JAPAN | Residents in radiation hotspots anxious about evacuating as deadline for decision looms

Posted on July 8, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | 8 July 2011

Teachers see children onto a bus after the end of lessons at Oguni Elementary School in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, on June 30. The school has instructed children to wear masks, hats and long sleeves to protect them from radioactive materials. (Mainichi)

Teachers see children onto a bus after the end of lessons at Oguni Elementary School in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, on June 30. The school has instructed children to wear masks, hats and long sleeves to protect them from radioactive materials. (Mainichi)

FUKUSHIMA — Residents in areas where radiation hotspots have been detected are voicing worries that their communities will be split up, as the deadline for residents to decide whether or not to evacuate approaches.

Over one week has passed since 113 households in four areas of the Fukushima Prefecture city of Date have been placed under special evacuation recommendations. Residents in these hotspots must decide for themselves whether or not to evacuate by July 8, but the level of support they will receive if they leave remains unclear.

Among the households to receive evacuation recommendations are 32 in the Kamioguni area of Date’s Ryozenmachi district, and 54 in the Shimooguni area. Oguni Elementary School, which students in these two areas attend, has a total roll of just 57 children, of which 20 are in households subject to evacuation recommendations.

At a local information session on the recommendation designation, residents voiced concerns about the remaining students.

“Will the children who are left behind have to go to school along routes where there are high amounts of radiation?” one resident asked.

The school’s 53-year-old principal said the district would have to work out measures such as using buses and taxis to get children to school. Residents in both regions have decided to submit requests to the central and Date municipal governments to have the whole regions placed under evacuation recommendations, rather than restricting recommendations to specific households.

In the Aiyoshi area of Date’s Tsukidate district, the home of 83-year-old farmer Satsu Takahashi was placed under a special evacuation recommendation. The area is just two kilometers away from the edge of the village of Iitate, which was designated a “planned evacuation zone” and is now almost completely empty.

Workers measure the ground near a rain water outlet in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on June 12. (Mainichi)

Workers measure the ground near a rain water outlet in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on June 12. (Mainichi)

“I was feeling sorry for the people in Iitate, but I never thought that this would happen to me,” Takahashi said. Thinking there would be no evacuation orders, Takahashi only recently planted a crop of kidney beans.

By selling the crop, Takahashi would get about 300,000 yen, but evacuating would leave the 83-year-old empty-handed. Residents of Iitate can receive provisional compensation payments from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant behind the crisis, but it remains unclear whether residents in Date will get anything if they evacuate.

“I’m worried about whether or not to evacuate,” Takahashi said. “We’re one rank below Iitate and I wonder how compensation will work out.”

Besides the rent for the places that residents who evacuate will move into, financial support measures for residents have been left all but blank. The government’s dispute reconciliation committee for nuclear damage compensation will establish interim guidelines for compensation over the nuclear crisis at the end of this month, but measures for households under special evacuation recommendations in radiation hotspots have been left unaddressed.

The government’s headquarters on local nuclear disaster countermeasures has already indicated that residents whose households are under special evacuation recommendations will not receive the same level of support as those in evacuation zones.

At a meeting to explain the situation to residents, the Date Municipal Government said that evacuees would be provided free rent wherever they moved to, but the issue of damages for the nuclear disaster had not been settled.

“We have absolutely no idea how many households will apply to evacuate,” a city official said. “The designations came as a snap decision. Unless the situation is quickly reviewed, it will cause a lot of confusion locally.”

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