Flight from Fukushima

    Flight from Fukushima

             Nobuko Akita

                                                  (right: autumn in Fukushima)

(left: Fukushima Prefecture shown in red)

Fukushima is a beautiful place.  It is especially bestowed with the gift of nature.  The prefecture’s main industry has been agriculture and fishery.  Along its coast, there are two nuclear power plants operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company.  After the coalmines closed, the plants were built to create jobs for the local communities.  The electricity generated there is not for the use within the prefecture but to service the Tokyo Metropolitan area.

The earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 damaged the homeland and claimed almost 20,000 lives in Northeastern parts of Japan.  The subsequent accident at Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is ranked as Level 7, the highest in severity according to the International Nuclear Event Scale and compared only with the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.  The radioactive contamination has delayed the recovery of the entire area and, worse yet, deprived the near-by residents of their livelihood indefinitely.  Approximately 160,000 people out of 2 million of the prefectural population (8%) have left their communities behind.  The recent report by the Independent Investigation Commission set up by the Diet asserts, “It was a profoundly manmade disaster.”* 
*National Diet of Japan   Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission  (NAIIC)  The report was made available online as of July 5, 2012  http://www.naiic.jp/en/

<The Nuclear Accident and Evacuation>

In 4 hours from the quake, the Government of Japan issued a “Declaration of Nuclear Emergency Situation.”  Two and a half hours later, it issued an evacuation order to the residents living within 3 km from the plant and for those living within 10 km range to remain indoors.  On the 12th, the first hydrogen explosion occured at the reactor #1.  In three hours from the explosion, the national government revised the evacuation order to the residents living within 20 km from the plant.  By the 15th, four reactors out of six at Fukushima Daiichi exploded and the national government made the third revision in the evacuation order.  Yet none of these orders were forced for the next five weeks.  In fact, the Cabinet Secretary Mr. Edano, a spokesperson on behalf of the national government, kept saying that those explosions had no immediate health impact and that evacuation was only for precaution.  Therefore, some residents decided to stay home because they were too old and weak to move to distant shelters.  Others decided to stay to look after their livestocks. 

(left: accumulation of Cesium, July 2, 2011 by NAIIC Report, table 4.1-1)

<Inappropriate Evacuation “Direction”>

The disaster prevention scheme by the government stipulated that the residents in 10 km range from the nuclear power plant should evacuate and that they should receive directions/instuctions from the government via local municipalities.  Those municipalities and some of the residents have actually done evacuation drills.  When more municipalities beyound the 10 km range were abruptly swallowed up by the evacuation zone, they had little  know-how or information to handle sthe situation.  Some residents left by buses that local government had chartered.  Others were transported by the Self Defence Forces trucks.  The flight was carried off with very little direction.  When the evacuees finally arrived after a long ride, they sometimes found the place already full.  Because they somehow thought they could return to their homes in several hours or so, they brought only the bare necessities.  They had no idea that they would freeze and starve at shelters for days or weeks to come.  Some even lost their lives during the evacuation.
(above The number of times the evacuees across 12 municipalities surrounding Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear power plant had to be relocated. Percentage breakdown in 6 bands--- once to six times or more. Ex. Abount 30% of residents in Namie town (top) relocated 6 times or more while 10 % relocated two times or less by March 2012. NAIIC Report 4.2.2-4)

People in the areas between 20 and 30 km range who had been ordered to stay indoors were soon isolated and faced with shortage of food and water, because the order itself stopped all access from outside.  The radioactivity in some of those areas were actually quite high but the government did not share such data with the locals.  There was also no guidance to take iodine agent for the protection of thyroid from radiation exposure.

It was on March 25 that residents in 20 to 30 km zone were told to evacuate.  On April 22, the national government finally designated those areas as “planned evacuation areas,” mandating that the remaining residents, mostly farmers, should leave the area by the end of May.  Eventually in July 2011, the government set up a barricade and proclaimed the area “off-limits.”  The NAIIC report says, “Some residents were evacuated to high dose areas, Some people evacuated to areas with high levels of radiation and were then neglected .  Insufficient evacuation planning led to many residents receiving unnecessary radiation exposure.”  * (NAIIC report, p19)

(left: Figure in “Fukkono-Ayumi” by Fukushima prefecture”
Areas are zoned by annual dose levels,
Orange: 20mSv< off limit in principle
Yellow: 1.0mSv<20mSv “safe”
Green: 1.0mSv>)

<Where to Go>
As of August 2012, of the 160,000 evacuees in Fukushima, 60,000 had fled out of the prefecture and the remaining 100,000, have taken refuge within the prefecture.  Practically speaking, Fukushima is currently divided into two zones; one designated “off-limits” and from which residents have been ordered to evacuate, and the other where radiation level is under 20mSv annually and determined “safe” by the national as well as local government.  But people are still worried with this 20mSv criterion and some leave voluntarily, since it is extremely high compared to the existing domestic standard.  For example, the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law stipulates 1mSv/year as the permissible limit for the general population.  For those who work in an X-ray lab, the limit is 5.2mSv per year but children under the age of 18 are prohibited to work in such an environment.  The NAIIC Report warns, “there is no widely accepted threshold for long-term radiation damage caused by low doses.  The impact of radiation on health may vary from one person to another depending on age, sensitivity to radiation and other factors, some unknown.”  Even under these conditions, for the residents to move out and restart their life in a foreign environment is a difficult choice.  According to a survey co-organized by two NGOs in the summer of 2011, the majority of respondents answered that they were unable to evacuate because of economic unforeseeableness.  *(Hinan no Kenri Kakuritsu no Tameni, http://www.foejapan.org/climate/library/book_hinankenri.html)

(abovet: Survey by FoE Japan and Citizens Against the       Fukushima Aging Nuclear Power Plants, , July 25, 2011)

 Some people leave, especially when they have small children.  Yet, they are often looked upon with a frown, if not openly criticized because evacuation is taken as abandoning the community. Moreover, in many cases only the mother and children evacuate while the father remain in Fukushima because of his job.  Thus, different opinions toward radiation break up families and communities in Fukushima even today both physically as well as emotionally.  Those mothers’ fear is often brushed aside as having no “scientific bases,” citing that epidemiological research does not show significant correlation between the relative cancer risk and doses of 100 mGy or less.  Epidemiology or probability argument, however, does not ease mothers’ fear.  Unless her child is examined individually, her fear would not be eliminated as the NAIIC report suggests that health impact on individuals varies from one to another.  For instance, a professor of radiotherapeutics called for an examination based on the personalized medicine perspective to determine individual risk of cancer to address the fear of citizens.  That is to examine his/her gene level to find out the onset of cancer.  The professor, Dr.Tatsuhiko Kodama, was asked for professional advice on July 27, 2011 at the Welfare and Labor Committee of the House of Representatives but unfortunately his advice has not been heard yet.  At least, we know that weary mothers’ claim can be scientifically addressed if not epidemiologically.

(Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant after the accident)

 <Being Scientific?>
As we have seen contrasting attitudes among the scientists, let us go back and remind ourselves how a scientific argument is constructed.  Any scientific logic determines a scope within which to establish a coherency upon relevant facts and findings.  Then, we should recognize that it is essentially limited in nature, in other words, certain phenomena and conditions are judged beyond the scope for coherency’s sake.  We recall that Tokyo Electric Power Company ignored the possibility of AC power loss, which in fact, happened when its electric transmission tower fell by the jolt of the earthquake and stopped feeding electricity to the entire plant.  They also brushed aside the possibility of DC power failure of the seawater pumps, which were designed to send cooling water in case of emergency.  Now they excuse themselves that these circumstances had been beyond their expectations but they cannot deny the fact that they had put such conditions out of their scope when discussing the plant system “scientifically.”  A number of other possibilities/conditions had been excluded from their scope of nuclear power generation design, which they claim to be “secure and safe.” 
Then, if someone denounces an arguement as “poor in scientific bases,” we should ask in return what is the scope of his/her arguemnt.  “Isn’t your arguement poor in conditions to discuss?”

<Right to Evacuate and NGOs>
In order to help the troubled evacuees and those who hesitate to evacuate, NGOs and lawyers have started a movement to help establish the right to evacuate, which has its origin in Chernobyl legislations following the 1986 nuclear accident and has been effective in supporting the survivors over the past 26 years.  It consists of three rights; right to know the risks, right to receive due compensation, and right to be supported by the administration.  The Japanese lawyers claim these rights as covered by the Constitution of Japan which guarntees its citizens a right to lead a minimum level of healthy and cultured life, and to pursue happiness.  Thanks to this movement, the government announced a guideline providing compensation to those who had evacuated voluntarily from, as well as those who have chosen to stay in, the “safe” zone for the first time at the end of 2011.  This is a step forward in admitting the legitimacy of voluntary evacuation.

 People in Fukushima have suffered from radiation, evacuation, and misunderstanding arising thereof.  What we need to do first is to know the truth.  As the truth is often hidden, sometimes intentionally, we may have to make efforts to know the truth.  Secondly, it is necessary to believe that justice is on our side.  Confidence is important to fight back.  If we cannot do these by ourselves, networking is there to help.  The above-mentioned lawyers educate the general Japanese as well as those weary mothers that the current standard (20mSv/y) in Fukushima is not safe and that flight to obtain healthy living is a legitimate human right.

There are a number of movements taking place in this country.  People became aware that nuclear power generation is incompatible with the living and they are beginning to stand up for human rights.  Women are quick to see its threat as they often take care of children, the or the weak; one and only unique being.  Farmers know what is irretrievable because they raise livestocks and toil the land.  Once their land is damaged, they have learned, it is difficult, if not impossible, to recover.  Those physical laborers who work themselves to the bone on-site of the Fukushima Daiichi know the fragility of life very well.  Likewise, due respect to the uniqueness of human beings should also be paid by the government, the academia and the industry in whatever decision they may make.

This is an original text written in English by Nobuko Akita

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