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Post-crisis Japan

Lingering agony

Apr 24th 2012, 6:50 by H.T. | NIHONMATSU 二本松

“THEY can’t be Japanese!” a journalist from Tokyo whispered caustically into your correspondent’s ear on hearing the uncharacteristic volume of shouting and heckling at a well-attended town-hall meeting. This past weekend, the Japanese parliament’s Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission held a two-day hearing for villagers of Namie and Okuma, two of the evacuated towns close to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear-power plant, which suffered a triple meltdown in March last year. On April 21st the Namie residents in Nihonmatsu, where they have been relocated since the evacuation, were shockingly outspoken. More than 13 months after the disaster, much of the news interest in Fukushima has faded. But the agony of evacuation, and the sense of helplessness and frustration that it has spawned, remain palpable.

The testimony of Namie city officials, who complained repeatedly about the lack of official information they were given as radiation levels increased during the disaster, is available online. But ordinary villagers made particularly pertinent points about the after-effects.

(Picture credit: Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP)

First, they demanded clarity on the safe level of radiation exposure, especially for children and pregnant mothers. The government has allowed the residents of some evacuated municipalities to return to areas where the annual dosage is 20 millisieverts (ie 20 mSv) or below, pending further efforts at decontamination. It has also said that some displaced residents will be able to return home during the day even where the dosage is up to 50 mSv/year. But for those with children, there remain stubborn doubts about the long-term health effects of living under such dosages. Such places include Nihonmatsu, to where many of Namie’s children have been evacuated. Radiation there, in some areas, is in the range of 5 mSv/year or higher (they have been checked only sporadically). The International Commission on Radiological Protection says an appropriate “normal” level is 1mSv/year, over the long term.
第1に、彼らは、放射線被曝の安全な被曝につき明らかにすることを要求し増した。特に子どもと妊婦についてです。政府は、年間の線量が20ミリシーベルトかそれ以下の地域の、避難対象の市町村の住民に戻ることを許可し、更なる除染の取り組みを保留にしています。政府はまた、立ち退かされた住民が、年間50ミリシーベルトのところにも、日中家に戻れるといいました。しかし、子どもがいる者にとって、そのような線量の中で長期暮らすことが健康に与える影響について、執拗に疑念を持ったままです。そのような場所は、浪江の子どもたちが避難させられている二本松も含みます。そこでの放射線は、場所によっては、年間5ミリシーベルトかそれより高いところがあるのです。(線量は散発的にしか調べられていません。)国際放射線防護委員会(ICRP)(でさえ) 適切な「通常の」レベルは、長期に渡っては、年間1ミリシーベルトと言っています。

Second, some asked the national government to exempt all evacuees from the cost of their medical checks, not just the under-18-year-olds, as was apparently offered. It was noted that it might take years for cancers to develop, if they do at all, by which time many of the children who were exposed to radiation after the accident would be over 18. There was widespread support for an idea, pushed by Namie officials, to give everyone books to keep track of their health history. It’s astounding this has not been done already.

Third, one Namie man made the point that the government provides insufficient support to those evacuees who are living in rented housing, as opposed to temporary accommodation. He said the aid for those assigned to temporary housing was mandated by law following the 1995 Kobe earthquake. But the law had not been changed to reflect the fact that many of the 100,000 or so nuclear evacuees have rented homes for themselves, instead of moving into temporary accommodation-because they know their evacuation will be permanent.

Fourth, there was widespread condemnation of a decision by the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, to press for the restart of suspended nuclear reactors in other parts of Japan, even before the various accident-investigation commissions had finished their work. Some people at the meeting said this was a clear sign the government had forgotten the toll the accident had taken on their lives; the sense of being considered expendable ran through much of the hearing. “We have been mentally, spiritually and morally destroyed,” shouted one man to loud applause. He said the only way parliament could be reminded of how badly their lives were affected would be to move the Diet to the radiated zone near Fukushima Dai-ichi.

That recommendation will no doubt be omitted from the independent investigation’s final report. But it sums up how badly the people of Namie feel they have been abandoned by the central government-and that holds true for many elsewhere from within the nuclear-evacuation zone, too. In their outspoken anger, they may not sound very Japanese. But some wonder whether the government remembers they are citizens of Japan at all.



Official 'decommissioning' of Fukushima reactors brings locals no peace

At the stroke of midnight on April 19, Japan's nuclear reactor count will officially drop from 54 to 50, as the ruined No. 1-4 reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant will be formally retired.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) submitted the decommissioning paperwork to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry at the end of March this year, and the necessary legal procedures have been progressing quietly ever since. While the operational lives of the shattered reactors may be officially over, however, they continue to be the source of significant problems, as well as of a serious threat to the lives and livelihoods of many across Japan.

The load is particularly heavy on those who have been literally dislocated by the March 2011 meltdowns, forced from their homes by radioactive contamination, such as the people of Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture.

"How will you extract the melted fuel from the reactors?" "How can we believe you when you say, 'It will be safe after decontamination' even while radioactive material leaks continue?"

These were just a few of the angry comments and questions posed by Naraha townspeople at an April 11 central government information session in the prefectural city of Iwaki, where they now live as nuclear disaster refugees. Most of Naraha is currently covered by the 20-kilometer no-go zone around the Fukushima No. 1 plant, and the entire town was evacuated. The April 11 meeting was held to tell residents they would soon be able to go home, as the entire town -- with local radiation doses at 20 millisieverts per year or less -- was to be re-designated for preparation for lifting the evacuation order.

Happy news, one might think, but residents' anger became obvious during the question and answer section.

"We need safe air and water for our children," one person said. "We are not guinea pigs!" cried another. Kensuke Tomita, the government's representative at the meeting and deputy head of the Cabinet's Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, finally replied that "TEPCO and the government will take responsibility for restoring local infrastructure, decontamination and (nuclear disaster) compensation," but he emerged from the encounter shocked.

"I never thought there'd be this much of a backlash," he said. The town government, meanwhile, has given up on plans to have Naraha re-designated before the end of April.

One of the main reasons for the townspeople's anger is the continued problems at the ruined nuclear plant, despite the government's December 2011 declaration that it was in "cold shutdown."

Just in April, there has been another contaminated water leak (April 5), a breakdown in the No. 4 reactor's spent fuel pool cooling system (April 12), and a halt in the flow of nitrogen gas to the No. 1-3 reactors, necessary to prevent further hydrogen explosions (April 13).

Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato told an April 16 meeting of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters that the problems at the plant were "stirring anxiety among the people of the prefecture," and once more demanded the government supervise operations there thoroughly.

The official decommissioning of the plant's No. 1-4 reactors appears to be one step towards fulfilling the prefecture's demands that all nuclear reactors in its jurisdiction be shuttered, but "our goal in demanding reactors be shut down is the protection of our residents' safety," a Fukushima prefectural official told the Mainichi.

April 18, 2012(Mainichi Japan)







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