Toshiro Kitamura, a senior adviser to Japanese nuclear energy promotional body the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, was evacuated from his home in Tomioka Town near the Fukushima nuclear power plant in March, and was housed in an emergency shelter in Koriyama city for five months. The accounts of his personal experiences as a refugee were published on the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum’s web site in April and May 2011 (for direct links, go to http://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/toshiro9/diaryall). Here, he describes what has happened since then.
“In August, refugees moved to temporary houses or houses for rent prepared by the prefecture. Some people purchased a house by themselves. All refugees left from the shelter, at the Big Palette exhibition centre, by the end of August, and the shelter was closed. In December, the local government of Tomioka Town built temporary offices in Koriyama City. Many temporary houses were constructed in the mountains of Aizu, which is famous for its heavy snow. Since the climate was warm in coastal Futaba county facing the Pacific Ocean where the nuclear power plant stands, almost all refugees suffered in the extreme cold and heavy snow in this winter season.
“My wife and I left Big Palette and rented a house in the neighbouring town. I had a carpenter make a hut for our cats in the garden. I wrote a book about being a refugee and the problems of the government and the nuclear energy industry, entitled Chagrin of the nuclear power advocate: What I thought in evacuation life. It was published in October.
“While everything had been given away for free at the shelter, refugees who leave the shelter have to cover the costs of living. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) paid JPY 1 million ($12,000) to each household as a compensation payment last April, and JPY 300,000 in July. In September, TEPCO started to receive applications for compensation, and paid compensation of JPY 100,000 a month to refugees in shelters to compensate for psychological trauma. Young people were given work in the shelter, or received unemployment insurance. Elderly people had a pension. Some refugees expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of compensation for psychological trauma, and some worry about how long these payments might continue. Refugees are exempted from the payment of medical insurance for health care, and the costs of care of the elderly and for those requiring nursing homes.
“The government is spending more than JPY 1 trillion for decontamination of land and buildings in this fiscal year and next, but it is certain that it will need more money to complete decontamination. The government intends to build medium-term storage facilities to hold polluted soil for 30 years in the municipalities around Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to push forward decontamination. However, some municipalities have not started work because of residents’ objections to accepting polluted soil.
“It was very sad for me to see that the grass in the garden has grown up to my height, but at least the house itself was not destroyed by an aftershock. When I returned, the radiation of the ground in the garden was 3-5 Î¼Sv/hr. But under the gutters the radiation of the ground was 30 Î¼Sv/hr.”
“The government advises refugees about returning to their town of residence while pushing forward with decontamination. The radiation dose gradually falls everywhere in Fukushima. Entry into the 20km zone around Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and special districts, is still limited. But refugees from towns more than 20km distance from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant were allowed to return to their home town in September because of the low dose of radioactivity. The local government of Kawauchi Village and Hirono Town publicly reopened their government offices recently. However, only a few inhabitants returned.
“On 15 July, I went home for the first time since I was evacuated with my neighbours in a government mini-bus on 11 March. My radiation exposure dose in two hours was almost 8 µSv. It was very sad for me to see that the grass in the garden has grown up to my height, but at least the house itself was not destroyed by an aftershock. On 23 November, I returned with my car. The radiation of the ground in the garden was between 3-5 µSv/hr. But under the gutters the radiation of the ground was 30 µSv/hr.
“By the end of March, the government is going to reorganize the restricted zones into three areas, depending on the radioactivity dose: a no-return zone, a residence limitation zone, and an evacuation-lifted zone. Because the radiation level of my house corresponds to the levels of the residence limitation zone, I may not return for one or two years. It is said that TEPCO might compensate homeowners for the fall of the real estate value of houses in the no-return zone.
“In November, Fukushima University conducted a survey about refugees’ attitudes about returning home. Three-quarters of respondents to the survey said that they intended to return home. As conditions of their return, they requested decontamination work, infrastructure maintenance, construction of a shopping mall and sufficient employment. A quarter of respondents said that they would never return. As of February 2012, there is no near-term prospect that refugees of Okuma Town, Futaba Town, Tomioka Town, Namie Town and southern district of Minami-Soma City will be able to return home. Even if decontamination is carried out, households with children will not return, fearing risks to their health. I am concerned that only old people will remain in this area in future.
“This year, many refugees must determine where they will rebuild their lives. Soon one year will have passed from the accident of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and spring comes again. The level 7 nuclear accident has affected a community and the beautiful countryside, and also has changed the fate of tens of thousands of people. I do hope the people who are in charge of the nuclear industry can work more proactively to prevent nuclear accidents.
FilesReactor-by-reactor Fukushima Daiichi restoration progress summary as of 1 March, from JAIF Fukushima Daiichi decontamination Gantt chart