Fukushima evacuees face dilemma over return to former no-entry zone

December 13, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

TAMURA, Fukushima Prefecture--Kiyokazu Watanabe, his wife and his mother have returned to their home in an eastern strip of this city near the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, determined to end their lives as nuclear evacuees.

“Nothing is sweeter than being in my home,” Watanabe, 66, said.

His son’s family, however, has no plans to return to the same Miyakoji district area even after it becomes the first Fukushima evacuation zone to have that designation lifted in spring next year. The family’s fear of radiation is behind the decision.

Residents of the eastern strip of Miyakoji are currently struggling to decide whether to return to their homes within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The area was initially listed as a no-entry zone, but it is now designated as a “zone being prepared for the lifting of the evacuation order.”

Residents of the zone have been allowed to stay in their homes for more than a month to prepare for their eventual return.

As of Dec. 1, however, only 30 of the 117 households from the area were staying in their homes for an extended period.

Radiation levels are not the only factors the evacuees must consider in deciding whether to return to Miyakoji.

Residents of evacuation zones are receiving monthly damages of 100,000 yen ($973) each. The government’s Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation on Dec. 9 presented a draft guideline to end the payments one year after the evacuation order is lifted.

Watanabe, his 61-year-old wife and his 89-year-old mother used to live as evacuees in an apartment house elsewhere in Tamura. They returned to their home in Miyakoji in August.

Watanabe, who is now engaged in radioactive cleanup work, said he has misgivings about his finances but is happy that evacuation zone designation will be lifted.

“I want to get the feeling that things are moving forward,” he said.

Annual airborne radiation doses remain above 1 millisievert in the mountainous terrain around Watanabe’s home, part of a hamlet of about 10 farming families, even after the central government’s decontamination work was completed in June.

Watanabe’s son and his family will remain in a leased shelter in central Tamura.

Likewise, Seisaku Yoshida, a 65-year-old farmer from Watanabe’s hamlet, said he will stay in his shelter in Tamura after the designation is lifted. But he is preparing to plant rice next spring in a paddy close to his home.

Yoshida decided to stay near the family of his son, who has given up on returning to Miyakoji, and remain at his home only during busy farming seasons.

Yoshida’s unattended house, however, has been damaged by rats and mold, creating a dilemma for the farmer. But he wonders if it is worthwhile to spend large sums of money to repair a house that his son’s family will not return to.

A contractor told Yoshida that repairs would cost nearly 5 million yen.

“Perhaps I would be happier if I kept the repairs to a minimum and used the money to live with my grandson and his family,” he said.

The Asahi Shimbun in October conducted a survey of the 117 households in the eastern strip of the Miyakoji district, and received responses from 60.

Sixteen said they would return to their homes if the evacuation order was lifted, while seven said they would not do so. Twenty-four households said they would not return now but would do so eventually. The remaining 13 were undecided.

The 37 households with no clear-cut conclusion were asked to give a maximum of three conditions for their return. The most common answer was “stabilization of the situation at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant,” chosen by 29 households, followed by “further reductions in radiation levels,” picked by 26 households.

(This article was written by Keisuke Sato and Shinichi Fujiwara.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Seisaku Yoshida, center, shares a meal with grandson Seishiro, left, and other family members at his shelter in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture. (Shinichi Fujiwara)

Seisaku Yoshida, center, shares a meal with grandson Seishiro, left, and other family members at his shelter in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture. (Shinichi Fujiwara)

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  • Seisaku Yoshida, center, shares a meal with grandson Seishiro, left, and other family members at his shelter in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture. (Shinichi Fujiwara)
  • The Asahi Shimbun

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