Wednesday 14 November 2012

One Year Eight Months On

Hi folks
You'd think people would be saying 'about a year and a half ago' but, no, the date, the 11th of every month is marked solemnly and everyone knows that it is one year and precisely eight months since the disaster. People mark the day with prayers and we're told on the news that the search parties have been out again. There are still 2,700 people missing in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. Again, nothing found and a bit pointless after all this time but it's important to be seen not to give up looking.

Signs of progress in two areas this last month. First, progress on the interim storage for waste which must be one of the most urgent issues, and secondly Tepco - not before time - has decided to move its recovery headquarters up here.

First, the vital question of the interim storage facility. Back in August the Environment Ministry nominated, out of the blue, twelve sites along the coast Nuclear Waste (2)  There was an outcry, not so much about the proposal itself - everyone knows this faciltiy has to go somewhere - but about the way it was done. No consultation with residents beforehand. Previous to that, the government had announced that compensation and repatriation would be carried out according to levels of airborne radiation. Pity then the people in Naraha, where levels are low, who had begun to plan going home but who suddenly find that the biggest dump is to be on their doorstep! Surely it's the wrong way round. First, these big issues should be settled. And only then should villages and towns be deciding if and when to return. (A similar issue incidentally concerns the 'buffer zone' round Fukushima Daiichi. We hear there is to be one, but no one yet has any idea how big it will be. Several hundred metres, or several kilometres?)

Anyway, the ministry wants to carry out further surveys and has been carrying out consultations with residents to smooth the way. Three months on and it seems that the basic plan will be completed by the end of this month and work for the surveys go out to tender.

A similar thing happened in neighbouring Tochigi prefecture where the government, without warning, told the mayor of Yaita that radioactive sludge from Tochigi incinerators was to be dumped in national forest in his area. I can't understand why they do it this way. This is the country of nemawashi or concensus and often in a company by the time a decision is taken you're fed up of hearing about it, it's taken so long to get there. But it seems that central bureaucrats can descend on local authorities like a shogun in a period drama. Consultation with local residents - who need to be reassured that the facilities will be safe - is the only way forward and a lot needs to be learned.

Maybe Tepco is beginning to learn that lesson. It announced that it would increase staff dealing with compensation and decontamination and set up a  'Fukushima Recovery Head Office' here in Fukushima with a vice-president in charge. The chairman of Tepco, Mr Shimokobe, has also announced that all Tepco staff will spend a stint in Fukushima. He has his heart in the right place (he's even working unpaid) but people are sceptical here. There is so much resentment about getting us in this mess in the first place, their high handedness, and the long delays over compensation and decontamination. We reserve judgement.

Finally, figures announced on the 1st of the month show a fall, for the first time, in the number of evacuees. There are still roughly 100,000 people in Fukushima and 60,000 in other parts of Japan. Of this 60,000 about half evacuated voluntarily and it is this number which is falling. The reality is that people have just got to the end of their tether, financially and mentally, and are drifting back. Still, it's not a bad place to live and families being reunited must be a good thing.
Love to you all

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