Ending The Year, Disaster Far From Over For Evacuees

If you ask anyone in Japan their thoughts on 2011 they will tell you something akin to it having been a very tough year. The government in Tokyo and TEPCO have declared the disaster over. Western media has been more than happy to repeat this claim with gusto. For those in the Tohoku region of Japan the disaster is far from over. Many still remain in temporary housing. Everyone seems to be in some manner of limbo. Waiting for compensation from TEPCO, waiting to hear if their property will be habitable any time soon or trying to pick up the pieces and move on with life.

A wife decided she really needed her husband and a farmer planted seaweed in Iwate not knowing what the next day holds. The government has set new zoning for contaminated areas where 20 mSv is a “tolerable” level even though that is the top of the ICRP emergency level. The indecision and vague plans of the government leave people not knowing if they will be compensated. They also face the possibility that the government may pressure them to move home to a place that the owners do not consider safe, even if the government declares it so. All government decontamination efforts have now been suspended until spring.

For the people impacted by the disaster this is far from over, resolved or normal.

David Slater (PhD) of Sophia University in Tokyo met with some people living in temporary housing, below is his report:

On December 16, Prime Minister Noda reported that the nuclear situation has been ‘resolved’ (shusoku ni itatta).
See here for the Japan Times editorial on the “cold shutdown” that is planned, itself a somewhat controversial plan.

This term ‘shusoku’ quickly circulated through Tohoku and esp. Fukushima, I am told, pointing to the irony between the smooth “road map” made by the government and Tepco, and the still quite dire situation of those who have been forced into temporary housing, now and into the future.

When you first go into a temporary housing complex it usually takes a while to get to know who everyone is, and esp. for them to get to know you, before more frank opinions are offered. The other day I walked into a temporary housing complex I had never been into before, but there was no such reserve. Three older members of a farm family let loose. Here is a list of not “resolved” issues that were mentioned in about the first 3 minutes of talk.

1. That there were still so many people in temporary housing who did not know when they could go back, if they could ever go back. (2.5 years is the length of time one is supposed to be allowed to live in the temporary housing; the more probably date is at least 5 years because enough construction is possible to accommodate current residents.).

2. That they do not know what will happen with their land, if the government would buy it, for how much; and if not, how could they sell it.

3. That if some plan requires them to move out of the radiated zone, where will they find new land in this mountainous areas. (In this point, the problems of those who have been forced to move out of their tsunami-destroyed homes is quite similar.)

4. That most still have no money from Tepco (or Toden, Tohoku Denryoku, as they call it).

5. That even the “simplified” Tepco application is to hard for anyone in their temporary housing complex to read (except one retired math teacher).

6. That there are no jobs, even the small manual and part-time jobs many of them used to do. Of course, many want to be doing something, like work, but their biggest concern is that they cannot pay school fees for their children and grandchildren, which even for regular public school can add up, just on the small benefits they were getting.

7. That they still did not know if the produce from Fukushima is safe; some people are worried that they should not eat it, others, that they cannot sell it.

Echoing a split between Tokyo and Tohoku, that seems to be getting bigger, rather than smaller, one said, “It might be “resolved” for you in Tokyo, because now you think you are safe. But not for us. Don’t say it is resolved when you are talking to us.”

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