1,700 Contaminated Vehicles Removed from Fukushima Daiichi Plant Site

 

Excessive radiation detected in vehicles removed from Fukushima nuke plant

Some of the cars were sold on the used-car market while two others remain unaccounted for, according to plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Radiation topping the government-set limit has been detected in about 190 vehicles removed from the premises of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis, it has been learned.

Some of the cars were sold on the used-car market while two others remain unaccounted for, according to plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).

Approximately 1,700 vehicles were parked on the premises of the power station when the nuclear crisis broke out after it was hit by the powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, TEPCO officials said. Of those, about 600 were owned by employees of TEPCO or companies contracted by the utility. Over a 12-day period until radiation screenings began on March 23 of that year, people could drive the vehicles out of the premises of the plant without checks.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry instructed TEPCO in February 2012 to conduct a follow-up probe into the use of these vehicles for fear that next owners of those cars could be exposed to radiation without knowing that the vehicles were contaminated.

The power company conducted a survey on employees and contracted companies that parked their cars on the plant’s premises at the time of the accident, and confirmed that about 460 vehicles were brought out of the plant by April 2015. It was learned that radiation levels for around 190 of the vehicles exceeded government-set safety standards, and some of them were found contaminated with radiation nearly 10 times over the limit. All the vehicles whose radiation levels exceeded the limit were collected from their owners and are now stored on TEPCO’s premises situated in a Fukushima Prefecture area designated as a highly contaminated “difficult-to-return zone.”

TEPCO is considering how to dispose of these heavily contaminated vehicles, with an official saying, “We’d like to continue searching for two vehicles that remain unaccounted for and respond to the situation in an appropriate manner.”

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170809/p2a/00m/0na/013000c

Tainted cars left Fukushima compound unchecked

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says hundreds of vehicles contaminated with radioactive substances left the compound unchecked in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 accident.
Tokyo Electric Power Company says that in 2012 it began investigating what had happened to privately owned vehicles at the plant, and found that about 460 had left the compound.
TEPCO officials located most of them by 2015. About 190 registered radiation levels that were higher than the government standards. They managed to track down all 190, but some of them had been sold to new owners.
Some of the cars were so contaminated that the radiation couldn’t be measured by equipment capable of detecting levels nearly 10 times greater than the official limits.
Two vehicles remain unaccounted for.
TEPCO says it did not conduct radiation checks of cars leaving the compound for 12 days after the accident started on March 11th, 2011.
The company has apologized for causing concern and says it will keep trying to locate the 2 vehicles.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20170809_01/

 

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Olympic games in Fukushima: Is it safe?

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Fukushima city is going to host Olympic baseball and softball games in 2020.
What is the level of radio-contamination there? This is the question on everybody’s mind, spectators and players from all over the world. Is it really safe?

Baseball and softball games will take place in Azuma Sports Park in Fukushima city.

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Fukushima prefecture provides the information below on the radiation measurements of the Park.

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Measurements of the airborne radiation dose in the baseball stadium: No 13-16
Those of the softball stadium: No 4
The lines above and below indicate the value of the radiation dose at 1cm and 5cm above the ground.

We notice that, as usual, Fukushima prefecture gives only measurements in terms of radiation dose. Based on this information, one might think that it would be relatively safe to play there or to attend the games. However, monitoring only the radiation dose is not enough for radioprotection. The radiation dose is an indication of external irradiation exposure. In this case, the measures of radioprotection will be to stay away from the radioactive objects or not to stay in their vicinity for a long time. But the radiation dose does not provide information to avoid the risk of internal irradiation. For this latter, it is necessary to monitor surface contamination density or concentration, in this case, of soil (in terms of Becquerels/m2 or Bq/kg), as well as the concentration of radioactive substances in the air (Bq/m3). The radioprotection measures against internal irradiation would be wearing protective gear and masks to avoid the radioactive substances from adhering to the skin and/or entering the body.

 

Here is some information provided by Yoichi OZAWA of « Fukuichi Area Environmental Radiation Monitoring Project », the group of which we have published several soil contamination maps in this blog. OZAWA took measurements on July 27 at the request of the ARD German TV channel team which was visiting Fukushima.

PowerPoint プレゼンテーション
Contamination concentration and density of 5cm surface soil around the Azuma Baseball Stadium

Point A : The entrance of the « Torimu no Mori» where children play.
Radiation dose at 1m above the ground : 0.12 μSv/h
Radiation dose on the ground : 0.19µSv/h
Surface concentration : 605 Bq/kg
Surface density : 47,300 Bq/m2

Point B : In front of the Multi-purpose Fields.
Radiation dose at 1m above the ground : 0.10 μSv/h
Radiation dose on the ground : 0.22µSv/h
Surface concentration : 410 Bq/kg
Surface density : 31,200 Bq/m2

To interpret these figures, let us remind you that in Japan, according to the Ordinance on Prevention of Ionizing Radiation Hazards, places where the effective dose is likely to surpass 1.3mSv in 3 months (approximately 0.6µSv/h of airborne radioactivity) or the contamination density to exceed 40,000Bq/m2 are designated as a « Radiation Control Zone » and public entry must be severely restricted. People under 18 years old are not allowed to enter, and even adults, including nuclear workers, cannot stay more than 10 hours. It is prohibited to eat, drink or stay overnight. To leave the zone, one has go through a strict screening to check for radioactive substances leaving the zone, a measure to protect the individual person as well as the environment.

We do not have the measures of surface density of the baseball nor softball stadiums, but in answering the question of the above German TV team, the information was given as to the decontamination work and radiation dose. There had been decontamination work, and the airborne radiation dose was about 0.04µSv/h in the baseball stadium.

Even when decontamination work has been carried out in the stadium, the mountains and woods behind the park have not been decontaminated, and wind and rain bring the radioactive substances towards the park. Besides, as we can see above, other places in the park are highly contaminated when we look at the surface contamination. They represent high risks of internal irradiation. Moreover, according to recent research, radioactive particles disseminated by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident are mostly insoluble in water. This characteristic makes the health hazard much worse than in the case of the usual water soluble Cesium (see English transcription of NHK documentary on Insoluble Radioactive Particles in this blog). We believe that this Park should not be open to the public, especially to children.

The small type of insoluble radioactive particles – also called Cesium balls -, are dispersed in the Tokyo metropolitan area. People who visit this area should be careful and should take adequate radioprotection measures especially when it is windy and the radioactive particles can be re-disseminated.

All in all, we believe that there is far too much risk for the players and spectators to participate in the Olympic games in Fukushima. Fukushima should not host the Olympic games. Furthermore, we are against holding the Olympic games in Tokyo.

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Read also :

Forest fire in the exclusion zone in Fukushima: Why monitoring the radiation dose is not enough for radioprotection

See the publication of August 4 2017 in the FB of Oz Yo

https://fukushima311voices.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/olympic-games-in-fukushima-is-it-safe/

Blast from the Past: Plutonium Contamination from Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3

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From Majia’s blog

I was reviewing my notes regarding plutonium found at Fukushima and I found this news story worth remembering:

Amina Khan (of the Los Angeles Times). (March 8, 2012). Plutonium near Fukushima plant poses little risk, study says Published: Thursday, March 8, 2012 http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20120308/NEWS02/703089849

The levels of radioactive plutonium around Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant aren’t much higher than the amount of plutonium remaining in the environment from Cold War-era nuclear weapons tests, and it probably poses little threat to humans, a new study indicates.

The paper, published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, provides the first definitive evidence of plutonium from the accident entering the environment, the authors say. It examines the area within a roughly 20-mile radius of the plant and details the concentration of plutonium isotopes deposited there after explosions ripped open multiple reactors.

At the three sites examined, the levels for certain isotope ratios were about double those attributed to residual fallout from above-ground nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. and former Soviet Union at the dawn of the Cold War….

Robert Alvarez, who has served as a senior policy adviser in the U.S. Energy Department, said he would have been surprised if researchers had not found evidence of plutonium contamination near the plant. “They were irradiating plutonium in Unit 3, which experienced the biggest explosion,” he said. In fact, the explosion was so massive that investigators found fuel rod fragments a mile away, leading to speculation that a supercritical fission event may have also occurred, Alvarez said.

The article is referring to a study by Zheng et al. Here is my synopsis of the study’s findings:

A study released in Scientific Reports published by Nature titled ‘Isotopic evidence of plutonium release into the environment from the Fukushima DNPP accident’ by Zheng et al found that a wide array of highly volatile fission products were released, including 129mTe, 131I, 134Cs, 136Cs and 137Cs, which were all found to be ‘widely distributed in Fukushima and its adjacent prefectures in eastern Japan.’[i]

The study also found evidence of actinides, particularly Pu isotopes, on the ground northwest and south of the Fukushima DNPP in the 20–30 km zones. The study called for long-term investigation of Pu and 241Am dose estimates because of findings of ‘high activity ratio of 241Pu/239+240Pu (> 100) from the Fukushima DNPP accident.’

The study concluded that in comparison to Chernobyl, the Fukushima accident ‘had a slightly higher 241Pu/239Pu atom ratio, but lower ratio of 240Pu/239Pu.’ Unit 3 was seen as the likely source for the high Pu detections.

[i] J. Zheng, K. Tagami, Y. Watanabe, S. Uchida, T. Aono, N. Ishii, S. Yoshida, Y. Kubota, S. Fuma and S. Ihara (8 March 2012 ) ‘Isotopic Evidence of Plutonium Release into the Environment from the Fukushima DNPP Accident,’ Scientific Reports, 2, http://www.nature.com/srep/2012/120308/srep00304/full/srep00304.html.

http://majiasblog.blogspot.fr/2017/07/blast-from-past-plutonium-contamination.html

Fishermen express fury as Fukushima plant set to release radioactive material into ocean

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Local residents and environmental groups have condemned a plan to release radioactive tritium from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.

Officials of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, say tritium poses little risk to human health and is quickly diluted by the ocean.

In an interview with local media, Takashi Kawamura, chairman of TEPCO, said: “The decision has already been made.” He added, however, that the utility is waiting for approval from the Japanese government before going ahead with the plan and is seeking the understanding of local residents.

The tritium is building up in water that has been used to cool three reactors that suffered fuel melt-downs after cooling equipment was destroyed in the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami that struck north-east Japan in March 2011.

Around 770,000 tons of highly radioactive water is being stored in 580 tanks at the site. Many of the contaminants can be filtered out, but the technology does not presently exist to remove tritium from water.

“This accident happened more than six years ago and the authorities should have been able to devise a way to remove the tritium instead of simply announcing that they are going to dump it into the ocean”, said Aileen Mioko-Smith, an anti-nuclear campaigner with Kyoto-based Green Action Japan.

“They say that it will be safe because the ocean is large so it will be diluted, but that sets a precedent that can be copied, essentially permitting anyone to dump nuclear waste into our seas”, she told The Telegraph.

Fishermen who operate in waters off the plant say any release of radioactive material will devastate an industry that is still struggling to recover from the initial nuclear disaster.

“Releasing [tritium] into the sea will create a new wave of unfounded rumours, making all our efforts for naught”, Kanji Tachiya, head of a local fishing cooperative, told Kyodo News.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/14/fishermen-express-fury-fukushima-plant-set-release-radioactive/

 

Fukushima’s Radiation Will Poison Food “for Decades,” Study Finds

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Three of the six reactors at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi complex were wrecked in March 2011 by an earthquake and tsunami. The destruction of emergency electric generators caused a “station blackout” which halted cooling water intake and circulation. Super-heated, out-of-control uranium fuel in reactors 1, 2, and 3 then boiled off cooling water, and some 300 tons of fuel “melted” and burned through the reactors’ core vessels, gouging so deep into underground sections of the structure that to this day operators aren’t sure where it is. Several explosions in reactor buildings and uncovered fuel rods caused the spewing of huge quantities of radioactive materials to the atmosphere, and the worst radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean ever recorded. Fukushima amounts to Whole-Earth poisoning.

Now, researchers say, radioactive isotopes that were spread across Japan (and beyond) by the meltdowns will continue to contaminate the food supply for a very long time.

According to a new study that focused on “radiocaesium” — as the British call cesium-134 and cesium-137 — “food in japan will be contaminated by low-level radioactivity for decades.” The official university announcement of this study neglected to specify that Fukushima’s cesium will persist in the food chain for thirty decades. It takes 10 radioactive half-lives for cesium-137 to decay to barium, and its half-life is about 30 years, so C-137 stays in the environment for roughly 300 years.

The study’s authors, Professor Jim Smith, of the University of Portsmouth, southwest of London, and Dr. Keiko Tagami, from the Japanese National Institute of Radiological Sciences, report that cesium-caused “radiation doses in the average diet in the Fukushima region are very low and do not present a significant health risk now or in the future.”

This phraseology deliberately conveys a sense of security — but a false one. Asserting that low doses of radiation pose no “significant” health risk sounds reassuring, but an equally factual framing of precisely the same finding is that small amounts of cesium in food pose a slightly increased risk of causing cancer.

This fact was acknowledged by Prof. Smith in the June 14 University of Portsmouth media advisory that announced his food contamination study, which was published in Science of the Total Environment. Because of above-ground atom bomb testing, Prof. Smith said, “Radioactive elements such as caesium-137, strontium-90 and carbon-14 contaminated the global environment, potentially causing hundreds of thousands of unseen cancer deaths.”

No less an authority than the late John Gofman, MD, Ph.D., a co-discoverer of plutonium and Professor Emeritus of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, spent 50 years warning about the threat posed by low doses of radiation. In May 1999, Gofman wrote, “By any reasonable standard of biomedical proof, there is no safe dose, which means that just one decaying radioactive atom can produce permanent mutation in a cell’s genetic molecules. My own work showed this in 1990 for X rays, gamma rays, and beta particles.”

The Fukushima-borne cesium in Japan’s food supply, and in the food-web of the entire Pacific Ocean, emits both beta and gamma radiation. Unfortunately, it will bio-accumulate and bio-concentrate for 300 years, potentially causing, as Dr. Gofman if not Dr. Smith might say, hundreds of thousands of unseen cancer deaths.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/06/22/fukushimas-radiation-will-poison-food-for-decades-study-finds/

 

 

Fukushima Farmers Struggle

The technology to fully decontaminate a contaminated land has not yet been invented. Despite of all their efforts and hopes, those farmers’ struggle is just beginning and will last for ages…

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Farmers in Fukushima are struggling to revive their livelihoods. The 2011 nuclear accident and subsequent evacuation devastated farms — the area’s main source of jobs.

Some areas, like the village of Iitate, have lifted most of their evacuation orders. But getting back to normal is taking some time.

More than 200 farmers used to raise cows in this region. But 2 months after authorities lifted their evacuation order, few farmers have tried to return to raising animals.

Six cows were released into a paddy field to graze. It’s a step to revive the farm work that was widely seen in Iitate village.

One farmer is using his cows as an experiment that could bring hope to others.

After the animals eat these fields for 2 months, they’ll have their blood tested to check if they have been influenced in any way by radioactive material.

“It’s finally starting. For those who are worried or not confident about resuming cattle raising, I hope what I’m doing will encourage them,” says the farmer, Takeshi Yamada.

Before the accident, farmers in Iitate used to cultivate some 2,300 hectares of land. But this year, only 20 are being used to grow rice and buckwheat.

Some 60 farmers plan to resume farming this year — a small fraction of the previous total.

A major concern behind the slow uptake is the uncertainty farmers have about being able to sell their produce. Surface soil in the area was removed to help decontaminate the ground, but doing that also lowered its fertility.

Another challenge according to farmers is weakened community bonds.

“We used to work together. We were ready to take on whatever tasks we had. But it’s been 6 years, and the motivation to work is low. Nobody now says ‘let’s work together,'” says farmer Koichi Aoki.

To counter their plight, farmers are doing small things.

They formed a group of volunteers to remove weeds. They’re planting flower seeds to beautify the land and keep weeds from coming back. And there’s an even bigger benefit.

“We’ve been protecting our farmland. We want to keep it from turning to wasteland. And by working together, we’ll be able to form human bonds again. That’s our main goal,” says farmer Masuo Nagasho.

It will take time, but people here are hopeful these small steps are just the beginning.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/editors/3/fukushimafarmersstruggle/

 

In Fukushima, a land where few return

The evacuation orders for most of the village of Iitate have been lifted. But where are the people?

1.jpgThe build-up of contaminated bags is slowly changing the landscape of Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture.

IITATE, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – Some day when I have done what I set out to do, I’ll return home one of these days, where the mountains are green, my old country home, where the waters are clear, my old country home.

— “Furusato,” Tatsuyuki Takano

A cherry tree is blooming in the spring sunshine outside the home of Masaaki Sakai but there is nobody to see it. The house is empty and boarded up. Weeds poke through the ground. All around are telltale signs of wild boar, which descend from the mountains to root and forage in the fields. Soon, the 60-year-old farmhouse Sakai shared with his mother and grandmother will be demolished.

I don’t feel especially sad,” Sakai says. “We have rebuilt our lives elsewhere. I can come back and look around — just not live here.”

A few hundred meters away the road is blocked and a beeping dosimeter begins nagging at the bucolic peace. The reading here is a shade over 1 microsievert per hour — a fraction of what it was when Sakai’s family fled in 2011.

The radiation goes up and down, depending on the weather, Sakai says. In gullies and cracks in the road, and up in the trees, it soars. With almost everyone gone, the monkeys who live in the forests have grown bolder, stopping to stare at the odd car that appears instead of fleeing, as they used to.

A cluster of 20 small hamlets spread over 230 square kilometers, Iitate was undone by a quirk of the weather in the days that followed the nuclear accident in March 2011. Wind carried radioactive particles from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which is located about 45 kilometers away, that fell in rain and snow on the night of March 15, 2011. After more than a month of indecision, during which the villagers lived with some of the highest radiation recorded in the disaster (the reading outside the village office on the evening of March 15 was a startling 44.7 microsieverts per hour), the government ordered them to leave.

Now, the government says it is safe to go back. With great fanfare, all but the still heavily contaminated south of Iitate, Nagadoro, was reopened on March 31.

2.jpgA radiation monitoring post is installed in the village of Iitate on March 27, ahead of the lifting of an evacuation order for most areas of the village. The post bears the message ‘Welcome home.’

The reopening fulfills a pledge made by Mayor Norio Kanno: Iitate was the first local authority in Fukushima Prefecture to set a date for ending evacuation in 2012, when the mayor promised to reboot the village in five years. The village has a new sports ground, convenience store and udon restaurant. A clinic sees patients twice a week. All that’s missing is people.

Waiting to meet Kanno in the government offices of Iitate, the eye falls on a book displayed in the reception: “The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan.” Listed at No. 12 is the beloved rolling patchwork of forests, hills and fields the mayor has governed for more than two decades — population 6,300, famous for its neat terraces of rice and vegetables, its industrious organic farmers, its wild mushrooms and the black wagyu cow that has taken the name of the area.

The description in the book is mocked by reality outside. The fields are mostly bald, shorn of vegetation in a Promethean attempt to decontaminate it of the radiation that fell six years ago. There is not a cow or a farmer in sight. Tractors sit idle in the fields. The local schools are empty. As for the population, the only part of the village that looks busy is the home for the elderly across the road from Kanno’s office.

3.jpgA school sits deserted in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, in April.

The village will never return to how it used to be before the disaster,” Kanno says, “but it may develop in a different way.”

Recovery has started, Kanno says, wondering whether returnees will be able to start building a village they like.

Who knows? Maybe one day that may help bring back evacuees or newcomers,” Kanno says. “Life doesn’t improve if you remain pessimistic.”

Even for those who have permanently left, he adds, “it doesn’t mean that their furusato can just disappear.”

The pull of the furusato (hometown) is exceptionally strong in Japan, says Tom Gill, a British anthropologist who has written extensively about Iitate.

Yearning for it “is expressed in countless sentimental ballads,” Gill says. “One particular song, simply titled ‘Furusato,’ has been sung by children attending state schools in Japan since 1914.”

The appeal has persisted despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that the rural/urban imbalance in Japan is more skewed than in any other developed nation, Gill says; just 10 percent of the nation’s population live in the country.

This may partly explain the extraordinary efforts to bring east Fukushima back to life. By one study, more than ¥2.34 trillion has been spent decontaminating an area roughly half the size of Rhode Island.

There has been no official talk of abandoning it. Indeed, any suggestion otherwise could be controversial: When industry minister Yoshio Hachiro called the abandoned communities “towns of death” in September 2011, the subsequent outrage forced him to quit a week later.

Instead, the area was divided into three zones with awkward euphemisms to suggest just the opposite: Communities with annual radiation measuring 20 millisieverts or less (the typical worldwide limit for workers in nuclear plants) are “being prepared for lifting of evacuation order,” districts of 20-50 millisieverts per year are “no-residence zones” and the most heavily contaminated areas of 50 millisieverts or more per year, such as Nagadoro, are “difficult-to-return.”

In September 2015, Naraha, which is located 15 kilometers south of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, became the first town in the prefecture to completely lift the evacuation order imposed after the triple meltdown. Naraha has a publicly built shopping street, a new factory making lithium batteries, a kindergarten and a secondary school.

A team of decontamination workers has been sent to every house — in some cases several times. Of the pre-disaster 7,400 residents, about 1,500 mainly elderly people have returned, the local government says, although that figure is likely inflated.

In Iitate, the cost of decontamination works out at about ¥200 million per household. That, and the passage of time, has dramatically reduced radiation in many areas to below 20 millisieverts a year. However, Kanno says, the cleanup extends to only 20 meters around each house, and three-quarters of the village is forested mountains. In windy weather, radioactive elements are blown back onto the fields and homes.

All that money, and for what?” asks Nobuyoshi Itoh, a farmer and critic of the mayor. “Would you bring children here and let them roam in the fields and forests?”

4.jpgNobuyoshi Itoh walks through a forest by his land in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture.

Itoh opted to stay in one of the more heavily toxic parts of the village after everyone fled, with little apparent ill effect, although he says his immune system has weakened.

One of the reasons why Iitate was such a pleasant place to live before the nuclear crisis, he recalls, was its unofficial barter system. “Most people here never bought vegetables; they grew them,” he says. “I would bring someone potatoes and they would give me eggs. That’s gone now.”

At most, he says, a few hundred people are back — but they’re invariably older or retired.

They alone will not sustain the village,” Itoh says. “Who will drive them around or look after them when they are sick?”

As the depth of the disaster facing Iitate became clear, local people began to squabble among themselves. Some were barely scraping a living and wanted to leave, although saying so out loud — abandoning the furusato — was often difficult. Many joined lawsuits against the government.

Even before disaster struck, the village had lost a third of its population since 1970 as its young folk relocated to the cities, mirroring the hollowing-out of rural areas across the country. Some wanted to shift the entire village elsewhere, but Kanno wouldn’t hear of it.

Compensation could be a considerable incentive. In addition to ¥100,000 a month to cover the “mental anguish” of being torn from their old lives, there was extra money for people with houses or farms. A five-year lump sum was worth ¥6 million per person — twice that for Nagadoro. One researcher estimates a rough figure of ¥50 million for the average household, sufficient to leave behind the uncertainties and worries of Iitate and buy a house a few dozen miles away, close enough to return for work or to the village’s cool, tranquil summers.

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Masaaki Sakai stands outside his home in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture.

Many have already done so. Though nobody knows the true figure, the local talk is that perhaps half of the villagers have permanently left. Surveys suggest fewer than 30 percent want to return, and even less in the case of Nagadoro.

Yoshitomo Shigihara, head of the Nagadoro hamlet, says many families made their decision some time ago. His grandchildren, he says, should not have to live in such a place.

It’s our job to protect them,” Shigihara says. He lives in the city of Fukushima but returns roughly every 10 days to inspect his house and weed the land.

Even with so much money spent, Shigihara doubts whether it will bring many of his friends or relatives back. At 70 years of age, he is not sure that he even wants to return, he says.

I sometimes get upset thinking about it, but I can’t talk with anyone in Fukushima, even my family, because we often end up quarreling,” he says. “People try to feel out whether the others are receiving benefits, what they are getting or how much they received in compensation. It’s very stressful to talk to anyone in Iitate. I’m starting to hate myself because I end up treating others badly out of frustration.”

Kanno has won six elections since 1996 and has overseen every step of Iitate’s painful rehabilitation, navigating between the anger and despair of his constituents and the official response to the disaster from the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco), operator of the crippled nuclear plant.

6.jpgGround Self-Defense Force members decontaminate areas tainted with radioactive substances in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, in December 2011.

He wants more money to complete decontamination work (the government claims it is finished), repair roads and infrastructure. Returnees need financial support, he says. However, it is time, he believes, to end the monthly compensation, which, in his view, induces dependency.

If people keep saying that life is hard, they will not be able to recover,” he says. “What we need is support for livelihoods.”

A new system gives seed money to people who voluntarily come back to start businesses or farms.

We don’t want to give the impression that we are influencing people’s decisions or forcing them to return,” the mayor says, using the phrase “kokoro ni fumikomu,” which literally means “to step into hearts.”

Yet, next year, thousands of Iitate evacuees will face a choice: Go back or lose the money that has helped sustain them elsewhere for six years. Evacuation from areas exposed to less than 20 millisieverts per year will be regarded as “voluntary” under the official compensation scheme.

This dilemma was expressed with unusual starkness last month by Masahiro Imamura, the now sacked minister in charge of reconstructing Tohoku. Pressed by a freelance reporter, Imamura tetchily said it was up to the evacuees themselves — their “own responsibility, their own choice” — whether or not to return.

The comment touched a nerve. The government is forcing people to go back, some argued, employing a form of economic blackmail, or worse, kimin seisaku — abandoning them to their fate.

Itoh is angry at the resettlement. For him, politics drives the haste to put the disaster behind.

It’s inhuman to make people go back to this,” he says. Like the physical damage of radiation, he says, the psychological damage is also invisible: “A lot of people are suffering in silence.”

Itoh believes the government wants to show that the problems of nuclear power can be overcome so it can switch the nation’s idling nuclear reactors back on. Just four are in operation while the fate of 42 others remains in political and legal limbo. Public opinion remains opposed to their restart.

Many people began with high hopes in Iitate but have gradually grown distrustful of the village government, says Kenichi Hasegawa, a farmer who wrote a book titled “Genpatsu ni Furusato o Ubawarete” (“Fukushima’s Stolen Lives”) in 2012. Right from the start, he says, the mayor desperately tried to hide the shocking radiation outside his office.

Villagers have started losing interest,” Hasegawa says.

Meetings called by the mayor are poorly attended.

But they hold meetings anyway,” Hasegawa says, “just to say they did.”

Kanno rejects talk of defeatism. A tourist shop is expected to open in August that will attract people to the area, he says. Some villagers are paving entrances to their houses, using money from the reconstruction budget. As for radiation, everyone “has their own idea” about its effects. The lifting of the evacuation is only the start.

Itoh says he once trusted public officials but those days are long gone. By trying to save the village, he says, the mayor may in fact be killing it.

7.jpgBags filled with contaminated waste sit in a field in the village of Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, in March 2016.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/05/13/national/social-issues/fukushima-land-return/