At least 25,000 people evacuated after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan will never be able to go home.
More than 30,000 square kilometres of northern Japan were contaminated by the huge clouds of radioactivity that belched into the air during the accident. More than 80,000 people were forced to evacuate from the areas closest to Fukushima Daiichi, and at least another 80,000 are reckoned to have voluntarily decided to flee their homes.
The official evacuation zone is divided into three different areas. In the least contaminated, furthest away from the nuclear plant, the Japanese government is hoping to allow 32,900 people to return soon.
In the second area there is twice or three times as much contamination, and no immediate plan to lift the ban on living there. But the government is hoping that, after decontamination work and natural radioactive decay, 23,300 people will be allowed home in years to come.
In the third area closest to the nuclear station, radiation levels are so high that experts say it will be more than 120 years before it will be safe for anyone to be allowed back. That means that the 24,700 who used to live there will all be dead before they can go home.
Many of those who may be allowed back won’t want to come. A survey of one village in the evacuation zones, Katsurao, found that 60 per cent of residents either didn’t want to return home or weren’t sure. Families with young children faced an “enormous challenge” because of the “invisible risk” of radiation, said the village mayor, Masahide Matsumoto.
“At least 25,000 people will never be able to return home, and this will have traumatic, prolonged and widespread consequences,” said Maria Vitagliano, international programme director for Green Cross International, an environmental Red Cross active in Japan and set up by former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993.
But the government’s attitude towards nuclear power infuriates many. “What makes me angry is that they don’t regret what happened,” said Yoshiko Aoki, who runs a community centre for Fukushima Daiichi evacuees in Koriyama.
“It’s the individual villagers who regret it, and that makes me very angry. They are all afraid of the hazards. They don’t have a future and don’t feel there is a possibility of going home.”
The tsunami was not the issue, Aoki argued. “The biggest problem is the nuclear catastrophe – and it is not only our problem. It is a problem for future generations and for the world.”
Read more at Fukushima legacy… 25,000 who cannot go home again