Children must learn respect for Fukushima evacuees

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Many children of families who have fled Fukushima Prefecture after the 2011 nuclear disaster have become targets of bullying at school.

The education ministry said on April 11 that a total of 129 cases of school bullying in which children from Fukushima were victims have been confirmed over the past fiscal year.

Only four have been formally recognized as cases linked directly to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and the consequent catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. But the ministry said it has not tracked down all bullying cases involving Fukushima evacuees.

The confirmed cases are, of course, the tip of the iceberg.

In some past cases, the victims suffered various forms of verbal abuse.

The nuclear plant exploded because of people like you,” is one example of verbal harassment hurled at a bullying victim. “Don’t come close to me. I don’t want to get contaminated with radiation,” is another.

These harrowing stories of bullying are reminiscent of the high-profile harassment case involving a boy who moved from Fukushima to Yokohama with his family after the accident. In that case, which made headlines in the media last autumn, the boy stopped attending classes.

Behind the problem is a lack of understanding about radiation and the situations of evacuees,” said education minister Hirokazu Matsuno.

Children tend to be influenced by the words and attitudes of adults around them. The problem of rampant bullying of Fukushima evacuees reflects a lack of understanding among adults about the plight of these people.

But some Cabinet members have also made remarks that hurt the feelings of people in Fukushima Prefecture.

Masahiro Imamura, the minister in charge of rebuilding areas affected by the nuclear accident, for example, recently said so-called “voluntary evacuees,” or people who have fled areas not subject to evacuation orders, are “responsible for their lives.”

Nobuteru Ishihara, speaking about where to store contaminated soil from the crippled nuclear plant, said, “In the end, it will come down to money.”

Tamayo Marukawa, while voicing skepticism about the government’s goal for lowering radiation levels around the plant, said, “There are people who express anxiety no matter how much (radiation levels) are lowered, people who can be called the ‘anti-radiation’ crowd, if I may use an unusual term.”

Both made these remarks while serving as environment minister.

The government seems to be betting that an increase in the number of Fukushima evacuees who return home will help the reconstruction of the prefecture make progress, or at least make it look as if progress is being made.

The government’s desire and efforts to see that happen may be making Fukushima evacuees not returning home feel small.

If a lack of understanding is the cause of bullying of children from Fukushima, adults have the responsibility to give children opportunities to learn and think about the reality.

Collections of materials for ethics education compiled by the Fukushima prefectural board of education may help. Different versions designed for classes at elementary, junior and senior high schools are now available and can be obtained from the education board’s website.

The collections include materials based on real stories concerning such serious topics as the feelings of local residents who were forced to leave their homes, discrimination driven by fears of radiation and unfounded prejudice against agricultural products grown in Fukushima.

Reports and documentaries describing the lives of evacuees and the realities of Fukushima can also be used as teaching materials.

These topics and issues can also be dealt with along with those related to radiation in comprehensive learning or contemporary social studies classes.

People in Fukushima have made different decisions on such vital questions as whether they should leave their communities or stay and whether they should return home to make a fresh start or rebuild their lives where they are living now. That’s because there is no simple answer to these questions.

We hope children will have honest discussions, recognize that they may disagree on some issues and learn to get along while respecting one another,” says a Fukushima prefectural board of education member.

The problem of bullying of Fukushima evacuees should be taken as a good opportunity for educators to tackle the challenge of offering classes designed to encourage children to think on their own instead of instilling ideas and views into them.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201704170027.html

 

Saga Assembly OKs Restart of 2 Genkai N-Plant Reactors, 2,000 Active Faults Beneath the Japanese Archipelago

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Saga Assembly OKs Restart of 2 Genkai N-Plant Reactors

Saga, April 13 (Jiji Press)–The Saga prefectural assembly on Thursday voted to accept the restart of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai nuclear power station in the southwestern Japan prefecture.
Following the decision by majority vote, Saga Governor Yoshinori Yamaguchi said he will make his final judgment as early as this month on whether his prefecture should approve the restart.
The mayor and the town assembly of Genkai, the host municipality of the power plant, have already given the green light. Local government procedures needed for reactivating the reactors will finish if the governor approves.
The resolution to accept the Genkai reactor restart was introduced mainly by members of the Liberal Democratic Party, which holds a majority in the assembly.
Two other assembly groups, including members of the Japanese Communist Party, submitted a resolution to call on Yamaguchi not to jump to a hasty decision.

http://jen.jiji.com/jc/eng?g=eco&k=2017041300725

One year after Kyushu quake, and 2,000 active faults beneath us

Novelist Michiko Ishimure, 90, was in Kumamoto when a megaquake jolted the southwestern region exactly one year ago.

“It felt as if my legs had been ripped off from the knees and I was being dragged over a grassy field. The excruciating pain was something I’d never experienced before,” she wrote for the Seibu edition of The Asahi Shimbun for the Kyushu region.

Ishimure blacked out while trying to make an escape after grabbing some food and a ream of writing paper.

Her injury was minor. But when the “main shock” of the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake struck more than 24 hours after the initial jolt, she was taken to a hospital.

Upon discharge, she returned to the nursing home for the elderly where she was a resident. But her sense of alienation deepened.

“I’d never felt I really belonged there, to begin with,” she explained. “I think this feeling intensified–along with a sense of emptiness–after being shunted around because of the quakes.”

April 14 marks the first anniversary of the massive Kumamoto Earthquake. Many citizens are still unable to return to their prequake lives and are experiencing inconveniences of all sorts. More than 40,000 people are still living in emergency shelters and temporary housing.

A poem by Jun Tsukamoto depicts the plight of survivors fearing aftershocks and sleeping in their cars: “Unable to sleep and wide awake/ Night after night/ Parked cars cover the ground.”

Last summer, “Gendai Tanka” (Contemporary “tanka” poetry) magazine featured verse about the Kumamoto disaster. The pieces reveal the hardships of evacuees, as does this one by Rika Hamana: “My father starts shuffling his feet along a street at night/ The lavatory he is headed to is far away in the driving rain.”

The Kumamoto Earthquake claimed 50 lives. Another 170 died later and their deaths were ruled to have been quake related.

Even after the jolts subsided, survivors were still fighting in the midst of a long battle. How difficult it is to continue providing them the care they need to ensure they don’t feel alone and helpless.

About 2,000 active faults run beneath the Japanese archipelago. I try to imagine what it will be like to have my life completely disrupted and changed, even tomorrow. And I think about what I should do to ensure my own survival.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201704140015.html

“Fukushima, the Silent Voices”, a documentary with the Japanese culture in the background through the lens of a disaster

 

 

Lucas Rue has been working in the cinema industry for 15 years. He studied at the Ecole Supérieure de Réalisation Audiovisuelle in Paris. With multiple talents he worked on 60 films as assistant director, director, cameraman. Lucas has also been an actors coach for 10 years.

Lucas Rue and Chiho Sato met in 2010 on a shooting. Their passion for the 7th art unites them in filming and in life since they married in 2013.

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Chiho worked for an audiovisual company after studying at an art university in Tokyo and living in Japan, she came to France in 2010. She studied French in Paris and then in Nice,  then worked freelance on coordinating Japanese TV crews coming to France. She was assistant photographer, then assistant camera and has always been attracted by the cinema. Through her projects, Chiho aimed to bring another perspective on Japan, to have a more international vision. She wanted to see Japan from the outside, to look back at Japanese culture from a distance.

Lucas and Chiho speak passionately about their documentary “Fukushima, the Silent Voices“, a documentary born out of Chiho’s desire to talk about this event through the eyes of her parents, her parents very discreet on this subject. They hesitate to talk about this disaster even they are living next door.

Lucas explains that this documentary is not an anti-nuclear film. They do not try to prove this or that. Japanese culture is the backdrop of this film through the prism of this catastrophe, with the difficulties encountered in expressing personal thoughts and emotions in Japan. The team of this documentary is composed of enthusiasts around Lucas Rue and Chiho Sato.

Despite some difficulties and obstacles encountered in terms of production and filming, the reception of the public was more than warm. People have been touched and the film has achieved its objective since the public after watching their film comes out with more questions about that disaster and also thoughts about if it would happen to them.

 

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This very personal film is the 2017 Gold Winner of the International Independent Film Awards festival which recently took place in California USA, and has been currently officially selected at two Canadian festivals.

In their upcoming projects, Chiho and Lucas have two scenarios for full length films pending production. I wish them all the best for the future.

 

Tepco’s latest plan for Kawashiwazaki-Kariwa plant envisions restart in 2019

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Tokyo Electric is now aiming to restart the Kawashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture in April 2019, sources say.

The company plans to include the goal in its financial outlook under a reconstruction program, the sources said Friday.

Restarting the giant plant is considered important to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s ability to recover from the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011.

But the prospects for rebooting the plant are dim because it is opposed by Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama.

The reconstruction plan is also expected to include Tepco’s commitment to pursuing integration with other companies in some areas.

Tepco is expected to draw up the new plan and file for government approval as early as this month.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/04/15/national/tepco-aims-restart-kawashiwazaki-kariwa-nuclear-plant-2019/#.WPHA7ogrKUk

Six years after Fukushima – women and children still suffer most

The Japanese government is trying to get back to normality after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but the crisis is far from over for women and children, says Greenpeace. Thousands of mothers have sued the authorities.

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Six years ago, the triple disaster – earthquake, tsunami and meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant – took the lives of almost 20,000 people and displaced more than 160,000 people from their homes. More than 80,000 people are still living in temporary accommodation.

The disaster had an enormous impact on all members of the affected communities, but to this day it is women and children who “have borne the brunt of human rights violations resulting from it,” according to a report by Greenpeace.

While some injustices faced by women and children were caused by policy failures in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, other women’s and children’s rights violations are a direct result of the current government’s plans to resettle residents to “heavily contaminated ares in Fukushima,” says Greenpeace.

In an effort to get back to normality as quickly as possible, the Japanese government is set to lift evacuation orders at the end of March and allow evacuated residents to return to areas close to the Fukushima power plant.

37864007_401Employees clean an elementary school in Fukushima. It’s scheduled to re-open in April.

 

Greenpeace warned, however, that radiation levels are still dangerously high and called on the government not to “pressure” residents to return to their contaminated homes, under threat of losing financial support. A year after an area is declared safe, the government will stop paying compensation to evacuees. 

In March, Japan will also cut housing support for people who decided to move out although they were not under a government evacuation order.

“Cutting off housing support for self-evacuees threatens more than 10,000 households, potentially forcing many people back to contaminated areas against their will,” says Kendra Ulrich, Global Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace Japan. Ending compensation payments “even though radiation levels far exceed the long-term targets in many areas […] amounts to economic coercion and is a deliberate violation of the law and survivors’ human rights.”

“Atomic divorce” 

The resettlement plans create a dilemma for those who refuse to go back to their former homes but are dependent on financial support, especially single mums. After the disaster, a lot of women separated from or even divorced their husbands, who chose to stay in contaminated regions because of their work, and evacuated with their children.

There are no official numbers on how many families split as a result of the disaster. But the phenomenon is common enough to have a name, “genpatsu rikon” – literally meaning “atomic divorce”.

37871613_401These mothers evacuated with their children from Fukushima prefecture.

 

Mothers are now faced with the choice between losing housing support or moving back to unsafe areas. In order to speed up the return of evacuees, the government decontaminated corridors and islands instead of entire areas, effectivley creating “an invisible, open-air prison for citizens to return to,” says Greenpeace. 

Decontaminated zones often consist of 20 meter strips along roads, around houses and agricultural fields. This poses a health threat as the returnees would be surrounded by contamination.

Mothers are worried about their health and the development of their children. Noriko Kubota, a professor of clinical psychology at Iwaki Meisei University, believes that living in “safe zones” could have a long-lasting negative impact on kids.

“If children need to stay inside and cannot run around outside freely, that would impact their psychological development, more specifically their skills of interacting with each other and controlling their emotions among others,” Kubota told DW.

Mothers sue government

Women are, however, not only silent victims in this disaster. Thousands of mothers have together filed lawsuits against the Japanese government to fight for the continuation of housing support and fair compensation. They also demand accountability for the disaster from the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the company running the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

37868371_401Ms Horie is sueing the government for fair compensation.

 

“I never imagined becoming a plaintiff myself. I’m going to court now for my children and for the next generation,” Ms Horie told Greenpeace. She moved with her children from Fukushima to Kyoto, where she filed a class action suit together with other mums. “Back then, they said on TV that the accident wouldn’t affect our health immediately, but it might affect my kids in the future. That’s why I decided to evacuate.”

Women who left contaminated areas have been “labeled as neurotic or irrational,” says Greenpeace. Their concerns were dismissed both by their partners and the government. The lawsuit is not only about financial compensation but also for moral satisfaction.

“I want to stand in court, knowing that I am right to evacuate my child,” says Ms Sonoda, who moved with her child from Fukushima to England. “We are right.”

http://www.dw.com/en/six-years-after-fukushima-women-and-children-still-suffer-most/a-37871135

As I See It: Support for ‘voluntary evacuees’ insufficient but not too late to start

Kurumi Sugita: “I do not agree with the following part of the article.

“Radiation levels in Fukushima Prefecture dropped significantly shortly after the outbreak of the disaster, and in some areas, radiation levels are not much different from those in the Kansai region, where I live. “

There exists at least three problems which are related to each other:
1) you shouldn’t base your judgement only on airborne radiation measurements. We should look at the soil radio contamination density which is more reliable.
2) the official figures of airborne radiation measurements are average figures, which annihilates the problem of hotspots.
3) the governments do not acknowledge the risk of internal radiation and its health hazards.

All in all, the so-called “voluntary” evacuees have good reasons to keep evacuated and it is their basic human right.”

 

 

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Friends help an evacuee (foreground) move in Osaka’s Suminoe Ward, ahead of the cutoff date for free housing, on March 18, 2017.

 

As I See It: Support for ‘voluntary evacuees’ insufficient but not too late to start

So-called “voluntary evacuees” who fled Fukushima Prefecture due to the ongoing nuclear crisis were cut off from free housing services at the end of March.

Since last fall, I have been reporting on the issue of termination of free housing for “voluntary evacuees” — those who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture out of radiation concerns, even though their places of residence did not come under the government’s evacuation orders — and have met many evacuees who faced termination amid straitened circumstances and with no prospects of living independently.

Six years have passed since the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, and I believe that insufficient assistance provided by the central government, the Fukushima Prefectural Government, and the municipalities to which Fukushima Prefecture residents evacuated led to the current state of affairs.

Following the onset of the nuclear crisis at Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011, some Fukushima Prefecture residents who did not live in areas designated by the central government as no-go zones “voluntarily” evacuated to other areas of Fukushima Prefecture and beyond. The Fukushima Prefectural Government regarded the homes such evacuees chose to live in as “temporary housing” provided to victims of disasters, and covered their rent. Unlike evacuees from areas designated as no-go zones, most “voluntary evacuees” have not been eligible for compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, leaving payment for housing from the Fukushima Prefectural Government as the only assistance such evacuees received. In June of 2015, however, the prefectural government announced that it would be terminating such assistance at the end of March 2017, saying that “an environment for leading everyday life in Fukushima is in the process of coming together.”

Radiation levels in Fukushima Prefecture dropped significantly shortly after the outbreak of the disaster, and in some areas, radiation levels are not much different from those in the Kansai region, where I live. However, many former Fukushima prefectural residents are still concerned with radiation, and among some families, children do not want to move back to Fukushima because they’ve made friends where they live now. As of October 2016, there were approximately 10,000 households of “voluntary evacuees” from Fukushima Prefecture. This spring, many of those households were faced with the difficult question of whether to move back to their hometowns, or pay out of pocket in order to continue life where they are.

What I took from reporting on the issue is the polarization of “voluntary evacuees.” Those who have been able to adapt to life where they’ve evacuated to and rebuild their lives said they wanted to leave behind their status as “evacuees.” Some even said they’d become leaders of neighborhood community associations.

Meanwhile, others said they couldn’t sleep at night because they were unable to find affordable housing, or that they didn’t have the funds to move. Among the latter were those with family members who have disabilities, or members who are from other countries and do not speak Japanese well — in other words, families who were vulnerable even before the outbreak of the nuclear disaster. I learned of cases in which people’s lives turned for the worse after they evacuated. For example, there have been cases of divorce that resulted after mothers evacuated with their children, leaving the father behind. Meanwhile, other evacuees developed mental illness or suffered strokes. Such evacuees needed assistance that was finely tuned to their individual needs in the areas of employment, medical care and education. However, there were many instances in which I felt they were not receiving sufficient care.

A 57-year-old man who “voluntarily” evacuated from the city of Fukushima to an Osaka municipal residence, remained isolated in a corner of the massive city for 4 1/2 years after the outbreak of the disaster. The man has a visual impairment that has qualified him for level-1 physical disability certification. He is not completely blind, but to read documents, he must step out onto the veranda for natural light and use a magnifying glass. With his disability, it is nerve-racking for him to go out alone in an unfamiliar city. His South Korean-born wife, 62, who helps him with his everyday life, does not read or write Japanese well. Because of this, he rarely obtained information from documents that were delivered to him from administrative offices or support organizations.

He thus remained unable to receive assistance, and was bogged down by debt that he incurred from moving and purchasing household furnishings. He didn’t even learn about the termination of free housing until six months after the Fukushima Prefectural Government made the announcement. Subsequently, based on the advice of a supporter who visited him at his home, he transferred his residency registration to the city of Osaka, and began receiving the city’s support services. However, he still has mixed feelings toward administrative agencies. “They had to have known about my visual disability. Whether it be the Fukushima Municipal Government or the Osaka Municipal Government, if someone had made the effort to inform me, I wouldn’t have had to suffer as much as I did,” he said.

In fiscal 2016, the Fukushima Prefectural Government and the municipalities to which Fukushima prefectural residents evacuated made individual visits to “voluntary evacuees.” They should have made the visits an opportunity not only to listen to residents’ concerns about housing after they were cut off, but also to help map out plans for households under straitened circumstances to become independent. But that was not necessarily the case.

A woman in her 50s who, with her child, evacuated from the Fukushima Prefecture city of Koriyama to a Tokyo public housing complex, was emotionally beaten down after constantly being reminded by housing management that she and her child were to leave by the end of the 2016 fiscal year. The woman said that she was even told that she could be hit with a lawsuit if she did not move out of the building.

The dedication with which local governments took the effort to visit evacuees differed from municipality to municipality, and at least one municipal government did not send staff to visit evacuees until three months before the free housing service was brought to an end. To make matters worse, many municipal governments were sending staff not from their welfare departments, but from their public housing departments to make the visits. Under such circumstances, criticism against municipal governments for lacking a commitment to provide comprehensive support to evacuees is hard to refute.

Another thing that caught my attention as I covered this issue is that a large number of evacuees are apprehensive about going on public assistance. A mother and child who evacuated to the city of Osaka declined advice to apply for welfare. They said they did not want to become a burden to the state, and eked out a living on an 80,000-yen monthly income. However, public assistance exists precisely for people like this family. Municipalities that have dispatched staff to make individual visits to evacuee households, and are abreast of which households are in dire straits, should actively try to dispel misperceptions and prejudice about welfare, and help those people receive the assistance they need.

I believe that the evacuees’ original municipalities of residence and the municipalities to which they evacuated are both responsible for the fact that they were unable to receive sufficient support before free housing was shut down. The Fukushima Prefectural Government assumed that the provision of housing assistance would suffice, while municipalities to which the residents evacuated had a latent notion that the evacuees weren’t “real” residents of the municipality.

It’s not too late, though. Both parties should collaborate and commit to closely assisting those facing grave hardships achieve self-reliance.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170413/p2a/00m/0na/012000c

The Fukushima Evacuees Future

 

End of March 2017 the Japanese government pretends that the Fukushima disaster is over, ending the compensation and housing programs, forcing the evacuees to return to the contaminated towns close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster site.

Masahiro Imamura, the reconstruction minister, while asked multiple questions about the plight of those classified as voluntary evacuees did expose the government opinion about the disaster’s victims, shocking all the journalists by his insensitivity. During that interview the reconstruction minister got angry with a reporter, ordering him to get out and to never come there again.

The government is encountered wide criticism for its handling of evacuees issue. To raise the radiation exposure limits for all people included children to that of nuclear plant workers has been condemned worldwide.

Those classified as voluntary evacuees are the people who evacuated from the regions of Fukushima that were not under official evacuation orders. Plus as more towns are now reopened, their evacuation orders lifted, those people who do not return are now becoming considered voluntary evacuees as well. The government provided housing assistance for voluntary evacuees ended in March. Asked about the government position on evacuees choosing to not return home Imamura sais that if they chose to not return to their home town they should take full responsibility for their own actions.

Japan’s government has done everything possible to remove all possible other options for evacuees, to force the evacuees to return to live in their contaminated towns. Compensation was ended for many. Housing programs have also ended, and temporary housing units are scheduled for closure, while at the same time many of the reopened towns lack sufficient services and many homes are heavily damaged, abandoned as they were since 2011.

Decontamination efforts to reduce radiation levels have not been very successful. With maybe a low radiation level only in the town center, with a radiation monitor set on concrete, but around town still many locations with unsafe levels. Many of those towns close to Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant still have no evacuation plan in case of further events.

The nuclear plant site remains a considerable risk. Work to dismantle sections of the damaged reactor buildings can release radioactive dust to the wind. Risks of hydrogen explosions, radiation releases or criticalities will remain as long as the site exists in its current state or has highly radioactive materials on site. To force the people back to live in close proximity to the site just puts them at further risk.

Imamura faced with a petition calling for his resignation tried to apologized in a more nuanced tone but the government policy remains. Prime Minister Abe dismissed calls for Imamura to resign.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/nhknewsline/quotesoftheday/20170405/