2 towns at risk of disappearing / Okuma, Futaba face uncertain future due to nearby crippled N-plant
How will the government help the estimated 25,000 people who lived in areas where residency likely will be prohibited for an extended period due to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant?
In particular, Okuma and Futaba towns in Fukushima Prefecture will face extreme hardship because most of their residential areas fall in those areas. The crippled nuclear plant is located in the two towns.
It will be extremely difficult for the municipal governments to restore the towns to their conditions before the disaster. The central government will need to consider providing assistance to the evacuees so they can lead self-reliant lives.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry detected many spots in the two towns where annual levels of exposure to radiation would be 100 millisieverts or higher. This is at least five times higher than the level deemed safe for human habitation.
The ministry measured radiation levels one meter above the ground and monitored the radioactive contamination of soil.
The ministry has regularly measured radiation levels using vehicles and planes in affected prefectures--mainly Fukushima Prefecture but also including Tokyo--with cooperation from local governments.
Air radiation levels were measured at about 3,000 spots in the no-entry zone around the nuclear plant and planned evacuation areas as of Dec. 11. Of them, annual radiation levels of 50 millisieverts or higher were estimated at about 700 spots. These sites likely will be designated as zones where residency is prohibited for an extended period.
According to Japan Atomic Energy Agency calculations, it would take more than 50 years for radiation levels at the sites to naturally fall below the safe limit of 20 millisieverts.
Environment Minister Goshi Hosono has said it will be "difficult to lower air radiation levels with conventional decontamination methods" in areas where annual levels are 50 millisieverts or higher. Residing in these areas will be forbidden for an extended period.
The government has only said "it will likely take at least five years" until residents can shift back to these areas. The government has not specified after how many years residents can return--or even if they actually will be able to live there again.
A survey by Fukushima University found that about 60 percent of residents of the two towns wish to return. Many of the evacuees said they cannot make any concrete plans for the future until it becomes clear whether they will be able to return to the towns.
The government needs to properly explain the current conditions in the towns--and the likely fate of the municipalities--to the evacuees.
Government assistance to evacuees mainly comprises measures that assume they will return home, such as construction of temporary housing units in which they can live for two years in principle.
From now, it will be necessary to consider helping evacuees resettle elsewhere by offering assistance in such fields as employment and education, and helping them fit in and form local communities.
The government should present such measures as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa has suggested his town might need to move elsewhere.
"I'll have to ask for a temporary site to which our town will be relocated," he said to reporters.
Okuma and Futaba might have to consider merging with neighboring municipalities to which some residents will move, if the locals consent to such a tieup.