‘We were driven out’: Fukushima’s radioactive legacy

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In March 2017, the government lifted its evacuation order for the center of Namie.
“This is the worst time, the most painful period.” For the people of Namie and other towns near the Fukushima plant, the pain is sharpened by the way the Japanese government is trying to move beyond the tragedy, to use the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a symbol of hope and recovery, a sign that life can return to normal after a disaster of this magnitude.
If we give up, we would lose our town, and as mayor, I will work with all my heart to prevent that.” But many residents say the central government is being heavy-handed in its attempts to persuade people to return, failing to support residents’ efforts to build new communities in places like Nihonmatsu, and then ending compensation payments within a year of evacuation orders being lifted.
In other towns around the nuclear plant, people have complained that arbitrarily decided compensation payouts — more for people deemed to have been in radiation-affected zones, far less for tsunami victims, nothing for people just a mile outside the zone most affected — have divided communities and caused resentment and friction.
“This is a place desperate to attract people to return, but this reduces our attractiveness for young people,” said Riken Komatsu in the fishing port of Onahama, who is working to rebuild a sense of community and raise awareness about problems with the reconstruction effort.
The biggest tragedy now is the high rate of suicides.” Kazuhiro Yoshida, the embattled mayor of Namie, said fears about radiation are not the only reason people aren’t returning; many complain the deserted town lacks amenities.
“The scale of the problem is clearly not something the government wants to communicate to the Japanese people, and that’s driving the whole issue of the return of evacuees,” said Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace.
It says radiation levels in parts of Namie where evacuation orders have been lifted will remain well above international maximum safety recommendations for many decades, raising the risks of leukemia and other cancers to “unjustifiable levels,” especially for children.
In the rural areas around the town, radiation levels are much higher and could remain unsafe for people beyond the end of this century, Greenpeace concluded in a 2018 report. Greenpeace has been taking thousands of radiation readings for years in the towns around the Fukushima nuclear plant.
“The idea that an industrial accident closes off an area of Japan, with its limited habitable land, for generations and longer — that would just remind the public why they are right to be opposed to nuclear power.”
Four-fifths of Namie’s geographical area is mountain and forest, impossible to decontaminate, still deemed unsafe to return.
When it rains, the radioactive cesium in the mountains flows into rivers and underground water sources close to the town.
Komatsu says reconstruction has been imposed from above, a problem he says reflects, in a broader sense, what Japan is like.
Today, Namie’s former residents are scattered across all but one of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
“For the past eight years, we have seen the destruction of the area, the destruction of the community, and it will be difficult to bring people back,” he said.
With young people moving away, the elderly, who already feel the loss of Namie most acutely, find themselves even more alone.
Now, the damage is more severe because young people are not returning. The elderly who come back feel pessimism and depression.
Six Olympic softball games and a baseball game will be staged in Fukushima, the prefecture’s bustling and radiation-free capital city, and the Olympic torch relay will start from here.

TEPCO and state slapped with new lawsuit over nuclear crisis

sdggfhf.jpgPlaintiffs in the lawsuit against TEPCO and the government gather in front of the Fukushima District Court in Fukushima on Nov 27.

November 28, 2018

FUKUSHIMA–Dismayed at a breakdown in talks for compensation, residents of the disaster-stricken town of Namie filed a lawsuit against Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the central government for damages stemming from the nuclear accident here in March 2011.
The plaintiffs are seeking 1.3 billion yen ($11.4 million) in financial redress.
The entire town was evacuated in the aftermath of a triple core meltdown at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
The lawsuit was filed at the Fukushima District Court on Nov. 27 after five years of negotiations between the town and TEPCO collapsed in April over the utility’s refusal to meet demands for more compensation.
According to court papers, 109 plaintiffs of 49 households are seeking 12.1 million yen in individual compensation.
They stated that the nuclear accident destroyed their community and forced them to live as evacuees for a prolonged period.
TEPCO, under guidelines established by the central government, has been paying 100,000 yen a month to each resident forced to evacuate.
However, town officials argued that the figure was painfully low and should be increased to compensate for psychological suffering caused by the disaster.
In May 2013, the Namie municipal authorities, acting on behalf of residents, asked the nuclear damage claim dispute resolution center, an organization established by the central government in response to the Fukushima disaster, to mediate in the dispute.
About 15,000 residents, more than 70 percent of the town’s population, signed a petition for the mediation in an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process at the center.
In March of 2014, an ADR proposal called for the monthly compensation to be uniformly increased by 50,000 yen.
The town accepted the offer but TEPCO rejected it, citing potential unfairness to others who had been compensated. In April, the center discontinued the reconciliation process.
Pointing out that TEPCO had reneged on its promise to “respect ADR reconciliation proposals,” the plaintiffs argued that the utility should pay for betraying the trust of residents.
An additional 2,000 or so townsfolk are planning to join the lawsuit.
In a statement, TEPCO said, “We will listen to the plaintiffs’ requests and complaints in detail and respond sincerely.”
Not only were the lives of residents turned upside down by the nuclear disaster, but more than 180 perished in the tsunami that engulfed the town.
Although the evacuation order was lifted for some parts of the town at the end of March 2017, entry to most of the area remains prohibited.
http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201811280053.html?fbclid=IwAR1O0aNAvKOkAVVRm2UH44C6RT88xLhOntskaKyVvL3VSZmDlYSd7SMC1Vs

The Mayor of Nowhere: Former cattleman runs campaign to revitalize Namie, Fukushima

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October 5, 2018
On the last Friday in July 2018, a car with speakers mounted on the roof pulled up to the TEPCO headquarters near Hibiya Park. At a little past 5pm, the utility’s employees began streaming out of the building and, as they glided through the automatic doors, recognition flashed over their faces. As they turned toward the Shinbashi nightlife district, the office workers shot sour looks at the man in the blue-and-yellow sash, who stood in front of the car.
“You should take responsibility. How can you just walk by? You are polluting Fukushima’s waters,” he yelled into a microphone, blasting the company for its actions since the triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Masami Yoshizawa was running for mayor of Namie, one of the seven cities, towns and villages surrounding the damaged power plant that remain under partial evacuation orders. As part of his campaign, he’d come to TEPCO to deliver a letter outlining his plans to take the company to court for damages and to demand the utility cancel plans to release tons of radiation-contaminated water into the Pacific.
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Yoshizawa had spoken in front of the headquarters before. The first time was in the days following the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Back then, he’d held out as long as he could on his ranch, 14 kilometers from the power plant. Once it became clear that his herd of 328 Japanese beef cows had lost all their value — the animals had been worth over ¥450 million before they were exposed to the radiation released from the plant — he decided to go to Tokyo to make his voice heard. After driving down, he walked into the scrum of police and news vans that surrounded the TEPCO headquarters and demanded to speak with someone from the company. Though the police seized him by the arms, he didn’t give up until a representative from the utility eventually agreed to listen to his complaint.
After returning to Fukushima, he started visiting his ranch to feed his animals, unwilling to let them starve. Eventually, he decided to ignore the mandatory evacuation order and began living on his land again. In his youth, he’d been part of the Japanese student movement and this experience informed him as he poured his energy into the anti-nuclear campaign: he hauled his irradiated cattle down to the Ministry of Agriculture and made impassioned speeches in Shibuya and Sendai, attempting to raise awareness of the plight of farmers and ranchers around Fukushima Daiichi. His land, which he renamed the Ranch of Hope, became a hub for activists and environmentally-minded volunteers, who came to support him and help take care of the cows.
Then in June of this year, Tamotsu Baba, Namie’s three-term mayor, resigned. He had stomach cancer and, two weeks after stepping down, he passed away in a hospital in Fukushima City. A special election was scheduled for August 5 and Yoshizawa declared his intention to run.
He withdrew his membership from the Japanese Communist Party and created his own group, the Organization for a Hopeful Namie, though his politics retained a radical tinge. He promised to force TEPCO to increase damage payments by 50 percent and to support local farmers by using the town’s contaminated fields to grow rice for use in ethanol. He railed against the Abe administration’s plan to hold the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and decried the sunnier visions of the recovery effort: in his view, no more than half the town’s residents would ever return. “As a town, Namie is finished,” he often said during his speech, suggesting that the population would dip below 10,000. “In the future, Namie will be a village.”
In some ways, Yoshizawa’s policy positions were less important than his stance toward the recovery effort. Of the 17,791 officially registered residents, only 777 have returned to live in the few dozen square kilometers where the evacuation order has been lifted; thus, being mayor of Namie effectively means being the leader of a town that exists mostly on paper. More than anything, the election was a way of gauging the mood of the voters, most of whom had been evacuated from their home for over seven years.
This was a point Yoshizawa stressed to the TEPCO employees, who were heading out of the office to enjoy their Premium Friday: “We can’t go home! You have houses to return to, places to work. But we can’t return to Namie. Our town is ruined, our lives are crushed.”
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The following day, Yoshizawa campaigned in his home prefecture. After the evacuation, Namie’s residents had been dispersed across the prefecture, with the bulk winding up in Fukushima City, Nihonmatsu, Koriyama and Minamisoma. Evacuees initially lived in hastily constructed temporary housing, but facing the prolonged recovery effort ahead, the prefectural government built “recovery homes” — apartments and blocks of single-family houses — and is now moving the nuclear refugees into these units.
Late in the afternoon, Yoshizawa’s car pulled up to a series of oblong three-story buildings. He stepped out, placed a plastic milk crate upside-down on the sidewalk, and stood on it as he launched into his stump speech.
Three volunteers working for his campaign watched for anyone who stepped outside to listen to him or who happened to be crossing the parking lot as he spoke. If they spotted a potential voter, the volunteers sprinted to them — even if this involved several flights of stairs — and handed them a flyer, asking for their vote.
As Yoshizawa’s rhetoric echoed through one corner of the apartment complex, a white van pulled up to the opposite corner, and a man with a bullhorn got out. Kazuhiro Yoshida had been the head of the former mayor’s support group and was Yoshizawa’s only opponent in the election. Like Yoshizawa, he was deeply tanned, with rough features and a straightforward manner. But unlike his rival, Yoshida’s message was one of continuity: the handpicked successor of the previous mayor, with connections to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, he promised to press forward with the recovery plans, such as they were. He spoke optimistically about reconstructing Namie and rebuilding a local economy based on agriculture and fishing.
Yoshida’s quasi-incumbent status was confirmed by the sparse nature of his campaign. He had no flyers or banners, not even a business card to hand out to inquiring media-types. No volunteers flanked him, and, if you removed the references to disaster and recovery, his policy proposals could’ve been meant for any struggling town in Tohoku: create a safe and secure environment, support the elderly and so on.
These contrasts were not lost on the handful of voters who spilled out of the apartment blocks to listen to campaign speeches. One former store owner in her 60s planned on voting for Yoshida, and was realistic about the future: “I think I won’t ever go back… Still, I want them to make a town where it’s easy to live again.” A middle-aged man from the coastal district of Ukedo said his vote wasn’t decided, but that the most important thing for him was stability.
Meanwhile, many of Yoshizawa’s voters were more inclined toward extremes of optimism or despair. Yoko Konno, who had owned a salon in Namie’s Gogendo district, wasn’t planning to move back, as her children had relocated and she needed to be near a hospital so she could get treatment for her heart condition: “There’s no one left in Namie.” By contrast, Shiba, the head of the residents’ association in a different public housing block, said, “I want to go back. We need to make a new plan though.”
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Yoshizawa’s volunteers were a collection of journalists, animal lovers and activists. The campaign was a kind of traveling, temporary family, and, as with any middle-class Japanese household, lunchtime was likely to find them in a family restaurant, as was the case two days before the election, when they stopped at a tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) place in a residential neighborhood of Koriyama.
Most of the team was drawn from Ranch of Hope volunteers, like Masakane Kinomura, a photographer for the Asia Press Front, who had first learned about Masami Yoshizawa and the Ranch of Hope through a fellow journalist. He pointed across the table with his chopsticks at a volunteer named Monguchi, “I was coming back from the ranch and she picked me up in her taxi in Tokyo.”
She brushed a braid of dyed red hair behind her shoulder. “When I picked him up, I thought he was just some tired middle-aged man. But then the way he talked about caring for these 300 cows. I couldn’t see his face, but I could tell he was a good person.”
Originally from Osaka, she had never volunteered until the Kumamoto earthquake damaged her grandmother’s house. After her first experience, she wanted to do more to help, but Kyushu was too far. She had always loved animals — a quality which helped her connect with pet-owning voters — and the chance to be close to the cattle led her to the Ranch of Hope.
Next to Monguchi was Ohamazaki, an outside political consultant and the only paid member of the campaign staff. With the sleeves of his dress shirt rolled up and his tie pulled away from his collar, he exuded a sense of business. “I’ve worked with the Liberal Democrats, Communists, Independents. Over 200 elections.” With his help, he believed Yoshizawa could win as many as six in ten voters, though turnout would be low. In the previous mayoral election, over half of Namie’s residents had voted, but he believed the percentage would fall in the summer’s election. “People have moved here and there, so it’ll be closer to 40 percent.”
On this point, Ohamazaki proved right, as 43 percent of residents went to the polls. However, the result of the election would fall against his client, with 80 percent of voters opting for the stability offered by Kazuhiro Yoshida. Despite all they’ve been through (or perhaps because of it) Namie’s voters weren’t interested in a new, more confrontational approach. In some ways, the story of this mayoral election in the exclusion zone, echoes one of the problems facing the Japanese political left as a whole: an inability to show voters — even those who are disenchanted with the status quo — how a narrative of resistance and change will impact their lives for the better.
In the weeks since the election, Masami Yoshizawa has returned to his ranch, where he herds his irradiated cattle over the green hills of Fukushima. Namie Town heads into its eighth year of recovery, its future suspended in uncertainty, with no end in sight.
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Mayor of Namie, near shuttered Fukushima nuclear plant, dies at 69

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Jun 27, 2018
FUKUSHIMA – Tamotsu Baba, mayor of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture, died at hospital in the city of Fukushima on Wednesday. He was 69.
First elected mayor of Namie in 2007, Baba was in his third term. He submitted his resignation earlier this month due to illness and was set to leave office on Saturday.
Baba spearheaded the town’s efforts to cope with the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which badly affected the Tohoku region, and the subsequent nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Namie is located next to the towns of Okuma and Futaba, home to the disaster-crippled nuclear plant.
At the end of March last year, Baba decided on lifting evacuation advisories for Namie residents, except for areas that were recognized as heavily contaminated.

Mayor of Namie to resign due to illness

Tamotsu Baba mayor of the town of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture on Wednesday submitted his resignation due to illness. He is 69 years old. Although the details of his illness is not written in the following article, a Japanese media reports that he has been hospitalized for cancer treatment. Namie is located very close to the Fukushima Daiichi, and was within the evacuation zone until the end of March of 2017, when Baba decided the lifting of evacuation advisories given to Namie residents, except for heavily contaminated areas.
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June 13, 2018
NAMIE, Fukushima (Jiji Press) — Tamotsu Baba, mayor of the town of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture on Wednesday submitted his resignation due to illness.
After obtaining approval from the town assembly on the same day, the 69-year-old mayor will leave office as of June 30.
Baba has been hospitalized on and off since December last year.
First elected mayor of Namie in 2007, Baba is currently serving his third term.
He spearheaded the town’s efforts to cope with the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which mainly rocked the Tohoku northeastern region, and the subsequent nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Namie is located next to the towns of Okuma and Futaba, home to the disaster-crippled nuclear plant.
At the end of March last year, Baba decided the lifting of evacuation advisories given to Namie residents, except for heavily contaminated areas.
The town is asking TEPCO to increase the amount of compensation paid to its some 15,000 citizens
 
The following article by NHK reports that Mayor Baba has been hospitalized to get cancer treatment. He had stomach cancer and had surgery in 2014.

Arbitration ends for Fukushima damages claim

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April 6, 2018
A government body has given up trying to arbitrate between Tokyo Electric Power Company and more than 15,000 people seeking higher monthly compensation for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
 
It was the largest arbitration case involving the nuclear accident.
 
Namie Town in Fukushima Prefecture filed a petition with the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center in 2013, on behalf of residents who were forced to evacuate after the disaster.
 
More than 15,000, or about 70 percent of the town’s population, signed the petition to demand more compensation from TEPCO, the operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
 
TEPCO’s monthly payment for each Namie resident was calculated at 100,000 yen, or about 934 dollars.
In March 2014, the dispute resolution center offered an arbitration plan that called for raising this amount by 50 percent. The town agreed to accept it.
 
But TEPCO maintains that increasing the compensation would have a significant impact on other evacuees. The center has repeatedly asked the utility to accept the plan.
 
On Friday, the dispute resolution center told the town of its decision to end the arbitration process.
 
The claimants are expected to consider whether to file a lawsuit against TEPCO. The town says more than 800 of the claimants are now dead.