Fukushima evacuees have been abandoned by the Japanese government
Mitsuko Sonoda says Tokyo is violating the human rights of evacuees by pressuring them to return to the area, even though radiation levels remain high following the 2011 nuclear power plant disaster
I used to live in Fukushima with my husband and our child, in a fantastic natural environment with a strong local community. That was until the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 destroyed coastal communities and killed tens of thousands of people.
The day after it hit, there were constant aftershocks. It gave us another massive scare when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant exploded. We decided to evacuate to Western Japan to protect our child.
The government raised the level of “acceptable” exposure to the same standard as nuclear workers – 20 times the international public standard. My son was not a nuclear worker, but a little boy, more vulnerable to the effects of radiation than adults.
Like my family, many fled contaminated areas that were below the raised emergency level, but higher than acceptable. We have been labelled “self-evacuees”. We have never received compensation, outside some housing support.
Some of the evacuee children have struggled to adjust to a different environment. They have continued to miss family, friends and old schools, and have been bullied by other children in their new residences. There were even rumours of “contagion”.
Many children also really miss their fathers, who have often stayed in Fukushima for their jobs.
Mothers have silently tackled these difficulties, including health problems in themselves and their children. We have sometimes been labelled neurotic, irrational and overprotective, our worries about radiation dismissed. Divisions and divorce have been common.
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All the while, we miss our relatives, friends, old community and the nature we used to live in.
In March, the government lifted evacuation orders, and the housing support for self-evacuees stopped. Citizens were pressured to return to Fukushima. Research said radiation levels still exceeded the government’s long-term goals.
Because evacuation orders have been lifted, Tokyo Electric Power Company will also stop compensation for victims by March 2018. We need this accommodation support to continue any kind of stable life.
Before Fukushima, they said a major accident could not happen. Now they say radiation is not a problem. They say hardly any compensation is needed. Why should we have to return to live in a radioactive area? Nuclear victims don’t seem to have the right to be free from radiation.
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I’m travelling to Geneva this week to testify at a pre-session for the UN Human Rights Council’s review of Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s resettlement policies are violating our human rights. If the Japanese government doesn’t support the nuclear survivors, what’s stopping other countries from doing the same in the future?
Mitsuko Sonoda is a Fukushima nuclear accident survivor and evacuee. She now advocates for the rights of nuclear disaster victims, and is going to the UN Commission for Human Rights with the support of Greenpeace Japan