima disaster, the Namie Machi Monogatari Tsutae-tai, a town storytellers’ group, has performed picture story shows inside and outside Fukushima Prefecture, conveying the confusion immediately after the disaster and the hardship of life as evacuees. Group founder Yoshihiro Ozawa, 77, lamented, “What was the point of all our activities to date to make sure that people don’t forget the accident?”

Ozawa’s health has deteriorated and so he has given up on returning to Namie, where medical infrastructure remains inadequate. He and his wife still live in the place where they evacuated, and they have little contact with neighbors. He worries about what will happen when one of them ends up alone there.

“My friends and relatives are all scattered. I want people to know that Fukushima still has many issues,” Ozawa said.

Anger at the government for forgetting the lessons of 3.11

While the Japanese government wants to quickly close the book on the nuclear disaster, the locals cannot escape from the disaster’s prolonged effects. There is a wide gap between the perceptions of the two sides.

It is said that it will take several decades to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi reactors. In a survey asking residents why they were hesitant to return, quite a few people cited concerns about nuclear power plant safety, in addition to a lack of hospitals and commercial facilities.

Treated wastewater that continues to accumulate at the Fukushima Daiichi is set to be released into the ocean sometime from this spring onward. However, those in the fishery and others harbor strong concerns about reputational damage. At the end of last year, TEPCO announced compensation standards in the event of such damage, but there are no signs it will be able to gain people’s understanding.

Contaminated soil and other items collected during clean-up efforts across the prefecture remain in interim storage facilities in the local towns of Okuma and Futaba. They are supposed to be moved outside the prefecture for final disposal by 2045, but a destination for the material remains undecided.

Such problems, which are difficult to solve, weigh heavily on the future of the region.

Residents have not only lost their hometowns and a place to live; they have lost the happiness and security of living in close contact with those familiar to them. Twelve years after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, this sense of profound loss has yet to heal.

The nuclear disaster is not over.

Rather than hurrying to retreat to nuclear power, the government should look squarely at the hardship of each and every resident. It has a responsibility to put effort into supporting them so that wherever they find shelter, they can make connections with people and find a purpose in life.

March 13, 2023 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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