Japan rejects UN call to stop returns to Fukushima
Stop sending women & children back to Fukushima fallout zone, UN expert tells Japan
UN envoy: Halt children’s return to Fukushima
UN rights expert urges Japan to halt returns to Fukushima
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.
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.
Employees 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.”
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”.
These 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.
Ms 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.”
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.”
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.
Two generations of Fukushima children sacrificed in the name of political expediency…
Students from two elementary schools and a junior high school attend the joint opening ceremony for a new school building in the town of Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, on Thursday. The schools moved to makeshift venues in 2011 to escape radioactive fallout during the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Naraha sees three schools return from nuclear exile in Fukushima
FUKUSHIMA – Two elementary schools and a junior high school returned to their hometown in Fukushima Prefecture on Thursday six years after being forced to flee radiation spewed by the March 2011 nuclear disaster.
Around 90 students attended the joint opening ceremony at the new building housing the junior high school in Naraha, most of which is within a 20-km hot zone centered on the heavily damaged Fukushima No. 1 plant. The evacuation order for Naraha was lifted in September 2015.
“Our school life in Naraha, which we have long awaited, begins today. One day, I want to do something for my town,” 11-year-old Hina Moue of Naraha Minami Elementary School said at the ceremony.
The two elementary schools will hold their classes in the junior high school building for the time being.
Since January 2013, the students had been studying at a makeshift facility further south in a university in Iwaki.
The junior high school building was under construction when the 2011 mega-quake and tsunami triggered the man-made nuclear crisis.
Children are seen getting on a school bus at JR Hirono Station in Fukushima Prefecture on April 6, 2017, to attend classes in the town of Naraha.
Fukushima schools reopen for 1st time in 6 years after nuclear evacuation order lifted
NARAHA, Fukushima — All of the three public elementary and junior high schools here resumed classes on April 6 for the first time in six years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster broke out.
The whole town of Naraha was subject to an evacuation order in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant. While the order was lifted in September 2015, only about 10 percent of local residents have returned to the town.
This is the first time schools reopened in a municipality that was subject to evacuation orders in its entirety.
Students of the two municipal elementary schools and one junior high school had been studying at a makeshift school in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki, where many Naraha townspeople evacuated. They will now attend classes held at the Naraha Junior High School building. In the meantime, only 105 students, or 20-plus percent of those who would be able to enroll in these three schools, will be going to school there.
There are a total of 22 children who are commuting from Iwaki, approximately 30 kilometers away from the town. On the day that Naraha schools reopened, some of these children took a 25-minute train ride from JR Joban Line’s Iwaki Station and got on a school bus at a station in the neighboring town of Hirono. Since Naraha remains fairly empty even after the evacuation order was lifted, almost all the 105 students will take school buses between the train station and their school out of safety concerns.
Mineo Yokota, 52, who owns a restaurant in Naraha and commutes to his workplace from Iwaki by car, decided he would send his eldest daughter, a second-year junior high school student, to the school in his family’s hometown. She had transferred school three times since the nuclear disaster, due to evacuation.
“I had planned to drive her to school, but my daughter decided on her own to commute by train after talking to some of the upperclassmen. I’m relieved to learn that the kids have made their own community,” Yokota said.
Naraha Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto said at the opening ceremony that the municipal government had prepared for this day “with the determination that ‘there is no future for a town without children'” even though reopening schools in Naraha “seemed impossible at one point.”