Baba Tamotsu interviewed by Katsuya Hirano
I also heard that fewer than 10% of Namie residents are expected to return and that the situation is likely to remain the same for the foreseeable future. Some people even suggest that the town of Namie will disappear in 15 to 20 years. What do you think about such observations? And what are your thoughts about residents returning?
Baba: I did feel in 2013 that time had stopped completely. Since then, I have been at a total loss as to what was going to happen to this town. In these conditions, the more time goes by, the more people end up deciding not to return. It’s such a shame.
But I can say that the 21,000 Namie residents, every single one of them, have affection for their hometown. It’s why I feel that no matter how few people are actually returning, we need to save this town and keep it alive. I need to do it for our residents wishing to come back, although it might not actually happen for another generation or the generation after that. Regardless, I would like those who can to come back to Namie.
Hirano: As mayor, do you have any concerns that bringing people back might increase the risk of internal radiation exposure, especially among children and young people? For example, in Chernobyl, the 30 km exclusion zone is still in place to this day, but in Fukushima, residents’ return is being promoted even in areas within 20 km of the nuclear plant. Since there is a limit to what can be achieved through decontamination, I would be concerned that the increased possibility of internal exposure poses a serious problem to residents.
Baba: I cannot say there is no risk, but a personal dosimeter has been distributed to everyone, and we closely monitor the residents’ health. The town officials also have been taking responsibility for measuring the radiation in food.
The central government has set 3.8 microSv/h as the standard.
Hirano: Actually that standard is 20 times higher than what was originally determined by law, isn’t it? In fact, it is a standard that is applied only to Fukushima in entire Japan. Some experts claim that there is no such thing as an absolutely safe standard – that the best thing is to avoid radiation exposure as much as possible, especially internal exposure. What do you think about those views?5
Baba: It would be a lie if I said that I am not concerned about it. But as long as the central government responsibly asserts that it is safe, we have no choice but to believe what they say and proceed with reconstruction.
Baba: Well, constructing a sarcophagus means locking the radioactive material inside, but I am not sure if that’s actually possible. That would turn this town into a final disposal site. In that case, I wonder if people would actually be able to live here, to lead a normal, human life in such an environment. So I think we have to get the dangerous material removed, that this is necessary for humans to go about the business of being human.
If I were to accept the construction of sarcophagi, I would have to ask the central government to relocate our entire town just as occurred in Chernobyl. It means that no one would be allowed to live within 30 kilometers anymore and that were told to live somewhere else.
If that had been the plan from the beginning, I think it might have worked out, but I’d have to say, don’t come to me now with such a request.
Let me tell you, there was in fact an unofficial government plan at the time of the accident to relocate the entire town to another place. This town isn’t habitable any more. Please look for another place and move the town. There was that kind of thinking. However, after considering various factors, the government changed their policy from relocation to reconstruction.
And so at first, we did look into this option. Thinking we wouldn’t be able to live here anymore, we looked around for a large area somewhere in Fukushima and making it Namie. But after various heated discussions, I think the central government settled on the policy of restoration and reconstruction instead, and that’s how it was settled. In fact, we have a history of relocation. At the end of the Edo period, the Tokugawa Shogunate was overthrown by the anti-shogunate forces, which sought to establish a new government by restoring imperial power. Fukushima’s Aizu feudal clan, which had supported the shogunate, was regarded as an enemy of the emperor by the new Meiji government and was ordered to relocate to Iwate and Aomori prefectures or to Hokkaido.
But that was possible because it was only the Aizu region. This time, we’re talking about Hirono, Naraha and all together eight cities and towns in Futaba district. If we include neighboring areas, such as Iwaki, Minami-Soma and Tamura, we’re talking about twelve cities, towns and villages. There’s no way you can relocate all twelve of these municipalities.