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Evacuees still wary of returning

20 April 2014

【Translated by The Japan Times】An evacuation order for part of the Miyakoji district of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, was lifted April 1, but many residents haven’t returned yet because of lingering concerns about radiation. They are also worried about the lack of jobs, shops and medical services.
The area was the first in the 20-km-radius exclusion zone set up around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after the March 2011 meltdowns to have its evacuation order canceled.
Of the 357 residents and 117 households registered as of the end of February, only one family had returned by April 10. This means the tally hasn’t climbed much from the 90 people and 27 households that had entered the long-stay program as of March.
Masami Konnai, 62, a board member of Miyakoji’s Jikenjo district, who returned with his wife and father last August as part of the long-stay program, put up Children’s Day carp streamers in his garden for the first time since the disaster to welcome his 5-year-old grandson, who will visit next month.
“I also want to show that people are living here,” Konnai said. “I want others to see that the area is moving toward restoration.”
Konnai and other residents plan to resume community cleaning activities and hold a summer festival at the nearby shrine to revitalize the district.
The government ended its decontamination work in the area last June. It then let people apply for long-term stays in August so they could make preparations for returning to their homes.
The central and municipal governments suggested lifting the evacuation order in November, but demurred after residents feared that proper living conditions hadn’t been established. The decision was finally made in February.
Even in a part of Miyakoji that is more than 20 km away from the nuclear plant and where more than 80 percent of the town’s population used to live, only 30 percent of the residents have returned since the evacuation order was lifted in September 2011.
To improve living conditions in Miyakoji as a whole, the municipal government opened two shopping facilities on April 6 and reopened three elementary and junior high schools on April 7. A convenience store is expected to open this autumn.
In an area within 20 km of the plant, however, there are still places giving off radiation beyond the long-term reduction goal of 1 millisievert per year, or 0.23 microsieverts per hour.
Many young families are hesitant to go back because of radiation, lack of sufficient medical services and employment, and the fact that they have settled into the places they evacuated to. And of the 152 students enrolled in the schools, 60 percent are commuting by bus from such locations.
To back the government’s policy of encouraging returnees, Tepco will offer one-off compensation payments of ¥900,000 to people who return within a year of the order being lifted. But the monthly allowances of ¥100,000 for psychological damage will end a year from now.
This section, appearing every third Monday, focuses on topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published on April 11.

PHOTO:Children walk to Furumichi Elementary School, which reopened on April 7 in the Miyakoji district in the city of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture. The shopping facility, which opened the day before, is seen in the background. Right: Masami Konnai looks at carp streamers in front of his house in Miyakoji in April.

10 April 2014

Fukushima to hold RockCorps global music event in September, first in Asia

Fukushima Prefecture will hold a RockCorps music event on Sept. 6 to encourage volunteer activities in areas hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. It will be staged at the Azuma General Gymnasium in Fukushima City. Volunteers will earn tickets for the rock concert by participating in activities such as visits to help people in temporary residences for evacuees and removal of debris.

Hosting the event will be an executive committee, with the prefectural government acting as a co-host. The event was announced at a press conference in Tokyo on April 9. Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato, who attended the occasion, expressed hope that volunteer activities will expand and help accelerate post-disaster reconstruction.

RockCorps was established in the United States in 2003 as a pro-social production company that uses music to inspire people to volunteer and get involved in their community. It has staged concerts as events closely linked with volunteer activities in a total of 27 cities in nine countries. Musicians involved include Lady Gaga, the American singer and actress committed to philanthropy and other activities. The number of people who took part in previous events totals more than 140,000.

The forthcoming Fukushima concert will be the first RockCorps event to be held in Asia. Four groups of leading artists -- three from Japan and one from abroad -- are scheduled to participate, but the details have yet to be disclosed. The organizers expect some 4,000 people to take part from across Japan.

Photo: Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato (left) and RockCorps CEO Stephen Greene (right) pose for photos at a press conference in Tokyo on April 9.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

9 April 2014

Sochi Paralympics medalist Suzuki awarded prefectural honor

Takeshi Suzuki, a 25-year-old Inawashiro High School graduate who won the gold medal in the Sochi Winter Paralympics men's Alpine sit-ski slalom event, was presented with a Fukushima Prefecture people's award at the prefectural government office on April 8. Suzuki, an employee of Surugadai University in Hanno, Saitama Prefecture, also obtained the bronze medal in the men's sitting downhill race in Sochi, Russia.

At a ceremony, Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato delivered an award certificate and a list of commemorative gifts to him. "You made good on your promise and won the gold medal," Sato told Suzuki. The governor praised his "indomitable spirit" and credited him with giving "dreams and hopes" to young people in the prefecture, still gripped by the effects of the devastating 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power disaster.

Suzuki showed off his gold and bronze medals to the audience. "I hung in hoping to deliver good news to the people of my prefecture," he said as he watched a replay of his Sochi competitions on video. "I am happy I made it -- the third time was lucky thanks to warm support from people here." It was his third bid for a Paralympics gold. Suzuki lost both legs in a traffic accident 17 years ago when he was an elementary school second grader.

Photo: Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato (left) gives an award certificate to Sochi Paralympics gold medalist Takeshi Suzuki at a ceremony in the prefectural government office in Fukushima City on April 8.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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