Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Interesting photo story at Japan Focus: "Inside Fukushima's Potemkin Village: Naraha"
Text by David McNeill and Androniki Christodoulou. Photos by Androniki Christodoulou.
Twice a year, journalists are taken on guided tours of the ruined Daiichi nuclear plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO). The drive there from the southern outskirts of the 20-kilometer exclusion zone imposed in 2011 took them through the nearly empty towns of Hirono, Naraha, Tomioka, Okuma and Futaba. The state of neglect could be measured by the encroachment of weeds and wild animals, and the slow decrepitude of housing and infrastructure.
Despite the decline and the still urgent beeping of Geiger counters nearer the plant, there has never been any official talk of abandoning the area. Instead, it was divided up into three zones with awkward euphemisms to suggest just the opposite: communities with radiation of 20 millisieverts (mSv) or less (the typical worldwide limit for workers in nuclear plants) are “being prepared for lifting of evacuation order;” 20-50 mSv are “no-residence zones;” the most heavily contaminated (50mSv) are “difficult-to-return.”
A vast public-works project was started three years ago to decontaminate an area roughly half the size of Rhode Island, at an estimated cost of $50 billion. Compensation by TEPCO was explicitly linked to the possibility that many of the 160,000 nuclear refugees would return, and any hint otherwise was controversial: When new trade and industry minister Hachiro Yoshio called the abandoned communities “towns of death” in September 2011, he was forced to quit a week later.
In September 2015, Naraha, 15km south of the plant, became the first town in Fukushima Prefecture to completely lift the evacuation order imposed after the Daiichi plant's triple meltdown. At a ceremony to mark the town’s reopening, Mayor Matsumoto Yukiei declared the nightmare that had descended nearly five years ago officially over. “The clock that stopped has now begun to tick”, he said. Explaining the decision, Takagi Yosuke, state minister of economy, trade and industry, said contamination was “not dangerous enough to continue forcing evacuation on residents who want to return home.”
That explanation somewhat inverts reality. A Reconstruction Agency survey conducted last year of evacuees from Okuma, Tomioka, Futaba and the town of Namie, northwest of the plant, found that just one-fifth wanted to go back to their homes. Thousands of refugees have reluctantly made lives elsewhere and fear that their nuclear compensation, amounting to a monthly stipend of 100,000 yen ($837), will be terminated if they refuse to go back to areas declared safe. Many feel they’re being pushed back, not invited.
Read the whole story and see all the photos.
David McNeill and Androniki Christodoulou, "Inside Fukushima's Potemkin Village: Naraha", The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue 41, No. 1, October 19, 2015.