Fukushima Fallout: Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#764
28/06/2013
Article

UN Special Rapporteur's report
In November 2012, the UN Human Rights Council sent Special Rapporteur Anand Grover to Japan to assess the situation in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. Grover's report is highly critical of both TEPCO and the Japanese government. For example:

  • It says that by nationalising TEPCO, the government "arguably helped TEPCO to effectively avoid accountability and liability for damages" from the nuclear crisis.
  • It criticises TEPCO for its "attempts to reduce compensation levels and delay settlement" through a complicated and difficult compensation process, as well as failure to protect workers from radiation exposure.
  • It criticises the government for failing to protect children, the elderly, and those with disabilities from the disaster, as well as inadequate use of the country's System for Prediction of Environment Emergency Dose Information, which led to some residents being evacuated to areas directly in the path of the radiation plume in the days following the March 11 disaster.

The report urges Japan to avoid repopulating contaminated areas until radiation levels reach one millisievert per year. It stresses that epidemiological experts "conclude that there is no low-threshold limit for excess radiation risk to non-solid cancers, such as leukemia." Currently, Japan allows residents to return to their homes when radiation levels reach 20 millisieverts per year.

Japanese government officials were more concerned about the economic implications of a massive evacuation and the costs of compensating victims after the Fukushima disaster than they were about residents' safety, according to a new exposé by the Asahi Shimbun. Records from government meetings conducted in December 2011, during which attendees were trying to decide the radiation level at which residents could safely return to their homes, show that then Nuclear Crisis Minister Goshi Hosono fought to establish the annual radiation level at which residents could safely return at five millisieverts. However, other attendees insisted on a 20 millisievert per year limit.

UN Special Rapporteur's report: tinyurl.com/pxwqub4
Beyond Nuclear analysis, 'Can nuclear power ever comply with the human right to health?', tinyurl.com/beyondfuku
Asahi Shimbun, 25 May 2013, 'Strict radiation reference levels shunned to stem Fukushima exodus'
Asahi Shimbun, 26 May 2013, 'U.N. expert urges help for Japan's nuclear victims'
Greenpeace Nuclear Reaction Weblog, Fukushima Nuclear Crisis Update for May 23rd to May 28th, 2013, www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction

Decontamination and waste disposal
Despite public promises by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to complete decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture by March 2014, which would reduce radiation exposure levels there to one millisievert per year or less, Japan's government recently informed municipal officials that they will likely not meet their stated deadline as a result of local opposition to hosting nuclear waste storage sites. Officially, the government is still denying any change to the timeline. Japan's decontamination schedule is already far behind schedule − cleanup efforts have not even begun in five of 11 municipalities that have been declared evacuation zones. Moreover, the Environment Ministry has told local officials that areas that have already been decontaminated but where radiation levels remain high will not be decontaminated again, raising questions about if or when residents will ever be able to safely return.

Asahi Shimbun, 16 June 2013, 'Government secretly backtracks on Fukushima decontamination goal', ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201306160022
Greenpeace Nuclear Reaction Weblog − Fukushima Nuclear Crisis Update for June 14th to June 17th, 2013, www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/

Legal claims and compensation payments
TEPCO's legal troubles continue to mount as yet another group filed suit against it. Family members of hospital patients and elderly nursing home residents who died in the process of evacuation, or because staff were unavailable to care for them, are suing the utility for approximately US$300,000 each. The families say that they care less about collecting damages and more about learning the root causes of the Fukushima disaster. However, the case could have far-reaching legal implications for TEPCO if it is decided in favour of the plaintiffs. More than 200 people were stuck in hospitals and nursing facilities following the nuclear accident, and 50 of those died. (NHK World; Greenpeace Nuclear Reaction Weblog, Fukushima Update 7−10 June 2013)

In late May, the Namie municipal government announced that it will sue TEPCO on behalf of over 11,000 residents for psychological suffering. Although TEPCO is already paying victims 1,000 yen per month, Namie officials want to increase that amount to 3,500 yen. (The Mainichi, 3 June 2013, 'Fukushima village residents to receive new compensation over mental damage')

The Japanese government is now considering suing TEPCO. So far, the government has paid 16.5 billion yen (US$169 million) in decontamination costs. Japanese law requires that the government pay those costs initially, and then be reimbursed by the utility. More than two and half years after the nuclear disaster first began, however, TEPCO has not paid any of the costs. (Kyodo News, 1 June 2013, 'Gov't eyes suing TEPCO over unpaid decontamination costs')

TEPCO is again under fire for failure to pay adequate compensation to Fukushima prefectural and local governments that were forced to cover costs of damage, decontamination, evacuation, and other losses. As of April 30, claims total 46.64 billion yen (US$478 million), with further claims expected, but TEPCO has only paid 5.2 billion yen (US$50 million). Some local leaders are threatening to sue, complaining that the utility has been unresponsive to their repeated requests for payment. "No matter what we say, we get no reply," said Takanori Seto, the mayor of Fukushima City. "We'll file a lawsuit." (Japan News, 18 June 2013, 'TEPCO slow to pay Fukushima governments' compensation')

Japan's Nuclear Damage Claim Dispute Resolution Center has made two judgments that could have significant impact on TEPCO's obligations. In the first case, the Center ruled that TEPCO must pay a group of 180 residents from the Nagadoro District of Iitate 500,000 yen (around US$5,000) for emotional distress from high levels of radiation exposure. Pregnant women and children under 18 at the time of the accident were awarded one million yen each. People from that area were not told to evacuate until a month after the nuclear crisis first began to unfold, increasing their radiation exposure. Experts say that the case is sure to encourage other municipalities in similar circumstances to follow suit. (Asahi Shimbun, 3 June 2013, 'Consolation money to place additional financial burden on TEPCO')

In the second case, TEPCO agreed to compensate to the family of a farmer from Sukagawa, who committed suicide after learning that he would be forced to stop selling cabbage from his organic farm. He had worked on the farm for 30 years. TEPCO eventually agreed to pay over 10 million yen (US$100,000) after the Nuclear Damage Claim Dispute Resolution Center intervened. Company officials continue to refuse to apologise to the man's family. (The Mainichi, 3 June 2013, 'Fukushima family, TEPCO reach redress deal over farmer's suicide')

Fukushima films
A number of independent films have been produced recounting personal stories from Japan's March 2011 triple-disaster and its aftermath. These websites provide more information:

  • Nuclear Nation: nuclearnation.jp/en
  • Surviving Japan: survivingjapanmovie.com
  • Pray for Japan: prayforjapan-film.org
  • Ian Thomas Ash: www.documentingian.com
  • The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom: thetsunamiandthecherryblossom.com
  • The Land of Hope (trailer): www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPv3BX39dPk
  • Himizu: thirdwindowfilms.com/films/himizu
  • Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape: www.somakanka.com/eng.html
  • Kalina's Apple, Forest of Chernobyl: kalina-movie.com
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