The pace of progress in rebuilding communities devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami has been frustratingly slow. Housing reconstruction work has made little headway, and many people in disaster-hit areas are still eking out a precarious livelihood. Local industries are struggling to get back on their feet.
Nearly 300,000 people are still living as evacuees in temporary housing facilities or other places away from their homes.
For residents in Fukushima Prefecture, who have been directly affected by the nuclear disaster, their future prospects remain murky. Some 150,000 local residents are living as evacuees at locations within or outside the prefecture.
Work is nearing completion on classifying the 11 municipalities covered by the central government’s evacuation order into three categories of areas according to radiation levels. With regard to “areas being prepared for the lifting of the evacuation order” due to low levels of radiation, the day is approaching when local residents will be allowed to return to their homes.
But in most other areas, the decontamination work that must be done before local residents can return to their homes has not been carried out as fast as expected. Compensation paid to victims of the nuclear accident by Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, has been criticized by many evacuees as insufficient for rebuilding their livelihoods.
In their campaigns for the July 21 Upper House election, all parties are emphasizing their commitment to accelerating the reconstruction process and regenerating Fukushima. We urge them to offer specific ideas about how they intend to improve which of the recovery and reconstruction measures that have been taken so far.
In tackling the challenge of making it possible for evacuees to return to their homes, it is vital to confront the complicated reality.
The government, which has been promoting nuclear power generation as a national policy, should, at the very least, try its best to satisfy the wishes of evacuees to live in their hometowns again.
But there are many evacuees who have little hope for or intention of returning to their old communities. They include residents of areas where high levels of radiation make it impossible to know when they can return to their hometowns, as well as families with small children. A survey of Fukushima evacuees carried out in fiscal 2012 found that about 20 to 40 percent of residents of individual municipalities had no intention of returning to their communities.
The government should come up with policy steps to support such people so they can start afresh in locations away from their homes. There seems to be a need to create a new support system for evacuees that is quite separate from the compensation program. Measures should be taken to help them rebuild their lives according to their circumstances and wishes.
The current framework for support is based on the assumption that the costs of compensation and decontamination are borne entirely by TEPCO. Under this framework, there can be no significant progress in the efforts to rebuild damaged areas and support evacuees.
If the evacuation order is lifted, calls will inevitably arise for the termination of the monthly consolation payments of 100,000 yen (about $1,000) to evacuees.
Some members of a government panel of experts tasked with determining criteria for compensation have recommended that separate financial help for evacuees should be considered. They argue that the scope of people eligible for compensation is limited because the money is paid only to compensate for damage apparently caused by the nuclear accident.
It is time to start working out a new support system financed by taxpayer money.
The government will soon release a report on the progress to date in decontamination work. The delay in the cleanup process means that a major review of the plan is unavoidable. The government should also announce its forecasts about expected declines in radiation levels.
Another survey of evacuees will shortly be carried out. Based on the results of the survey and the lessons learned since the disaster, the government needs to advance its support measures to a new stage.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 18
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