JAPAN | Fukushima reactions to radioactive ‘hot spot’ evacuation recommendation mixed

Posted on June 17, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | June 17, 2011

Reaction has been mixed in Fukushima Prefecture to a new government recommendation that people in certain locations outside the Fukushima nuclear crisis exclusion zone evacuate if possible due to high levels of radiation, with some saying it came too late while others hail its flexibility.

The new policy unveiled on June 16 designates certain locations “hot spots,” where the annual radiation doses could exceed 20 millisieverts, as areas for recommended evacuation. Since the new policy is nonbinding, those who want to continue to live in their current residences can do so, while others who wish to move out will be provided with government support on a household basis.

“I appreciate that the government will assist us to evacuate, but why now? Isn’t it too late?” said a 29-year-old mother of 5-year-old and 3-year-old girls in Date, Fukushima Prefecture.

It is estimated that a number of hot spots could emerge in the Kamioguni district of Ryozenmachi in the city of Date, and those locations are subject to the evacuation recommendation under the government’s new policy. There are currently 180 households in the Kamioguni district.

The woman had already decided to voluntarily evacuate to her parents’ home in the city of Fukushima before the government announcement. Her parents-in-law, whom she is living with, are farmers, but she has never let her children eat their harvests. Since she is six months pregnant, she cannot take off her mask outside.

“The central and the municipal governments didn’t say anything. I’d decided to evacuate myself, but I hope the government will also support those who want to voluntarily evacuate from areas not designated for recommended evacuation in moving out,” she said.

The NNSA hazard map released by the U.S. federal government. The Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is marked by a white dot at right.

The NNSA hazard map released by the U.S. federal government. The Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is marked by a white dot at right.

Kikuko Saito, a 64-year-old woman in the same district, has opted to stay put. “My husband and I will stay here while letting our son and grandchild evacuate,” she said.

In one area of the district, many of the residents are elderly people, with half of them living by themselves. A 71-year-old woman who is living alone and growing vegetables said, “I have misgivings, but I’d prefer to stay here as the evacuation recommendation isn’t binding.”

Despite residents’ mixed feelings, Date Mayor Shoji Nishida endorsed the government’s policy at a press conference on June 16, saying, “Every household has its own circumstances. It’s a realistic response.”

Part of the Fukushima Prefecture city of Minamisoma has also been designated for recommended evacuation.

An 86-year-old man living in the Haramachi district of Minamisoma is reluctant to move out. He was once evacuated following the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake but returned to his home after only one night as he felt uncomfortable at the shelter.

“I was born and bred here, so I’d rather not leave,” he said.

His two daughters have evacuated to the city of Fukushima and to Tokyo. They’ve asked him to move in with one of them, but he is not convinced. “I don’t have enough physical strength to live in a strange place. Besides, no one knows when I’ll be able to come back here again,” he said.

Minamisoma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai explained the city’s response to the central government’s policy.

“Some residents in the Ohara district have voiced their concerns. I’d like to take a steady response based on detailed monitoring surveys, to dispel residents’ uncertainty,” he said.

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