Nuclear evacuees from the Fukushima Prefecture town of Naraha have protested over a government official’s comment that he thinks the safety of the town’s drinking water is “a psychological issue.”
The whole town was designated as a no-entry zone after the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster, but is set to have its evacuation order lifted on Sept. 5, as announced by Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yosuke Takagi on July 6 when he visited the town. After the announcement, he held a press conference where, in response to a reporter’s question he pointed out that radioactive cesium amounts in Naraha tap water are below the detectable level, and said, “People differ in how they think about radiation. I think whether you think (the water source is) safe or not is a psychological issue.”
There is deep-rooted concern among town residents after sampling in July last year by the Ministry of the Environment found up to 18,700 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram of soil at the bottom of the reservoir at the Kido Dam. That reservoir is the source of tap water for the town.
After Takagi’s comment, a Naraha resident in his 60s who has already finished reconstructing his house in preparation for returning to the town said, “That comment makes me lose my desire to go back. Does he intend to say it’s people’s own fault (that they feel unsafe)?”
Another resident in her 50s said, “If he (vice-economy minister Takagi) could understand the feeling of wanting to return to one’s hometown, he would not have said such a thing.”
Naraha will be the third no-go zone to have its evacuation order rescinded, after the withdrawal of one for the Miyakoji district of the city of Tamura in April last year, followed by the eastern part of the village of Kawamura in October. It will be the first of the seven municipalities in the prefecture where all residents had been ordered to evacuate to have the order lifted.
At first, the government was aiming to have Naraha’s order lifted in early August, but after criticism that there were not enough measures in place to help residents live there, the government delayed the lifting of the evacuation order by around a month to prepare additional measures such as increasing the number of free buses.
“We are reminded once again that the government can’t be trusted,” said Naraha resident Noboru Endo, 43, who is living in the western Tokyo suburb of Musashino as an evacuee with his 9-year-old son Shota. He feels that the national government is not listening to the voices of those calling for the safety and ease of mind of Naraha residents.
Endo’s wife Katsuko, 40, stayed behind in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture for her job, but Endo, who worked as a cook in Naraha, decided to evacuate with Shota, a kindergartener at the time of the disaster, for the sake of his son’s health.
These days, Shota is enjoying school in Musashino. He has made many friends there and says he doesn’t want to leave. With over four years having passed since the nuclear disaster, life as evacuees is changing into the norm for this family.
Every day, however, Endo wants more to return to his hometown and live there with his family. There was a briefing in late June held in Tokyo by the national government for Naraha residents ahead of the scheduled lifting of the evacuation order. Endo brought Shota with him to let him know about the current situation in Naraha and so he wouldn’t forget about going back to their hometown.
However, Endo is dissatisfied with the national government not showing any concrete measures for what it will do about the high levels of radioactive cesium at the bottom of the reservoir.
“Even if the government tells us our tap water is safe, how can we relax? If my generation, who have children, do not return, my hometown will not recover. That’s why I want to return, and I want the government to do everything it can to prepare a safe living environment there,” Endo says.