The video hit the Web last week, and is now well-known. In the clip (above), shot at a meeting held July 19, Fukushima citizens seeking support for relocation from high-radiation areas ask government representatives whether the people of Fukushima have the right to live a healthy life free of radiation exposure. A Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters official responds simply, “I don’t know if they have that right.” The audience is outraged. When the citizens’ group requests that a sample of children’s urine be tested for radiation, the government reps refuse. The officials’ response seems remarkably cold and callous.
Here, Kazumasa Aoki of Citizens Against Fukushima’s Aging Nuclear Power Plants (Fukuro-no-Kai) provides some backstory to the video — the purpose of the meeting, the negotiation points, and details of the government response.
23 July 2011
Wanted: The Right to Relocate
Growing Radiation Exposure and the July 19 Citizen-Government Talks in Fukushima 
The Escalating Human Costs of Contamination and Exposure
According to media reports, between April and June, the number of suicides in Fukushima Prefecture jumped by 20% compared with the same three-month period a year earlier. In Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, where earthquake-related damage was extensive, that figure actually declined.
In Fukushima prefecture’s Iitate village, a 102-year old man killed himself; in Minami Soma city, a 93-year old woman committed suicide, saying in a note she left behind, “We elderly hold others back. I’m taking shelter in a grave.” The head priest of a temple in Miharu township in western Koriyama city said that between April and June, he preformed funerals for six suicides among his 800 parishioners.
Media reports say that in the three weeks after the March 11 disaster before the start of the school year in April, 12,000 students relocated to new schools, and that this summer more that 1,000 additional children are expected to do likewise. The alarming spread of radioactive contamination has sparked a quiet migration out of the prefecture, and the central and prefectural authorities are locked in a difficult to discern but intensifying struggle over how to contain this exodus.
A woman in Fukushima city who had her two children, a preschooler and a middle-school student, submit urine samples for radiation testing, said she subsequently sent them alone to live with relatives in Okinawa. It was a heart-wrenching decision, she said. She and her husband are still struggling to pay off a mortgage on a suburban home they bought seven years ago and could not afford to leave their jobs. She plans to see her children once every two months. A backyard garden they had planted was ruined by radioactivity and is now overgrown with weeds. The children were dead-set against moving to a new school district, but when they got the results of the urine analysis, they agreed to go, much to her relief.
In late April, during a preparatory meeting for the formation of the Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation, a teacher sitting out of range of a camera recording the session made the following confession: “I have the children play outside. I’m not able to protect the children at school. I apologize.” At the July 19 Citizen-Government Talks in Fukushima, the same teacher, in the presence of the media, said openly: “I informed my students of the dangers of radioactivity, whereupon the local board of education warned me not to frighten the children. So I quit my job. Now I’m building a Fukushima network in Hokkaido to support evacuees.” Not surprisingly, the teacher, 48, has a mortgage. He hasn’t been able to sell his home or his land. There are no buyers.
During the July 19 negotiations, a woman in tears appealed to an official from the national government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters in Fukushima: “You may think that if we’re so concerned about safety, why don’t we have our children stay inside and find something to amuse themselves there. But let me tell you, it’s absolutely necessary for children to be outdoors picking flowers, chasing insects, and playing in the dirt. I don’t want my kids to live in a place where they can’t lead normal lives. You may say it’s simply a question of probability, but no parent is going to play Russian roulette with their children’s health. I decided to take my kids and leave the prefecture. We have a mortgage. My husband says he is resigned to a double existence and will remain in Fukushima in order to earn a living. He says if he dies, his life insurance can cover the balance on the loan.”
This is the reality we face in Fukushima. The July 19 Citizen-Government Talks in Fukushima were the first negotiations between concerned citizens and government authorities to be held in the prefecture. Some 130 local residents participated. The talks were sponsored by six citizen’s groups: Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation, Citizens Against Fukushima’s Aging Nuclear Power Plants (Fukuro-no-Kai), Green Action, Greenpeace Japan, FoE Japan, and Osaka Citizens Against the Mihama, Oi and Takahama Nuclear Power Plants. The negotiations were a sequel to the first round of talks held on June 30 in Tokyo with the national government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters. The July 19 meeting was convened to allow the government to respond to the questions we had raised in June. On the eve of the talks, however, the Emergency Headquarters notified us that it would not attend. We appealed to Upper House Diet member Mizuho Fukushima, and through her good offices, we were able to convince the government to participate.
“If you want to leave, go ahead, but an annual exposure of under 20 milliSieverts is safe. The government’s policy is to have people remain where they are.”
— Akira Sato, Director of the national government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters in Fukushima
The key demand on our July 19 agenda was the right to relocate. We asked the government to recognize “optional evacuation” as a fundamental freedom and compensate residents who decide to leave the prefecture temporarily or permanently. This demand reflects the increasingly intolerable conditions faced by Fukushima residents, as described above.
At start of the talks, we presented a petition, signed by 36,287 people, calling on the government “to facilitate temporary or long-term relocation and enforce the legal radiation standard of 1 millisievert (mSv) per year.” As the meeting got underway, Seiichi Nakate, spokesperson for Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation, set the tone for session by asking why Fukushima alone has a higher radiation limit than other prefectures. “This is a unique opportunity. To ensure a fruitful discussion, I would like to reconfirm the following point. Fukushima residents, just like those of other prefectures, have the right to a healthy environment as free from radiation as possible. I would like to confirm whether we are in agreement on this fundamental point.”
In response, Akira Sato, Director of the government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters in Fukushima, said simply, “The government has done as much as it can to reduce radiation exposure.” Nakate pressed the issue. “We aren’t telling you to reinstate an annual radiation limit of 1 millisievert right this minute. All we are asking is whether or not we have the right to live with the same low level exposure as residents of other prefectures.” Sato replied, “That’s all I’m able to say.”
Subsequent questioning revealed that Director Sato’s answers were carefully tailored to the official policy line. Nakate proceeded to explain the notion of “optional evacuation” and its concrete policy proposal, group-based, or “satellite” evacuation—the collective relocation of school and community groups. When urged to comment on Nakate’s presentation, Sato gave the following reply.
“You are perfectly welcome to relocate at your own discretion. In areas that the government has designated as safe, however, it is our policy to encourage people to remain where they are without using coercion.” Sato, in effect, was declaring that if you want to leave, go ahead; that’s your business. But if you move to an area outside the officially designated evacuation zone, the government will not assume financial or any other responsibility. He was also saying that while the government will care for an adult or child exposed to 20 mSv or more annually, anyone receiving a lesser dose is on their own. This unstated conclusion explains why Director Sato could not answer the question about the rights of Fukushima residents.
Optional Evacuation and the Right to Relocate
During the July 19 discussions, three key points were raised. The first involves the expansion of the evacuation zone. The problem here is that while the government has designated this area based on an annual exposure rate of 20 mSv, careful monitoring inside Fukushima city, which lies well outside that zone, reveals the existence of other districts that also meet the official evacuation criterion. Moreover, considering internal exposure, the zone should be extended even further. We pressed the government to expand the official boundaries, using the Watari district as a test case.
The second point concerns optional evacuation and the “satellite” evacuation of school and community groups. Twenty mSv per year is a totally unacceptable dose for children, who are especially vulnerable to radiation. (Following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, areas with annual radiation in excess of 5 mSv were declared mandatory evacuation zones, and in areas registering more than 1 mSv, residents were given the right to relocate.) We ask the government to recognize the right of people even in areas exposed to less than 20 mSv/year to leave Fukushima at their discretion (optional evacuation) and to ensure that in their new location they enjoy the same quality of life as previously. Furthermore, in order to preserve the community structures and collective identities of residents opting to move, we propose the “satellite” evacuation approach, where school and community units are allowed to remain intact after relocating.
The third point involves monitoring and regulating the total radiation dose received by children. The 20 mSV/year standard the government established for heavily contaminated schoolyards came under harsh domestic and international criticism. In late May, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology conceded that 20 mSv was not appropriate and announced that it would endeavor to limit exposure to 1 mSv. This was an entirely expedient, stopgap measure. It was limited only to schools, did not include internal exposure via school lunches, and ignored the extremely high radiation levels of March. In our June 30 discussions in Tokyo, we discovered that there is no government agency responsible for monitoring the total radiation exposure of children. It was obviously necessary to clarify the situation and demand that the government work to reduce the total annual dose absorbed by children.
Of the three negotiating points, the second was the most urgent: official recognition of optional evacuation and group-based “satellite” evacuation. Many Fukushima residents would consider relocating if pubic economic assistance were available and schools could be moved as units.
In the discussions of July 19, the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters in Fukushima consistently evaded responsibility: “Headquarters in Tokyo makes the decision,” Director Sato repeated. “We merely implement policy.” “Prefectural authorities are responsible for specific control measures.” When we pointed out that using high-pressure water hoses to remove contaminated soil simply transfers the radioactivity to a different area, we were told, “this method was recommended by government agencies in Tokyo.” “School lunches,” Sato said, “are Tokyo’s domain; we are not involved.” And, “Fukushima Prefecture is responsible for monitoring children’s exposure,” he insisted.
Amidst these evasions, however, Sato was very clear on two points. People who decide to leave Fukushima are free to do so, but the government will not compensate them. Annual radiation doses under 20 mSv pose no immediate danger to health. These answers drew angry protests from participating citizen’s groups, but the director did not withdraw his remarks. Most likely, he was not stating his personal beliefs but parroting the policy line of the National Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters in Tokyo.
The highly irresponsible attitude of the local emergency response headquarters toward the anguished pleas of local residents was patent, and the negotiations ended in acrimony. Director Sato all but fled from the conference hall, leaving behind the petitions and the urine samples that participants had submitted for analysis. Later, he accepted the petitions but not the urine samples. The urine samples were turned over the same day to Dr. Yuji Yamada, head of a National Institute of Radiological Sciences (NIRS) team temporarily attached to the local headquarters that had attended the conference.
The increasingly critical situation in Fukushima Prefecture produced a fierce clash of views over the issue of optional evacuation, the main point in the negotiations. Now is the time for Fukushima residents to stand together in defense of their children and fight to reduce radiation exposure. To that end, we must spread the word about Fukushima’s plight.
Citizens Against Fukushima’s Aging Nuclear Power Plants (Fukuro-no-Kai)
- Held at Corasse, Fukushima, Fukushima Prefecture
- Translator’s note: Currently limited to a 20-kilometer radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Station, plus some areas between 20 and 30 kilometers.
- The Watari district in Fukushima has contamination that would result in over 20millisieverts a year exposure.
- Translator’s note: The urine samples were returned on 27 February in a box without any note. The box was marked “clothing.”
See the Japanese original
Translated by a volunteer translator and Green Action.