Monday 11 June 2012

One Year 3 Months On

Hi everybody,
It's one year and three months since the accident. Life here is back to normal but lots of big issues remain unresolved.

On Friday evening the Prime Minister addressed the nation and explained why he'd decided to restart the Oi plant on the Japan Sea coast in Fukui: Osaka faces a 15% electricity shortage this summer so vulnerable people may die and businesses already suffering from the appreciation of the yen may move abroad; and for reasons of national security more imports of oil and LNG will increase our dependence on the volatile Middle East. Sound reasoning I'm sure but that guy really does lack charisma. The way he was talking you'd think Fukushima had never happened. 

Talks continue on the reorganisation of the areas around Fukushima Daiichi. The government wants to abolish the local authority boundaries and reorganize according to contamination levels. So there would be areas over 50 mSv/yr which would be 'difficult to return to' (kinan konnan kuiki 帰還困難区域), areas of 20 to 50 mSv/yr where residence would be restricted  (kyoju seigen kuiki 居住制限区域), and areas below 20 mSv/yr which in time would have restrictions removed (hinan shiji kaijo junbi kuiki 避難指示解除準備区域). Compensation for land, property and household goods would be attributed accordingly. Iidate-mura, north-west of the reactor is to be divided into 3 such areas and plans seem to be moving towards a settlement next month but the other authorities, nearer the plant, are digging their heels in. You could be cynical and say they're only trying to protect their jobs on the council but they maintain that all residents in the same district should get equal compensation.

Currently 85,900 people are evacuated. New government estimates forecast that about a third, 27,500 people, will not be able to return in five years time and they will be fully compensated. Even in 20 years time, 32% of residents of Okuma-machi (where Fukushima Daiichi is) and 18% of those in neighbouring Futaba-machi will not be able to go back.

The evacuees have been receiving 100,000 yen per head per month in compensation for 'stress' but this runs out in August. So far TEPCO has promised to continue payments for those under 15.

Parliamentary debate on the the long-awaited bill to set up a new safety watchdog for the nuclear industry started last week. A new Standards Agency (Kiseicho 規制庁) to replace the much maligned Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (Hoanin 保安院) was supposed to be up and running in April. The government plan is to have the new body under the Ministry of the Environment, with the PM having the final say. The opposition are calling for a more independent commission, something like the Monopolies Commission and want politicians out of it. Already it seems the original bill is being watered down.

Here it's one of the best seasons of the year. The rice fields are flooded, the water reflecting the colours of the sky, and the rice seedlings pricked out in thin lines. The trees and undergrowth in the hills are lush and green. But orders in the box factory, though slightly above last year, are well below pre-disaster levels. Those businesses not part of the recovery boom, are struggling.

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