September 21, 2017

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Three Leaders of Evacuee Organizations Hold Press Conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan

Three leaders of organizations for evacuees addressed the dire situations that evacuees are facing at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on March 9th.  The three are Miyako Kumamoto from Liaison Committee for Organizations of Victims of Nuclear Disaster, Hiromu Murakami from The Liaison Committee for Litigation Plaintiffs of Nuclear Disaster Victims, and Nakate Seiichi from Japan Nuclear Evacuee Association for Comprehensive Rights. They addressed various issues on behalf of all evacuees.

Kumamoto reported that 80,0000 people are still living in evacuation even after almost six years have passed.  Approximately 32000 out of 80,0000 evacuees are voluntary evacuees, who have evacuated despite being outside of the evacuation zones designated by the government. She also reported that the free provision housings for approximately 32000 of the voluntary evacuees will be terminated at the end of March, and that this forces them to make difficult decisions between going back to Fukushima or living in poverty. She went on to say that this treatment is causing significant damage especially to evacuees who are a part of single parent households.

Murakami stated that the government is striving to give off an impression to the international community that the victims affected by the nuclear power plant’s accidents are diminishing, as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics approach. He went on to say that the biggest tragedy for the victims is that the governor of the Fukushima prefecture, who should be taking the side of victims, is doing the same thing with more aggressive eagerness.

Nakate criticized the government’s stance stating they are trivializing the severity of the accidents. He stated that the government is eagerly trying to spread propaganda that the accidents are about to be resolved, and evacuees are about to disappear, despite this being contradictory to the facts

The youtube of the press conference is titled Kumamoto, Murata & Nakate: “Fukushima Evacuees Face New Hardship Six Years On”.

Below is the transcript of the press conference.

Moderator: Thank you very much and good afternoon. We have one hour press conference. Yes. The speakers today are …we start with Mr. Miyako Kumamoto, Liaison Committee for Organizations of Victims of the Nuclear Disaster. This group was formed in 2016 February. Then we have Mr. Murata. Hiromi Murata.  The Liaison Committee for Litigation Plaintiffs of Nuclear Disaster Victims. This was started in 2015 May. And then we have Mr. Seiichi Nakate. Japan Nuclear Evacuee Association for Comprehensive Rights. Ms. Murata is next to me. She will talk about the current situation for people living in Fukushima. The litigation is about two things. One is putting forward the fact that the government is going to stop funding Fukushima victims, nuclear victims and what’s going to happen from now on. And the other very important issue Mr. Murata explains is that, who is responsible what really happened during this accident? This has not been made clear yet. Yeah. So, we will have the floor open to four o’clock, and we start with Mr. Kumamoto. Yes. Sorry. With Ms. Kumamoto. Sorry.

Kumamoto: Good day everyone. My name is Miyako Kumamoto. I’m from the Liaison Committee for Organizations of Victims of Nuclear Disaster. I would like to talk about the position nuclear power plant victims are in.

Today there are around 80,000 people who are still living in evacuation.

At present, these people are facing  a very difficult situation. One is in these times compensation which is being paid to them will be withdrawn, and at the end of this month, the end of March, the free provision of the housing will also end.

Of these 80,000 people, 32,300 people will be affected by cessation of free provision of housing at the end of this month.

The majority of these people would be mothers and children who, fearing health effects of radiation have left the prefecture and also old people who are relying upon the kindness of friends and relatives to stay away from their homes.

The Japanese government calls many of these people voluntary evacuees, because they do not come from areas that are covered by evacuation orders issued by the government, and so they are not eligible for a great deal of compensation from the authorities. And also their only lifeline to this point really has been the free housing subsidy and having them withdrawn from them means they face a choice between either returning home or poverty.

The evacuees who are scattered all around this country. Some of them are living in public housing provided by the government. And the provision of these houses are actually something administered by local authorities where they are living, but the decision about whether they will not continue to be able to be living in these houses are something that is decided by Fukushima prefectural government, something that was decided April of 2013.

On the 15th of June 2015, the governor of Fukushima made an announcement that at the end of March 2017, this year, that the people who are living outside of the area would have their housing assistance cut.

The number of people who are affected by this is 12436, and there was a letter sent to these people in January of 2016 asked them what their plans were after the end of March this year. Of the 12436 people who received this letter, 7067 replied 33XX outside of the prefecture and 77.7 % of the respondents had said that they had no plans or no idea what they will do after the first of April 2017.

As a representative of one of the evacuees organizations we have been continual the negotiation with the government of the prefecture to ensure that provision of free housing continues into the future and that there is nobody who fold between the crowd but unfortunately they have nothing come to fruition to this point.

As a policy for the protection of people who are in support of evacuees, the position of especially mothers and their children are in a very dire position because of this decision.

The reasons that the mothers left the prefecture is because they were worried that their children would have the adverse health effects because of the radiation. So, none of these people really want to go home. Because of the housing policy decisions of the government, they are in a very difficult position. Of many of them are living in a housing called the employment promotion housing which is provided to people who are looking for work, but they have been told in many different ways in more words or less to basically get out of there and they have been treated in a very unconscionable manner. One way which they have been treated is this form that I am showing to you now.  It is a questionnaire to ask people what they want to do after the funding for their houses end. They have a question here that says here or would you like to continue on as a paying residents or would you like to not?

The evacuees have no fault of their own it being forced to leave their homes and to try to protect their children from this threat of radiation, and unfortunately the wishes, desires of these evacuees are not something reflected in the policy making process. I still don’t have an answer to why do we have to put into this position.

Murata: Let me add a few words.

Murata: As Ms. Kumamoto just said the evacuees from the nuclear disaster is in a very dire position.

Murata: In effect, these people have been internally displaced people for the past six years and now they face a situation of being is hounded from their homes. It is extremely unusual.

Next, I would like to talk to you about why this is the case.

In short, the reason they place them in the situation is because of the policy of the Japanese government.

As you know there will be the Olympics in 2020 and paralympics as well, and when Prime Minister Abe made a speech calling for the games to be held in Tokyo. He made a comment that Fukushima was under control and presented no problem for the games in Tokyo.

The government continues this line ever since.

It seems that the central government’s goal is to be able to say at the point of the Olympics 2020 that Fukushima disaster was completely dealt with two years prior to that as in 2018.

But of course this poses large problems for the victims.

So, the policy is going to cut the support for the victims in order to achieve this goal.

The problems that I see is the governor of Fukushima prefecture should be the last bastion fighting for lives of Fukushima residents.

But unfortunately the current reality of the prefecture is that the governor of Fukushima prefecture is that he is in some ways ahead of the central government’s policies.

In emblematic of this position by the prefectural governor is that groups such as our own have been asking for talks with the governor for the past year, but he has almost intentionally denying our requests.

That is why yesterday I put out an open letter asking the governor to answer a series of questions.

The main point of this letter is to ask that the governor of Fukushima stand on our side.

Nakate: Hello. My name is Nakate Seiichi. I would like to say a few words next.

I would like to go into a little detail about the current Japanese government policy.

Before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japanese citizens were guaranteed to live underneath the limit of one mSv (millisievert) per year under Japanese law.

However, after the nuclear disaster, people living in Fukushima and other affected areas in the region were told that it was acceptable to live in areas with radiations up to 20 mSv per annum.

However, many people in the area could not accept this and decided on their own volition to leave.

These people including myself are called voluntary evacuees.

I am and my organization have been calling for this right to evacuate for sometime. I would like you to draw your attention to a law that was passed in June of 2012 called the children and disaster victims support law.

Our position is that evacuees should be able to make of their own volition, decisions about things such as whether to live in the area or to leave. That is something that we have been fighting for sometime.

This law was implemented by the previous government, but it’s actually something now under the current government that has been completely ignored and it is now a non-operational law.

The government is saying that the nuclear power plant accident is and the evacuee issues are something just a problem for Fukushima, and they are downplaying the severity of the issue.

For a long period of time, I have been working on the Japanese government to ask them to see this from the perspective of human rights, but unfortunately there has been no change in their position.

We come to the point now of the sixth anniversary of the disaster, and the Japanese government and the Fukushima prefecture both doing their best to give out the impression that the nuclear disaster is over that there are fewer and fewer and almost no evacuees left at all, but this is in complete contradiction to the fact. We are still there and there are many questions, problems still to be overcome and we are working very very hard to overcome them. Thank you very much.  

Moderator: Thank you very much. The floor is open now for questions. Anybody the floor is open. Martin? Yes, thanks.

26:10-

My name is Martin Koelling. I’m a German journalist. And I would like to know the situation and areas that are open for resettlement already. Last year I went to Naraha. There weren’t many people living there. I guess that in some areas, the number of inhabitants is already increasing. But what is your take on the situations in the areas that are opened for resettlement of will be open for resettlement? How many people might turn, might come back and how livable and how functionable will this villages and cities be in the future very reduced citizenship?

Murata: Please let me respond. My name is Murata.

Murata: With regards to Naraha town, I believe that only 12% of the pre-disaster population have returned to that particular local authority area.

Murata: As you know at the end of this month, the 31st of March, the support for housing will end, and so there has been some investigations into how many people are expecting or planning to go back. And according to the reports on this investigation, it seems around 10% of people, only 10% of people are planning to go back.

Murata: However, when it comes to the generation that has children, I think that the percentage of those families who plan to go back to the area will be much lower than 10 % and that’s something it’s not just for Naraha, but in many areas.

Murata: Of course the reason for that is that there remains radioactive contamination and serious concerns about the health consequences of that.

30:53-

Murata: Another thing to be mentioned is that Fukushima cleanups, Fukushima Nuclear Number One Plant cleanup process is not complete. It even hasn’t really begun and so if we were to have another major earthquake then it’s quite possible that we would face a recurrence of such a similar nuclear disaster.

Murata: You also asked about what sort of lifestyle people could expect if they were to return to this area, and as I mentioned before I don’t see a position or situation where young people will be returning to these areas for quite some time. So you would expect to see villages completely comprised of old people. This would lead to the local services and medical services, shops really not returning and it will be a vicious cycle.

Murata: The Japanese central government and Fukushima Prefecture are rushing to  complete recovery of the area, but they are saying this in a way where the basic conditions where you could say that the recovery has been completed and not being met and even so they are telling people that they should come back to the area. So I don’t see that there would be any prospect for improvement with regards to the lifestyle of people living in that area.

33:25-

Freelance. Does the governor of Fukushima live in a contaminated or safe area? Or was he ex-contaminated and fled to get such a no reply?

34:43-

Murata: To answer the second part of your question, he has not fled …he has continued to stay in Fukushima city and work at the prefectural office. To go to the question about contamination-it is the case that contamination is still much higher than it was before the disaster, of course.

Murata: The governor, of course, not directly himself, but has indirectly been responsible for cleaning up for the decontamination process which is where the contamination is gathered together and carried away. And that has progressed to some extent and therefore you can say that the contamination levels have gone down since the time of the disaster itself, but and there are places which are below these new standards of 20 mSv dose per annum.

Murata: I would refer you to my open letter. There is addressed to the governor asking for him to give a clear explanation about a number of questions. So please refer to that.  I also would like to mention the recent report in the newspaper report about the concerns of Fukushima residents. The latest information is that around 60 % of people who are living within the prefecture retain still have concerns about the health effects of radiation in their prefecture.

38:05-

Hello. I am a correspondent from Taiwan. I would like to ask you a question about what you would like the government to do in terms of continuing support for evacuees both from the central government and also from Fukushima Prefecture.

38:36-

Nakate: What I would like to ask from the government is that they continue to guarantee housing and the basic income and also access to health and medical treatment.

Nakate: When it comes to social welfare benefits in the form of housing or income assistance, I don’t think we can talk about this with a broad brush. We should look at the individual circumstances of every evacuee. After six years have passed, it has to be said that many, perhaps not many, but some good percentage of the evacuees have been able to attain economic independence. And these people would not require much if any support. But on the other hand there are people who have not managed to stand on their own on two feet. Partly because they are being abandoned for the last six years and it’s these people that I think we should focus on our assistance on not decided upon a yen limit on the amount of funding that they are allowed to have, but continue the assistance until they can stand on their own two feet.

Nakate: Sadly when it comes to health and medical care, we are even further behind them when it comes to assistance for housing and income. I am in a position now calling strongly for the government to look into and to investigate the health impacts of nuclear disaster. That’s not something that’s happening to my satisfaction right now. I just really think that it’s very very sad and extremely important. It’s very sad that this is not being done. It’s an extremely important thing that I feel very strongly about.

42:30−

Kumamoto: When it comes to support for housing, this is something that falls under the purview of disaster relief law which was something that was implemented to deal with the after effects of natural disasters.

Kumamoto: However, nuclear power plant disaster such as this one is not a natural disaster and it is also something that requires very long term support.

Kumamoto: The half-life of cesium 137 is 30 years.

Kumamoto: The children and disaster victims relief act which was passed some years ago is a law which has in its provisions information procedures for helping people such as myself both who have moved away because of natural disaster. I would like to call upon the central government to make steps that those policies are implemented better.

44:32-

Murata: I think we should at this point look at the lessons of the Chernobyl.

Murata: It’s been 31 years since this disaster, but in that case the support for the victims is ongoing.

Murata: And that reflects the reality of the situation on the ground for the victims.

Murata: I would like to stress this large difference between Fukushima and Chernobyl and that is that five years after the Chernobyl disaster, the then USSR leadership took full responsibility for the disaster and put in place steps to provide recourse and support for the victims.

Murata: But as you know, five months after this the USSR was dissolved.

Murata: The fact that even in the face of national disintegration, that the national authority decided to continue on with this policy supporting the victims of Chernobyl is something that I value very highly.  

Murata: In contrast, what do you think of the way that the Japanese government has been dealing with this situation?

Murata: They have not admitted any national responsibility for this disaster.

Murata: I, as a representative of plaintiffs, who are taking an action against the both the central government and TEPCO in an effort to make clarify where the responsibility for this disaster lies feels without this clarification, there is no way forward.

Moderator: Yes. Yeah. Go ahead.

48:22-

Ms. Ozawa: I am from AFP, and I would like to talk to you about how people are being treated, the voluntary evacuees, how they have been treated around the country. There are hosted by many different local authorities. And even after the central government’s support at the end of March is cut, I hear that there are some local authorities who plan to continue supporting the people who are evacuated their areas in some way or another. I would like to ask your opinions and comments about that.

49:33-

Nakate: Evacuees from the nuclear disaster are spread throughout all of Japan and 47 prefectures and even through the central government’s support will end at the end of this month, there are many, I hear from many people that host local authorities around the country are unable to abandon the people who have chosen to live in the areas and are implementing policies to support them in some way into the future.

Nakate: I would like to give you some examples of the support that some local authorities are giving to these people. For example, for those evacuees who are already living in public housing some local authorities have extended the period of  in which they can live there for free by one year. The second example is some local authorities are providing monetary assistance to people who are in private rental properties and we will need to pay rent after the first of April. And the third way of providing support to these people is to give priority to set aside a number of positions in public housing for these people who may be in need after the 1st of April.

Nakate: However, all of these examples that I just have given you, are based upon the goodwill of that individual local authority and we are very very thankful to them. The evacuees are very happy and thankful to receive that support, but on the other hand, it means now that there is large disparities between people who live in local government areas that are happy to give support and those that are not. It’s something difficult for us to watch and we are very very worried especially about the people who are living in the local government areas that are not going to or unable to provide ongoing support.

Moderator: OK. The last question.

54:04- 

Just ready to know what that is. The question was from Mr. Abe. He has the questions about the organizations, the three organizations that are represented on the stage. First of all he would like to know how many members there are in The Liaison Committee for Litigation Plaintiffs and Nuclear Disaster Victims and also whether or not this includes people from outside of the prefecture or only within Fukushima prefecture. He also would like to know the number of members in the Associations of Evacuees Demanding the Rights to Evacuation. And also what sort of legal arrangements that organization has.

55:16-

Nakate: Let me answer on behalf of the Associations of Evacuees Demanding the Right to Evacuation. On the handout here it is called Japan Nuclear Evacuees Associations for Comprehensive Rights. There are two ways of saying it. This organization was set up in October of 2015, about two years ago.  It has a little under 80 members. They are living now from Hokkaido all the way down to Okinawa and their previous place of  residence was not just Fukushima, but from other affected areas.

56:34−

Murata: On behalf of Mr. Murata the representatives from this organization with very long name the Liaison Committee for Litigation Plaintiffs Nuclear Disaster Victims. There are currently around 30 class actions under way with regards to the nuclear disaster which 21 my members of my organization. We represent around 12,000 people; 12,000 plaintiffs who are part of 21 class actions.

57:42-

Lastly, Ms. Kumamoto’s group the Liaison Committee for Victims of Nuclear Disaster is comprised to 21 groups which have a membership of my membership of 25,000 people. It’s a group of people who are victims of the nuclear disaster. They are active in many different ways including legal action, and also there are those who are going under alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

Moderator: All right. Thank you very much. It’s 4 O’clock, so I will end there press conference. I wanted to thank the speakers for coming to speak to us today.

*Applause*

Nakata, Murata and Kumamoto stood up and bowed to the audience.

Murata: Thank you.

The End of The Press Conference.

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