Yesterday, the event “The Politics of Invisibility: Fukushima, 6 years after 3.11” (INFO) was held at the University of British Columbia with sponsorship from the Centre for Japanese Research. I was honoured to present at the conference, which was organized by Geography Professor David Edgington. I had the honour of presenting here two years ago also at the invitation of Dr. Edgington.
Split into two sessions, the lunchtime workshop began with Dr. Edgington’s presentation “A day out in Fukushima: Reflections on a field trip to the Dai-chi Nuclear Power Plant” focused on his recent experience touring the crippled facility complete with photographs from inside the plant. Dr. Matsui, Professor of Law, presented his talk “Restarting Nuclear Power Plants in Japan After the Fukushima Disaster”, which focused on law, policy and public opinion regarding nuclear power in Japan following the meltdown.
In the evening, there was a screening of the work-in-progress of my documentary “Sezaruwoenai” (“Unavoidable”, working title), which eventually will be the 3rd film in my series about young people living in Fukushima, following “In the Grey Zone” (2012) and “A2-B-C” (2013). It was a rare and extremely meaningful experience for me to share this work-in-progress, and the feedback I received from this study session held at the university will stay with me as I move forward in thinking about the direction I will take with the film.
photo courtesy Savannah Li
At the lunchtime presentation preceding the screening, Dr. Edgington had asked me to focus on the plight of the so-called “voluntary evacuees” who are facing tough decisions as financial support for them is being terminated at the end of this month. In addition to sharing about the press conference for which I served as the MC in January (INFO), I had decided the best way to for the audience to understand the situation for these families was through their own words. I asked Noriko Matsumoto, who I had first met at the press conference, and another young mother who wished to remain anonymous (and whom I had met through one of the mothers who appeared in my documentary “A2-B-C”) to write statements about how they would be affected by the termination of financial support for those who had chosen to leave Fukushima with their children.
Their statements, translated by Anthony Davis, are in full below:
March 1, 2017
Noriko Matsumoto (evacuated to Kawasaki with her children)
Today, the lead article in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper stated that on March 31 or April 1, evacuation orders will be lifted for some areas within 20 kilometers of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant—the towns of Namie, Kawamata, Iitate, and Tomioka.
Why do the Japanese and Fukushima prefectural governments not give us the right of evacuation, instead attempting to return even children to these areas where the level of radiation is still high?
I am so angry and sad that it is difficult for me to express it in words. However, once this happens, evacuees like us from outside of the restricted zone will find it harder to obtain the right of evacuation, which is a matter of human rights. How can we help people in a position of weakness, and those who care for children or disabled persons?
I feel a deep sadness at the foolishness of Japan, where only the affluent ever hold power, and the weak are discarded.
I want to protect the children somehow, with accurate information! I hope for the support of many people to this end.
Translation: Anthony Davis, Kobe, Japan, March 2017
March 4, 2017
Mother who evacuated with her children to Niigata (wishes to remain anonymous)
The background to my deciding to voluntarily evacuate (with my children) came after I comprehensively evaluated the incidents which I describe below.
At the time of the accident, I learnt that, previously, the radiation dose limit for the general public was stipulated by law as one millisievert in a year (or 0.23 microsievert per hour).
Before the nuclear power plant accident, the radiation level in Fukushima city was 0.03 microsievert per hour. Immediately following the 2011 accident, even inside homes, the level was 0.6 microsievert (approximately 20 times the normal level), and outside, the level was commonly 2 microsievert or higher (some 66 times the normal level). This amounts to levels far in excess of one millisievert per year. I thought that this was abnormal (and a violation of law).
On April 19, 2011, in Fukushima prefecture, the level at which children were permitted to engage in outdoor activities was changed to 20 millisievert a year, or 3.8 microsievert per hour. Thus, the former standard of 1 millisievert per year was raised to 20 times that level.
In May, the Board of Education issued notice limiting the outdoor activities of elementary, junior high, and high school students to a maximum of three hours per day.
On April 29, Toshiso Kosako, advisor to the Cabinet Office, held a press conference announcing his resignation in protest against the height of the levels. In tears, he stated the following:
“It is very rare even among the occupationally exposed persons to be exposed to radiation levels even near to 20mSv per year. I cannot possibly accept such a level to be applied to babies, infants and primary school students, not only from my scholarly viewpoint but also from my humanistic beliefs.”
The press repeatedly reported the government’s explanation that “the levels would not have an immediate effect on the human body or on health.”
Meanwhile, amid a confusion of various other information, I resolved to evacuate from Date city to Niigata, wanting to take care of my children in a safe environment in peace of mind. Now, Fukushima prefecture has started to discard evacuees, under the banner of “Acceleration of Reconstruction.”
In June 2015, Fukushima prefecture announced that it would stop providing rental housing for voluntary evacuees at the end of March 2017. The provision of free housing for voluntary evacuees will end.
Five years ago, when I voluntarily evacuated from Fukushima prefecture to Niigata, I had to start from zero. Many people were kind in their support, including local people I met, and those at my children’s school. But with the upcoming changes, the livelihood which I have finally built up after five years will be taken from me, and I will be deprived of my right to evacuation.
In Fukushima, decontamination of residential grounds has reduced radiation levels from the post-accident levels, and a false sense of security is spreading, even though radiation has not reached pre-accident levels.
With its eyes set on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan is lifting the evacuation orders and discontinuing compensation, and it is firming up policy to end housing support for voluntary evacuees. I strongly resent that Japan is gradually cutting financial housing support, and forcing people into poverty, after which they are encouraged to return home and are then abandoned. Rather than the proclamation which Prime Minister Abe made for the Olympics that everything is “under control,” I want to convey a message to him of “One for all, all for one.”
I want Prime Minister Abe to retract his statement, and instead, I want him to tell the world that support will continue “One for all, all for one,” for all of the people who suffered so much from the disaster, while TEPCO was said to be “under control.”
People who were previously under evacuation orders were known as compulsory evacuees. The term “voluntary evacuation” is widely used. However, this is in no way voluntary evacuation. Using the term “voluntary evacuation” in contrast to “compulsory evacuation” implies that people made a choice of their own volition, therefore the term which should be used is “evacuation from areas outside of areas designated under evacuation orders.” Voluntary evacuees from outside of designated areas are being forcibly returned home, or forcibly evicted.
I want to tell the whole world that this is what is really occurring in Fukushima now.
Translation: Anthony Davis, Kobe, Japan, March 2017