Recently, the leaders of Japan, China, and South Korea visited an evacuation center in Fukushima and insisted the situation in the prefecture was under control. But it will take more than optimistic words to appease the concerns of the local people and restore their sense of hope, says Fuke Yasunobu, managing director of Fukushima Broadcasting.
On May 21, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Republic of Korea President Lee Myung-bak took time out from a trilateral summit to join Japanese Prime Minister Kan Naoto on a visit to an evacuation center for people forced to flee their homes by the crisis at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The leaders had words of encouragement for the people in the center, and then lined up to munch on Fukushima-produced vegetables for the cameras.
The evening edition of that day’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper said the three leaders were “reminding people in Japan and overseas that Fukushima is safe, in an attempt to limit the damage done to local agriculture by the loss of consumer confidence.” The governor of Fukushima Prefecture, Satō Yūhei, is also fond of repeating the “Fukushima is safe” message whenever he goes to Tokyo. But how many people really take him at his word?
Crisis in Fukushima: An Open Secret
Anyone in Japan who has paid attention to TEPCO announcements knows that the situation at the Unit 1–4 reactors at Fukushima Daiichi remains critical, even if things seem to be more or less under control for the time being. People have seen images on their televisions of tearful residents in Iitate and other “planned evacuation zones” sobbing as they leave their houses and homes behind. Everyone has heard about bans on rice planting in areas affected by major fallout, and shipping restrictions placed on certain kinds of vegetables.
People across the country are aware that residents in Fukushima City and Kōriyama City, 40km outside the exclusion zone around the power station, have been working frantically to remove the topsoil from local schools, where it is suspected that radiation levels may be high enough to harm children’s health.
Naturally, radioactive materials fall not only on school playgrounds but also on the roofs of houses and buildings, and on roads. They are washed away by the rain and collects in gutters and roadside ditches. People live their daily lives in fear, petrified about places in their neighborhoods that might be affected by high levels of radiation.
Government Offers No Inspiration
There was nothing necessarily wrong with the three leaders standing together to chomp on local produce. But the reality is that the situation is significantly more serious than the benign image they are trying to project. Rather than sending out fluffy PR messages claiming that all is well, they ought to be providing accurate and reliable information to let people know exactly what the risks are. They ought to be coming up with policies to restore hope to the people of Fukushima Prefecture—hope that they will one day be able to rebuild their lives, particularly residents close to the power station who have lost their homes and jobs and now stand on the brink of despair. On May 17 the government made public its plans for providing support and assistance to those affected by the nuclear power station accident. The blueprint included provisions for evacuees to return to their homes temporarily, arrangements to bring cars out of the exclusion zone, health checkups for evacuees, provisions for soil treatment, and an outline for compensation to be paid by TEPCO. There is nothing in particular wrong with the plans so far as they go—but they are hardly enough to inspire dreams of rebuilding lives.
As part of its outline, the government stated clearly that people had suffered as a result of national nuclear power policies. The situation is clear. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio has also repeatedly promised that the government would take “firm steps” to respond in “every possible way” and to introduce “precisely tailored” measures for dealing with the disaster, “putting the interests of the people first.” The words sound reassuring. But so far, nothing concrete has materialized. I feel angry and frustrated. (Written on May 21, 2011.)
In this Series
Grief and Anger in Fukushima
No More Complacent PR: Time for Concrete Reconstruction Plans(June 2)
False Rumors Not the True Culprit（May 20）
Try to Imagine the Evacuees’ Anxiety（April 15）
Born in Kagawa Prefecture in 1949. Graduated from Kagawa University, where he majored in economics. Joined Asahi Shimbun Co. in 1974 and worked as a political reporter at its Tokyo Head Office. Experienced the 1995 Kobe earthquake while working at the newspaper’s Osaka Head Office. Served as chief editor of the Seibu Head Office. Joined Fukushima Broadcasting Co. and became its managing director in June 2009.