Issue No : 81 May - August 2012
By Sugai Masuro
At the end of September, six months after the accident, the “emergency evacuation preparation zone” ranging from 20 to 30 km from the Fukushima nuclear plant was cancelled by the government. Minami Soma City had also sought cancellation for the benefit of its recovery, and people are now being urged to return because areas with doses of 0.5-0.9 µSv/h are all right.
However, decontamination has made hardly any headway in places other than schools and nursery schools, and the government takes no action, so local people and evacuees say they will return and perform decontamination.
A Minami Soma citizen group called the "Peace-of-Mind and Safety Project" says from their members' own experience that even if a crew of 20-odd people spends a whole day on one home, they will do well even to lower the dose by half. Some aldermen say that "decontamination doesn’t work," and everyone says that children should not return to Minami Soma. In fact, a survey at the end of October found that the population of the city’s emergency evacuation preparation zone was 47,000, of which 28,000 had evacuated. But only 716 people have returned since the zone was cancelled.
The mayor of Iitate Village says he wants to get ¥300 billion from the government to decontaminate the residential areas in two years, farmland in five years, and forests in 20 years. Of course Iitate will never get the money. Cs-134,137，and other radioactive substances adhere to the clayey soil, to lichens, and to tree trunks, and there are still high doses on playgrounds, eves troughs, and roofs. Amateurs attempting high-pressure cleaning would be in danger from the spray raining down on them.
I think that if ¥300 billion yen were available, it would be better to give each household ¥100 million and have them live somewhere else for 30 to 50 years until the radiation subsides.
The international standard for the dose exposure limit for the general population is 1 mSv per year, but that does not mean this is absolutely safe. Nevertheless, if decontamination were to bring doses down to 1 mSv, the areas would include hotspots in Gunma, Tochigi, and Chiba prefectures, and the cost would be astronomical. As the government wants to lower the standard, I would guess they are doing their calculations at about 5 mSv, but actually the government thinks that up to 20 mSv is unavoidable, so 1 mSv is just a long-term target, and the public position is "1 mSv to 20 mSv."
Currently cesium has accumulated in the top 5 cm of topsoil, but mixing the soil or tilling it would disturb this distribution. Growing rice has been banned in both Minami Soma City and Iitate Village this year, but because farmers cannot leave their fields waist-nigh in weeds, they plow the weeds under. It is said that if the soil is mixed its dose falls one one-third, but the soil’s total dose is unchanged, and the contamination persists. ‘Therefore the only way to decontaminate is skim off the topsoil. However, doing that eliminates the leaf mould and the land is no longer suitable for fanning. What’s more, the farmers are dressed in their usual field attire, without any protection against exposure. And if just the weeds are mowed, there is the question of where to keep them. If decontamination is to be done thoroughly, the forests and mountains of headwater areas would have to be completely decontaminated to keep the contamination from being washed into upland fields and paddies with irrigation water, but because neither the government nor administrative authorities appear to have responsible policies, the farmers feel they must do something, and try various things while risking exposure. Truly, one cannot bear to watch this.
The government’s publicly stated radiation dose is 1-20 mSv, and 20 mSv is very high. Because the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) announced that the upper limit for dose exposure at schools is 20 mSv，mothers in Fukushima were angered and demanded that the limit be lowered. In response, MEXT said that 1 mSv/year is its “long-term target/，but it has not backed down from its claim that under 20 mSv is safe.
John. W. Gofinan, who studied the effects of nuclear testing in the US, said that the cancer rate for children under 10 years of age is 10 times that of adults, while for infants and babies up to one year of age, it is 15 times. Under law, places with 1.3 mSv for three months are radiation control areas which are off limits to people under 18. Much of Fukushima Prefecture’s Nakadori region, including Fukushima City, should be designated a radiation control area. Another major issue is that only spacial dose is counted, while internal exposure is not.
For much of the farmland, leaving it alone will not allow contamination to spread, and no one will suffer exposure by performing decontamination. While there are places that must be quickly decontaminated, those places are limited. Fukushima must avoid having residents perform decontamination by taking advantage of evacuees’ desire to go home and preserve their farmland. The government should take responsibility for locating idle farmland and moving people away en masse to farm elsewhere. Doing so will be far cheaper and safer than the extraordinarily high cost of decontamination.
The government will probably purchase and expropriate land in the exclusion zone and other places. However, Iitate Village’s “Logistical Support Group” proposes that instead of transferring land ownership to the government, the government rent the land such as in the exclusion zone and planned evacuation zones on 50- or 100-year leases, and pay rent. It is encouraging to people if there is a possibility that someday they can return.
Even People who are not farmers will have to spend decades in safe places. Those who most need to relocate are households with children and pregnant women. Employment should be guaranteed for such households.
But that isn’t going to be easy. It would divide the locals into two groups: those who want group relocation, and those who want to decontaminate and return. For example, the mayor of Namie Town says he has no idea what he should do. Residents of Minami Soma and Iitate, including mayors and everyone else, are likewise agonizing and torn between their desire to rebuild their homes, and reality. Their communities have collapsed, and the responsibility for this lies with the government and TEPCO.
Although nearly a year has passed since the accident, units 1 through 4 at Fukushima Daiichi are circulating and purifying their contaminated water, but because their pressure vessels are gone, water is still being used once without recirculating. The contaminated water level continues to rise due to the inflow of groundwater. It is reported that high-concentration purified water keeps accumulating, while tanks for contaminated water have increased to the point where the plant grounds are full.
There is a danger of re-criticality if cooling water stops for some reason, and it is estimated that even now units 1 through 4 have the very large residual heat of about 4,000 kW. Further, this estimation assumes that the residual heat removal system is functioning normally; it is highly possible it would not hold under conditions in which the reactor itself has been destroyed. One cannot trust the government’s claim that “cold shutdown” will be or has been achieved on a certain date.
After the Three Mile Island accident it took four or five years before a camera could be put in the pressure vessel. At Fukushima it is impossible to get near the containment vessel’s interior. On November 2,2011 xenon was detected from unit 2，making it clear that nuclear fission was still occurring, though it might be “spontaneous.” One could not deny this was an emergency. Who on earth is responsible for cancelling emergency evacuation preparation zones? The Environment Ministry, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and its Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT), and other agencies are probably trying to force the responsibility on to each other.
The government and electric utility try to make the accident damage and responsibility for contamination look as small as possible, and they want to perpetuate the myth that nuclear power is economical. That is perhaps why they hold to 20 mSv.
The direct reasons for insisting on this standard are first because they want to cut as much as possible from the massive costs of relocation, decontamination, compensation, and the like, and second, because they will later face demands to recognize and compensate health damage from radioactivity, they want to take steps which will reduce the number of future eligible people as much as possible.
Drawing lines for compensation was always done likewise with pollution. The government always makes strict certification standards, but because health damage by radioactivity is sometimes delayed for decades，this makes it even easier to cut the number of victim.
Although asbestos-caused diseases likewise appear 20 or 30 years later, in many cases the asbestos remains in victims，lungs. Radioactivity, however, cannot be detected later, and that is why records of everyday life are kept. In Iitate Village, members of the group “Never Say Die, Iitate!” made their own pocket-size notebooks, and have people gather to fill them in while helping one another refresh their memories. It’s important to do this.
Under the government’s policy, it will decontaminate only the exclusion zone and planned evacuation zones, while areas with doses of 1-20 mSv are left to municipalities, which would in principle subsequently bill TEPCO for the cost. At present，however, it appears that municipalities have not yet billed TEPCO, and are using tax money.
The government is pushing the action and responsibility for decontamination progressively downward. It hands ¥500,000 to local self-government ' associations, and has them buy pressure washers for their decontamination. While that much is all right, adjacent neighbourhood associations end up pushing their contamination onto each other. The Environment Ministry readied a budget of ¥7.2 billion to cover decontamination, and entrusted it to the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA). Up to ¥600 million are being used to pay for decontamination testing in 12 municipalities in the exclusion zone and planned evacuation zones. It also appears that the agency took bids from businesses, so that building contractors and decontamination firms have come to get decontamination work that will last decades. Vested interests will likely emerge. Newspapers have already reported that JAEA has paid kickbacks. It is said to cost ¥6 million to decontaminate one home. Apparently many contractors have come to the decontamination training sessions, which provide contractors with decontamination qualification after just attending two days. Recently there are media reports that the Self-Defense Forces will also be used for decontamination. One worries about the radiation exposure of young SDF personnel.
It appears that the major construction company Taisei Corporation has been contracted for Minami Soma City, and there are concerns that Taisei will subcontract to local construction contractors, which will in turn hire evacuees whose unemployment insurance has run out and have also used up their advances. It sounds good to say that this will provide jobs, but who will take responsibility for these workers’ radiation exposure?
Then, after spending ¥7.2 billion in taxes on this test and observing the results, full-scale decontamination will finally begin. This means that they have not started on full-scale decontamination. TEPCO should definitely be made to pay this ¥7.2 billion plus the cost of the subsequent full-scale decontamination.
The government is planning to first store contaminated materials temporarily in their localities, then build “intermediate storage facilities” in Fukushima Prefecture, and finally create “final disposal sites.” To start with, the government is forcing municipalities to assume the responsibility for temporary local storage, including site selection. This alone is a serious problem. For example, the temporary storage site in Iitate is by a river which flows to Minami Soma. When it rains, contamination may well be washed into the river, angering people in Minami Soma. Therefore such temporary storage could induce inter-municipality clashes.
“Intermediate storage” is said to be in Fukushima Prefecture, but there is no telling when it will happen. The government has made promises including that “final disposal sites” will not be in Fukushima Prefecture, which raises the question of where they will be. METI, MLIT, the Environment Ministry, and other agencies are trying to force this onto each other. Construction costs for intermediate storage facilities alone will be colossal. A newspaper reported that a professor in the engineering department at the University of Tokyo calculated the cost for building these proposed intermediate disposal sites at ¥80 trillion, a figure based on the Rokkasho facilities (Asahi Shimbun, September 15).
There are piles of contaminated soil not only in Fukushima, but also in Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture. It’s mind-numbing to think about it. Finland’s Onkalo is the only final disposal site in the world. However, when the Cabinet Office’s Atomic Energy Commission calculated the cost of the Fukushima accident last October, it did not include the cost of disposing materials contaminated with radioactivity because it desperately wanted to maintain the myth that nuclear power is inexpensive.
The biggest problem is that the government, government-mouthpiece academics, and TEPCO people arbitrarily created compensation criteria without including victims or seeking their views. There are ridiculous criteria such as making big cuts to compensation for people who take up residence in temporary housing, or discriminating between prefecture-rented housing and group shelters with respect to solatium for emotional suffering. In general, even “voluntary evacuees,” who are not among those directed to evacuate by the government, are not even eligible for compensation. Although the government is indeed reviewing these criteria, no concrete progress has been made. It is highly possible that this will end with compensation on the order of a consolation payment.
Because it is assumed that evacuees can return to their homes, compensation for abandoned homes is not included at all. As homes have been abandoned for nearly a year, even if people could go home they would need to spend much money on repairs. All costs should be compensated for preserving homes and returning them to their pre-accident state.
It is not clear how long or to what extent compensation will be paid, and there are also no specific provisions on how to compensate the various kinds of damage suffered throughout the lifetimes of people exposed to radiation as children. When the designations of planned evacuation zones and other designated evacuation zones are lifted, compensation eligibility categories are reduced, and the government would say that people who don’t go home are responsible for themselves, thereby treating them the same as the current "voluntary evacuees." And there are many other problems.
In addition to the arbitrary criteria problem, people cannot seek compensation under categories claimed previously. In out-of-court settlement agreements for pollution, the offenders have asked that the documents specify the matter has been settled. The agreement for the Ashio copper mine pollution incident included an item specifying that victims would never again make complaints. The compensation contract for Minamata disease mediated by the Kumamoto Prefecture governor said that victims would in the future not demand any more compensation even if they know that effluent from the Minamata plant is the cause. In this case as well, the matter is finished once people sign the settlement documents. Therefore victims cannot come to hasty agreements with TEPCO about the monetary amounts demanded. While indeed the procedures for demanding compensation are complicated and hard to understand, only a few actual payments to individuals have been made so far. This problem drew criticism from the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, and apparently the second-version documents are easier to understand, but this shows that the documents are not prepared from the standpoint of victims.
First is the problem of the “Law on the Nuclear Power Compensation Assistance Organization” which was enacted in August 2011 in spite of opposition from Your Party, the Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, and others.
Under the logic of capitalism, if a company causes an accident and cannot pay the resulting accident clean-up and compensation for damage, it goes out of business, but this law does not adapt this logic. Instead, it does the opposite by having the government protect TEPCO and continue nuclear power courtesy of taxpayers.
First, this excuses the financial capital lent to TEPCO and the responsibility of stockholders. If outlays for compensation payments and accident payments are so large that the company becomes insolvent, it is common sense that banks will write off their claims and stockholders will lose their dividends. Discontent stockholders should file a shareholders，lawsuit to inquire into TEPCO’s management responsibility.
The first draft approved by the Cabinet explicitly said that TEPCO would not be allowed to become insolvent, but predictably that part was excised in parliamentary debate, although the basic thinking remained unchanged. The government investigative commission’s “TEPCO Management Report” released in October included neither the return of the ¥890 billion in compensation funds provided by the government, nor the return of the decontamination costs paid by the government and municipalities. It underestimates both the compensation amount and reactor decommissioning cost, thereby unjustifiably making the company “solvent.”
But both the government and TEPCO know that’s not enough. So the second problem is that in order to rescue TEPCO with tax money, the law explicitly says that the government can give the Assistance Organization money. At this time the government has granted ¥2 trillion yen in JGBs. In principle, TEPCO is to monetize these bonds, use them, and then pay back the money, but there is no reason to believe ¥2 trillion will be enough. The direct injection of tax money — while protecting TEPCO 一will likely be sought with the rationale that the accident was an “unanticipated disaster” like natural disasters and wars (under the Law on Compensation for Nuclear Damage). It is said that TEPCO is already preparing a lawsuit to absolve itself of responsibility, but because it is now known that TEPCO anticipated a major tsunami the company to take the offense. Nevertheless, one cannot trust the judiciary. What is more, TEPCO will likely shift the burden to the consumers by raising its electricity rates.
If I may also say so, the company’s estimates for power production costs and accident costs are truly slipshod allowing any result at all depending on how they are done.
We must start by demanding that the system of regional monopolies by electric utilities be dismantled. This entails separation of the generation and transmission sector from the distribution sector, placing the transmission and distribution sectors under public management, and particularly deregulating the generation and sales sectors. Yukio Edano argued for these changes while he was chief of METI, but lately has stopped saying it. Because this could be fatal to the electric utilities, they are putting up fierce resistance. Many academics argue that if generation and transmission are split from distribution, Japan’s power supply will become unstable, and the anti-nuclear power economist Mitsuharu Ito (who collapsed during a lecture) also argued against separation. But the situation cannot be changed as long as Japan does not upend the arrangement under which electric utilities rest secure in the knowledge of their regional monopolies, block use of power sources other than nuclear, use money to win over everyone from the media to local people, and then recoup the costs by charging more for electricity.
Because it is still too early to speculate on how post-accident events will unfold henceforth, it is hard to guess specifically what will happen. The question is what must be done to make TEPCO completely pay compensation, come up with the money from bank and stockholder losses instead of taxes, dismantle the community of people who profit from nuclear power and orient Japan toward a nuclear phase-out, and move ahead with waste disposal while setting the path toward reactor decommissioning and creation of a final disposal site.
If TEPCO goes all the way with insolvency, debt-forgiveness by the banks, and the like, it will end in bankruptcy. Nevertheless, TEPCO must be made to pay compensation and clean up. And because of its responsibility for implementing nuclear power under government policy, it will probably be necessary to be nationalized and pay clean-up costs by selling assets and applying other funds such as budgets and reserves meant for nuclear power.
But there is also the risk that the dismantling of TEPCO will be used to avoid responsibility. Owing to the Minamata disease issue, it was decided to split Chisso into a company in liquidation that would eventually be disbanded, and another company that would include the money-making divisions and that would survive. Under that arrangement the company that caused Minamata disease would no longer exist, and people seeking compensation would have no company against which to make claims. TEPCO too might be so self-serving as to become a different company, and have a separate company in liquidation for compensation claims.
Already in Fukushima negotiations of various kinds have begun with TEPCO by farming and fishing organizations, livelihood cooperatives, producers, and other entities, and full-scale lawsuits demanding compensation will likely be filed. I think it is quite possible that victims of radioactive contamination and evacuees will ultimately have to file class-action lawsuits.
Nuclear plant accidents are the worst pollution ever, and they have spread grave contamination in the natural environment that cannot be removed. Victims will number in the hundreds of thousands. The concentration and mode of radioactive contamination vary, and people are harmed in various ways, but it is important that they team up to call TEPCO and the government to account, and demand compensation. It will be a long struggle owing to the decontamination and restoration of the soil, and the delayed nature of harm. Victims and evacuees must start by organizing. In Minami Soma, Futaba, and Okuma, evacuees have begun to rise up. In Iitate the members of’ “Never Say Die, Iitate!” are sticking to their guns. There are more and more such people. We must make it our lifework to form large support groups to help them.
If we don’t, those who have benefited from being part of vested interests will likely promote nuclear power. That is because they want to extend the life of nuclear power in TEPCO, the world’s number one electric utility, and because it is a secret national policy to maintain the capability to develop nuclear weapons. We need a full accounting of the responsibility of nuclear power proponents in order that victims may take back their livelihoods, and also in order to demolish the hidden intent of nuclear power proponents.***
This article was rewritten from an interview titled “How do we make TEPCO and the government take responsibility?” published in Compass 21 Vol.14, November 19, 2011, and in Human, Issue No 17 March 2012, p.8-14.