Wednesday, 4 January 2012

More than half of nuclear radiation zone evacuees in Japan have yet to return home
31 Dec 2011

FUKUSHIMA, Japan 54% of evacuees from areas between 20 and 30 km (12.5 and 18.6 miles) of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Japan have yet to return home, three months after the government lifted its emergency evacuation preparation zones.

Due to slow progress in decontamination operations and a lack of job opportunities in the five municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, 31,600, or 54%, out of a total 59,049 evacuees from the areas near the crippled generating plant continued to live in shelters instead of returning home as of last week.

In Minami-Soma City alone, 22,983, or about 50% of 46,744 evacuees from the city, still remain outside the city. Masahiro Igawa, 33, whose house in the city's Haramachi Ward was swept away by the March 11 tsunami that followed the major earthquake, evacuated to Fukushima City with his wife and four children. "Though decontamination operations have started, areas around schools still show high radiation levels, and hospitals have not been restored to original conditions. We can't go home even if we want to, out of consideration for our children", he said.

At Omika Primary School in Minami-Soma, 204 students had been expected to register this academic year. But most of the school's district was designated as an emergency evacuation preparation zone, which decreased the number of students to 81 as of Dec. 19. According to a survey conducted by the city's board of education at the end of November, about 40% of parents of the school's students still living outside the city said they will not return for the next academic year. About 30% said they were undecided as to whether to return.

Katsushige Hirama, the school's principal, said an unstable employment situation is one of the factors delaying people's return to the city. "In addition to the radiation fears, (children's) parents are facing employment problems", Hirama said. According to the Hello Work Soso job placement center, which serves Minami-Soma, the ratio of job seekers to jobs in October was 3,194 to 2,870. The number of people who actually obtained a job was 317. "There are many one-year contract jobs for decontamination or debris removal, but there are few long-term jobs", said Masahiro Kikuchi, a career counselor at the office.

A 37-year-old housewife who along with her family took refuge in Fukuchiyama City, Kyoto Prefecture, from the Minami-Soma's Haramachi Ward, said: "There are no jobs for us if we return home. I also have fears about radiation. Although my parents and relatives are staying in Minami-Soma, we're not going back there".

Many residents from other municipalities also have yet to return home, as decontamination operations have progressed slowly, and schools have not reopened since the disaster. In the village of Kawauchi in the prefecture, none of 2,675 evacuees have returned home. "Unless there is progress in decontamination work, there's nothing we can do", an official of the village office said.