23 Juillet 2016
July 19, 2016
The central government lifted an evacuation order for the southern part of Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on July 12 for the first time since the massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a devastating accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.
It marks the sixth time that evacuation orders have been lifted for locales in Fukushima Prefecture, following such municipalities as Naraha and Katsurao. The number of local residents affected by the latest move is more than 10,000, higher than in any previous instance.
Residents of such municipalities in the prefecture as Iitate, Tomioka and Namie have yet to be allowed to return to their homes. But the central government plans to lift evacuation orders on all areas of the prefecture excluding "difficult-to-return zones," where levels of radiation remain dangerously high, by March 2017.
The longer people in disaster-affected areas live as evacuees, the more difficult it becomes for them to rebuild their lives.
The lifting of an evacuation order based on the progress that has been made in decontaminating polluted areas and restoring damaged infrastructure will give local residents an opportunity for a fresh start. In Minami-Soma, residents who have been hoping to restart their former lives have already returned to their homes. Various organizations are expanding their activities in the city to help rebuild the local communities.
In previous cases, however, only 10 to 20 percent of the residents said they would immediately return to where they lived before the catastrophic accident occurred.
In addition to residents who have decided to move to other parts of the nation, there are also many people who find it difficult to return home for the time being due to reasons related to employment, education, nursing care and other factors. Some people want to wait a while longer to see how their communities will be revived.
Sooner or later, all evacuees will face the choice of returning or migrating.
For both groups, measures to support their efforts to rebuild their livelihoods should be worked out. But support should also be provided to people who cannot make up their minds yet.
A situation where evacuees are under strong pressure to make their decisions quickly should be avoided.
Take the issue of compensation paid to local residents in affected areas, for example. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, is paying 100,000 yen ($945) of compensation per month to each of the people affected. But the utility’s cash payments are scheduled to be terminated in March 2018.
A time limit has also been set for the company’s compensation to people who have seen their incomes fall or disappear in the aftermath of the disaster.
Excessive dependence on compensation could hamper the efforts of evacuees to restart their lives.
But there are people who have no prospects of returning to their lives before the accident and therefore have no choice but to depend entirely on a monthly payment from the utility.
A way should be found to keep compensating those who really need the money for a certain period after evacuation orders are lifted, according to the circumstances of individual evacuees.
One idea worth serious consideration is the establishment by lawyers and other experts of a neutral organization to assess the circumstances of evacuees for this purpose. This is an approach modeled on the standard procedures for out-of-court dispute settlements.
The concept of “residents” should also be reconsidered. There are many evacuees who have decided to move to other areas but still wish to maintain their hometown ties. These people say they want to return home someday or to get involved in rebuilding their communities in some way.
Scholars have offered ideas to respect their wishes. One would allow them to have a dual certificate of residence for both their previous and current addresses. Another would permit them to become involved in the efforts to rebuild their hometowns while living in other areas.
These ideas can be useful not just for the reconstruction of disaster-stricken areas but also for the revitalization of depopulated rural areas around the nation.
Reviving communities that have been ravaged by the nuclear disaster will inevitably be an unprecedented and long-term process, which requires flexible thinking.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 15