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Editorial: Face the reality of Fukushima to move forward together

Five years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami horrified the whole nation. The disasters left more than 18,000 people dead or unaccounted for. Approximately 174,000 people are still taking shelter. Efforts to restore disaster-hit areas are only half way through. The entire country must continue to support the recovery of disaster areas.

    In particular, the situation of Fukushima Prefecture affected by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant remains severe. There are no prospects that the prefecture will completely recover from the nuclear disaster in the foreseeable future, and those who were forced to leave their hometowns affected by the crisis have been scattered around the country. Over 2,000 Fukushima residents have died as a result of factors related to the disasters, far more than other disaster-hit prefectures. The disasters are continuing to place a heavy psychological and physical burden on Fukushima Prefecture residents.

    Large black bags stuffed with waste generated by decontamination work are being piled up like a mountain in many places in disaster-hit areas of Fukushima Prefecture. How much land has been contaminated with radioactive substances? How can damage from the nuclear disaster be repaired? Can those who have evacuated from their hometowns go home in the future?

    To answer these questions, it is necessary to grasp the real state of radioactive contamination and the amount of damage that is still continuing now.

    What is needed now is to seriously face the situation of Fukushima and move forward with residents of the prefecture toward recovery.

    The investigative committees set up by the executive and legislative branches of the government as well as private panels have examined the process of the nuclear accident and compiled reports. Still, the government has not sufficiently conducted a comprehensive investigation or evaluation focusing on specific damage caused by the nuclear disaster. A certain amount of relevant data has been accumulated, but no records have been put together in a systematic way.

    Fukushima University professor Ryota Koyama says, "A lack of a government report on the nuclear disaster means that the government has failed to fully examine and evaluate the accident."

    Specifically, Koyama underscores the need for the government to grasp the situation concerning the evacuation of residents and the state of contamination of soil with radioactive substances, conduct a survey on residents' health conditions, analyze the results of an examination of locally made agricultural products, carry out radiation countermeasures and assess such efforts.

    In particular, it is essential to conduct a detailed survey on the livelihoods of some 100,000 residents who are taking shelter in and outside the prefecture. A growing number of these people have made up their mind to settle down in areas other than their hometowns, but many people cannot have clear prospects for their future.

    The government can offer options that suit the livelihood of each evacuee only by understanding the difficulties they face, including those who have voluntarily fled their affected hometowns.

    Ukraine, where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred in 1986, and its neighbor Belarus release detailed reports on the accident every five years since the crisis broke out.

    Ukraine's reports list the situation of radioactive contamination and residents' health conditions, as well as the accident's economic impact among other items. The attitudes of the governments of these countries to compile reports on the disaster to fulfill their responsibility should be appreciated.

    A road map toward disaster recovery can be drawn and the scope of damage that needs to be recovered can be specified only after the state of damage becomes clear. Currently, the government is implementing recovery policy measures without clarifying the specific damage.

    The safety of Fukushima rice, which had enjoyed a reputation for its quality, is guaranteed through inspections on all rice. Nevertheless, Fukushima rice still cannot regain its pre-disaster reputation. Groundless rumors have damaged the brand image of Fukushima rice, and the prices of the products are being reduced in the process of marketing. However, such a structural problem is not taken into account in calculating the amounts of compensation. Nor has the problem led to the government's review of its agricultural policy.

    The fact that numerous disputes over compensation for residents have been entangled is also rooted in the same problem. More than 12,000 people have launched class action lawsuits over compensation for damage from the nuclear disaster with district courts across the country. This is apparently because the government's compensation policy and its framework are far from the state of damage felt by residents affected by the nuclear disaster.

    Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a visiting professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, who served as chairman of the Diet's investigative panel on the nuclear crisis, pointed to the lack of clarity in who is responsible for disaster recovery work.

    "It's unclear who's responsible for whatever is done. The irresponsibility of leaders, which is a reality of Japanese society, has led to opportunistic and deceptive responses, damaging the international community's confidence in the country," he told a recent news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

    What he pointed out is closely related to the basis of the country. Japan must not adopt its past stance in implementing disaster recovery measures over the next five years. The government should implement realistic policy measures. The time is ripe for the country to begin drawing up an annual "Fukushima white paper" that squarely faces damage from the atomic power disaster to provide a basis for such realistic disaster recovery measures.

    It is the role of politics to take responsibility for the compilation of such an annual report.

    The government should consider having the legislative branch play a leading role in working out such a report, as done in a report by the Diet's investigative panel on the nuclear disaster, in order not to be bound by the vertically divided administrative structure.

    Signs of recovery are beginning to show in disaster-hit areas in Fukushima Prefecture.

    The central government suggested that it will lift the evacuation order for the Odaka district of the prefectural city of Minamisoma in April. Residents of the district are divided over whether they should be fully allowed to return because infrastructure remains inadequate. Still, the number of residents temporarily visiting their homes is growing, and they say lights can be seen in their hometown, although the residential area had previously been pitch-black at night.

    It is a long way to go for evacuees to fully restore their hometowns, but it is essential to steadily rebuild affected areas to ensure all residents can go home. Support from the public will be a driving force behind such efforts.

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