The 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant drove more than 160,000 people from their homes, some by evacuation order and others by choice
Fukushima Evacuees Face Hardship As Japan To Slash Subsidies
Tokyo: Nearly six years after Noriko Matsumoto and her children fled Japan’s Fukushima region, fearing for their health after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, they confront a new potential hardship – the slashing of vital housing subsidies.
Matsumoto is among nearly 27,000 people who left areas not designated as mandatory evacuation zones, spooked by high levels of radiation after nuclear meltdowns unleashed by a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
Now, as the Fukushima local government prepares to slash unconditional housing assistance on March 31, many face the painful choice of returning to areas they still fear are unsafe, or reconciling to financial hardship, especially families scattered across different sites, such as Matsumoto’s.
“Because both the national and the local governments say we evacuated ‘selfishly,’ we’re being abandoned – they say it’s our own responsibility,” Matsumoto, 55, told a news conference, her voice trembling.
“I feel deep anger at their throwing us away.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a local official said that although unconditional subsidies end on March 31, smaller amounts of aid will still be provided, if needed.
At the time of the magnitude 9 quake, Matsumoto lived with her husband and two daughters in Koriyama city, about 55 km (35 miles) west of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. Authorities declared a no-go zone around the plant, but Koriyama was outside its 30-km (19-mile) radius.
When her younger daughter, then 12, began suffering nosebleeds and diarrhea, Matusmoto took the children and moved to Kanagawa prefecture, bordering Tokyo.
Her husband, who runs a restaurant, stayed behind to ensure they could pay bills and the mortgage on their home. But high travel costs mean they can only meet every one or two months, and they face social pressure.
“People like us, who have evacuated voluntarily to escape radiation, have been judged by our peers as if we selfishly evacuated for personal reasons,” said Matsumoto.
What she called her “only lifeline” is a housing subsidy the Fukushima prefectural government pays to voluntary evacuees, who numbered 26,601 by October 2016.
The payment is typically 90,000 yen ($795) for a household of two or more in Matsumoto’s area, a Fukushima government official said, adding that full rents are covered until March 31.
“Things here now are safe, but there are people who are still worried about safety and we understand that,” he said.
Subsidies, if needed, will be adjusted to suit individual households, rather than handed out unconditionally, he added.
A city official said radiation levels in Koriyama are now safe, dissipated by time and clean-up efforts.
But “hot spots” remain, say activists, and Matsumoto still worries.
“I’m a parent, and so I’ll protect my daughter,” she said. “Even if I have to go into debt, I’ll keep her safe from radiation.”
Fukushima ‘voluntary’ evacuees to lose housing support
Thousands of Japanese evacuees from Fukushima should keep getting free housing, supporters said Tuesday, as the local government readies to yank support offered after the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
Some 27,000 so-called voluntary evacuees — people who chose to leave their homes in the region after the 2011 accident due to safety concerns — are set to lose the six-year-old housing subsidy at the end of March.
That means leaving state-paid housing in other parts of Japan and possibly returning to homes in the region where a quake-sparked tsunami swamped the nuclear plant, sending some reactors into meltdown and spewing radiation into the environment.
“If we lose this housing support — the only lifeline we have — single-mother evacuees like me will fall into poverty,” Noriko Matsumoto told a press briefing in Tokyo organised by activists.
Matsumoto left her family’s home 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the plant, after her daughter, then 12, began suffering an array of health problems, including nose bleeds and nausea.
Matsumoto, 55, who now lives with her daughter in Kanagawa, about 250 kilometres from the plant, said she also developed serious health disorders after the accident, including hormonal disorders and a non-cancerous tumour in her thyroid.
“I am furious that the central government and Fukushima prefecture stigmatised and now abandoned us,” she told reporters.
A local government spokesman said areas not covered by the original evacuation orders have been deemed safe to live in.
“The environment is safe for leading a normal life and that means we are no longer in a position to provide temporary housing,” he told AFP.
Some evacuees will still be eligible for a small housing subsidy, the spokesman added.
The 2011 accident drove more than 160,000 people from their homes, some by evacuation order and others by choice.
Some have since returned but many stayed away, creating a new life elsewhere amid lingering concerns about radiation.
Japan has lifted most evacuation orders for areas around the plant, with the total number of evacuees now standing at about 84,000, according to local government figures.