I decided to translate this particular article because this article for a change talks about the Fukushima disaster victims and in details how their everyday lives have been affected.
In most of the Fukushima related articles from websites and mainstream media, the writers usually focus on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and its technical failures, about its continuous leaking into the Pacific ocean etc. but somehow they almost always forget to talk about the plight of the victims, the victims who are at the forefront of this tragedy.
August 12, 2016
Article written by Evelyne Genoulaz, from a lecture given by Kurumi Sugita,
translated by Dun Renard.
Source : Fukushima Blog de Pierre Fetet http://www.fukushima-blog.com/2016/08/fukushima-les-vies-sinistrees.html
March 11, 2016, Kurumi Sugita, social anthropologist researcher and founding president of the association “Our Far Neighbors 3.11”, gave a lecture entitled “Fukushima disaster’s lives” in the Nature and Environment House (MNEI) in Grenoble, Isere, an inaugural lecture for the commemoration of the “Chernobyl, Fukushima disasters”.
The speaker outlined the concrete and current situation of the victims of the Fukushima disaster, particularly on health issues. Attached to Japan, committed, Kurumi monitored the situation of 60 affected people, for several years, visiting each once a year to collect field data for her associative actions. It is the project “DILEM”, “Displaced and Undecided Left to Themselves”, from the nuclear accident in Japan – the life course and geographical trajectory of the victims outside of the official evacuation zone.
I offer a written return of this conference, courtesy of Kurumi who also was kind enough to add data to date on her return from Japan in June 2016.
I. The contaminated territories
After the disaster the authorities declared a state of emergency and to this day Japan is still “under that declaration of a nuclear emergency state (genshiryoku kinkyu Jitai sengen).” But over time, the zoning of the contaminated territories has been increasingly reduced by the authorities, as shows the chronological overview on these maps (METI).
II The return policy
Starting this month of March 2016, in fact, many areas were “open”. The return to TOMIOKA is programmed by authorities after April 2017; OKUMA partially in 2018. Only FUTABA is labeled “no projection”. Do note that zoning maps were delineated at the beginning of the disaster zoning by concentric circles, while the radioactivity is deposited in “leopard spots” and today, programmed to be returned to areas are gradually getting geographically closer to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant even though these areas are dangerous!
The government is preparing to lift the evacuation order at 20 mSv / year, and areas from 20 to 50 mSv / year will enter the opening schedule after spring 2017 establishing strategic points for reconstruction ( fukkô Kyoten).
To speak only of Iitate, which was the most beautiful village in Japan, its mayor is in favor of return, but today the situation there is poignant: it was decontaminated up to 20 meters of the houses, but as it is surrounded by mountains and forests, the radioactivity will remain dangerous …
The control measurement of environmental radioactivity will now be based on the individual rather than on space. Thus, everyone is invited to measure himself or herself, to measure what is consumed, so that if the individual is contaminated it will only be blamed upon his or her own negligence!
Usually to measure in the field a dose rate, we get a figure in mSv / h then multiply it by 24 (hours) x 365 (days) to obtain the annual rate. But this is not the calculation undertaken by the authorities.
The authorities makes first a difference between the level of contamination on one hand inside the housing, and on the other hand on the outside. They decided to consider that an individual spends only 8 hours outside. It is also estimated (official rules) that “the radiation inside a building is reduced to 40% of the radiation reading outside.”
Residents who did not evacuate are distressed because they now know fear, for example those of Naraha who no longer recognize their city because it has changed since the disaster: vandalism, insecurity soon as night falls, since it is now black in the streets, some girls were abused …
Furthermore, Naraha is a coastal town with a seaside road and all night – especially at night – they hear the noise of the incessant and disturbing road traffic of the trucks loaded with radioactive waste, without knowing precisely what is carried …
What motivates the return policy? According to Kurumi Sugita, in view of the Olympic Games coming to Japan in 2020, the government pursues a staistics dependent objective: it comes to lowering the numbers! If the evacuees or the self-evacuees leave the “assisted housing”, they are no longer counted as “evacuees”….
III. Works and Waste
The whole territory of Fukushima Prefecture today is littered with waste bags. Everywhere, at the turn of any road you’ll encounters mountains of waste bags, sometimes piled up so high! It is a sorry sight for the residents. And space lacks where to store them, so much that the authorities have even created dumps that they call “temporary intermediary storage areas! “
A “temporary intermediary storage area” in Iitate
As of March 2016, there were no less than 10 million bags and 128,000 temporary dumpsites in Fukushima Prefecture. Waste bags are omnipresent, despite the residents’ distress; near schools, and even in people’s gardens.
Contaminated waste bags at someone’s house
Short of sufficient storage space, the authorities are forcing residents to an intolerable alternative: if the resident does not want to store the waste on his property, it is his right. But in this case it will not be decontaminated! The resident requesting “decontamination intervention” must keep the waste on his property! This is why we see here and there, everywhere in fact, bags near buildings or in private homes.
According to the “Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law” (Genshiro tô kiseihô), the recycling threshold of “nuclear waste” is 100 Bq / kg. However, on June 30, 2016, the Ministry of Environment has officially decided to “reuse” waste below 8000 Bq / kg (1).
In practical terms, this waste will be used in public works, covered by cement and land in order to lower the ambient radioactivity.
Map of Fukushima prefecture showing the nuclear waste processing establishments locations (shizai-ka center) – Legend: the icons differentiate the various incinerators; red = in operation – blue = under construction – gray / yellow = planned – gray = operation completed
Everywhere on village outskirts there are incinerators of which people know nothing! They often operate at night for two to three months and then everything stops. People wonder what is being burned… Not to mention a rumor about a secret experimentation center where much more contaminated waste would be burned…
At the “Environmental Design Centre”, a poster about the revolving furnace” which decontaminates waste, debris, soil, etc, transforming them into cement”.
For example, the Warabidaira waste processing plant located in the village of Iitate or the Environment Creation Center (Kankyô Sôzô Center) opened in July 2016 in the town of Miharu, treat contaminated waste (ashes above 100 000 Bq/kg) and contaminated soil coming from land decontamination work.
In addition, these establishments are registered as “research institutes” and, as such, they are exempt from the building permit application commonly mandated in the framework of the waste management law!
We see inconsistencies and even contradictions between laws. We have already seen the contradiction between the limit of 100 Bq / kg set by the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law and the 8000 Bq / kg recently adopted by the Ministry of Environment.
IV. Residents, displaced and returned
Citizen radiation measuring. Mothers, and also dads, explore the everyday environment to identify hot spots so as to modify if necessary the route recommended for children, for example “the way to school” (as in Japan all children walk single file).
For that purpose associations use “hot spot finders”. Well aware of the health risk to which children are exposed, they attach sensors connected to GPS on their strollers to walk routes and the way to school or to explore parks.
That system is well thought out: it is a vertical rod 1 meter long that leaves the ground and consists of a measuring device at 10 cm from the ground, another one at 50 cm, and a third at 1 meter to take into account the different sizes of children. If a hot spot is located, others are warned of its location and the children are required to change their route, and authorities are asked to decontaminate. For parents, this work is endless …
Hot spot finders
and one of them is even translated into English since November 2014. It is the “Minna no Data”: ambient radioactivity measures, soil measurements, food analyzes (2).
Some associations’ logos:
V. Protest actions
However, in Fukushima Prefecture, there are many other trials at different levels also taking place. For example, in March 2016, a lawsuit was initiated by 200 parents brought against the Fukushima Prefecture, to “get children out of contaminated areas.” People protest to have the “thresholds” lowered. In their opinion the issue of “thresholds” go beyond the strict framework of Japan. They fear that the thresholds of Japan will end up being generalized overseas, which is highlighted in some of the maps captions eg “against the generalization and the externalization of the 20 mSv / year threshold”. Some victims require, as after Hiroshima, “an irradiation book” (personal records) to be used for their access to treatment.
Radiation free health holiday
VI. Social and family catastrophe
It causes “conflicts” among neighbors (one example, one person’s place is decontaminated while its adjoining neighbor’s place is not), between beneficiaries and others, between the displaced and the residents of the hosting location (there are misunderstandings on the issue of compensations; the self-evacuated are not receiving any compensation, but the hosting city locals think they are).
So that today many prefer to return their evacuated Fukushima resident card and acquire the resident card of their hosting town (in Japon you are résident of the village from which you keep the residence card) so as to “turn the page” because they can no longer bear to be called “evacuees”. They want to integrate into the community where they moved. Only older people remain unswervingly committed to their original residence; it is mostly the elderly who intend to return.
In many families of the Fukushima Prefecture men stayed by necessity to keep their jobs to provide for their families, while mothers with children evacuated to put them out of danger; but as time has passed, more than five years already, many families have disintegrated… The father visiting the family rarely, often for lack of resources, the marriage falling apart, resulting in many divorces and suicides.
Women are showing remarkable energy, they are on all fronts, openly, and even heavily involved in actions and trials, so that even the articles of the so-called “feminine” press today are often dealing with topics related to the nuclear disaster. Young women in particular are very active in the protests and rallies. This is a significant change in Japanese society.
(1) Waste Management and Public Cleansing Law, Haikibutsu no shori oyobi seisô ni kansuru hôritsu, law N°137 from 1970, last amendment in 2001 https://www.env.go.jp/en/laws/recycle/01.pdf
Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law (Genshiro tô kiseihô).
“Act on the Regulation of Nuclear Source Material, Nuclear Fuel Material and Reactors” (kakugenryô busshitsu,kakunenryô busshitsu oyobi genshiro no kisei ni kansuru hôritsu)
law N°166 from 1957(2) –
English translation of Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law.
(2) – Minna no Data Site (MDS) : http://en.minnanods.net/
Why has she founded the association « Nos Voisins Lointains 3.11 » (“Our Distant Neighbors 3.11”)? …
To know more