Friday, April 7, 2017

PM Abe Dismisses Calls For Imamura Resignation

Imamura At Diet Thursday

 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dismissed opposition calls Thursday for the resignation of the disaster reconstruction minister, Masahiro Imamura, over remarks implying Fukushima evacuees yet to return to parts of the prefecture deemed safe to live in should fend for themselves.

Masahiro Imamura had been defending at a Tuesday press conference the central government’s decision to delegate help for the “voluntary evacuees” from the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster when he said it is such people’s “own responsibility, their own choice” not to return.

“I want him to continue to be alongside those affected by the disaster and devote every effort to his duties with the aim of realizing reconstruction as soon as possible,” Abe said during a plenary session of the House of Representatives.

Earlier Thursday, Imamura, 70, apologized for “causing a nuisance to everyone” at a session of the lower house committee on reconstruction from the 2011 disaster.

Housing subsidies ran out last month for people who left areas other than government-designated zones around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

At the Japanese Lower House of the Diet on Thursday Imamura said “Prime Minister Abe said I should apologize that I used a disparaging word and gave the impression that (the evacuees) are responsible for their own (return) despite the fact that they are displaced because of the nuclear disaster, and I deeply apologize,” Imamura said.

Kazuko Kori, a lawmaker from the main opposition Democratic Party the recovering area of northeastern Japan, had called for Imamura to resign because “we cannot discuss reconstruction under this minister.”

Many in the Diet have dismissed Imamura's aplogy as being nothing more than "Abe told me to, so that is the sole reason I am apologizing".

But Imamura vowed to “keep performing my duties in good faith.”

Imamura had aggressively lashed out at the reporter who had asked him the question on Tuesday, yelling “shut up” at the reporter during the press conference. He offered a brief apology the same day for having “become emotional.”

He said Thursday he is willing to apologize to the reporter, “if Prime Minister Abe said it is necessary.”

The lower house reconstruction committee is currently debating a proposal to reform a special law relating to the 2011 disaster that would see the state pay for cleanup efforts in the areas of Fukushima still too contaminated with radioactivity to live in.

Imamura has been in his post since a Cabinet reshuffle in August last year.

KYODO

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Disaster Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura Calls Fukushima Evacuees Leeches



Masahiro Imamura, Japan’s disaster reconstruction minister, said Tuesday displaced people yet to return to areas of Fukushima Prefecture deemed safe to live in are “responsible for their own lives and living,” before snapping at the reporter whose question prompted the remark.


Imamura made the comment at a press conference explaining the government’s efforts for the reconstruction of areas hit by the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.


Housing subsidies ran out last month for those who had left areas other than government-designated zones around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.


Citing a court decision last month that the central government and the plant’s operator were liable in the nuclear disaster in the first ruling of its kind since the crisis, a reporter asked what the state is doing to help the “voluntary evacuees.”


Imamura responded that the central government has delegated such matters to prefectural authorities, which are more knowledgeable about local conditions.


“It’s evacuees responsibility, their own choice not to return, they are acting like leeches” he said when pressed further, pointing out that other evacuees have managed to go back to the areas.


The reporter said some of those still displaced have found themselves unable to return, and asked whether the state should take more responsibility for looking after those people.


“We are taking responsibility. The evacuees refuse to return so we have the situation now. So why are you saying something so rude?” Imamura shouted, slamming his podium.


Pointing a finger at the reporter, he then yelled, “Take that back! Get out of here!”


“You’re the one who’s causing problems for the evacuees,” someone called out as Imamura walked away from the podium, to which the minister responded “Shut up! You are annoying!" before leaving the room.


“The minister has informed me that he became emotional and was unable to remain calm for part of today’s press conference,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a subsequent press conference.


Suga, the government’s top spokesman, said the matter is one for Imamura himself to “handle appropriately.”


Imamura apologized later Tuesday, telling reporters he had “become emotional.”  When he was pressed again to explain what the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is doing to assist the remaining evacuees, Imamura thanked the media present and left the press room without comment.


Imamura, 70, was installed in his post in a Cabinet reshuffle in August last year.


KYODO
Here is video of the exchange

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Vietnamese Detainee Dies In Custody At Japanese Immigration Center


Detention Area at Ibaraki Immigration Center

A Vietnamese man died in a solitary cell at a Japanese immigration detention center on Saturday. The Vietnamese detainee had complained of pain throughout his detention for a week before his death, according to fellow detainees.

The death was the 13th in Japan’s detention system since 2006, a toll that has provoked sustained criticism from activists and a watchdog overseeing the centres about conditions prevailing there.

In a handwritten note seen by Reuters on Tuesday, six detainees said the man, Nguyen The Hung, repeatedly told guards he was suffering from pain in his neck and head after his arrival at the East Japan Immigration Center in Ibaraki Prefecture in mid-March.

An official at the centre northeast of Tokyo, declined to elaborate on a statement issued on Monday saying that a Vietnamese man in his forties had been found unconscious there on Saturday and later pronounced dead.

A Vietnamese nun helping to arrange Nguyen’s funeral, Tam Tri Thich, initially told Reuters on Monday that the Vietnamese embassy in Tokyo had told her that Nguyen had killed himself at the facility.

On Tuesday, however, she said she had misheard the information and that in fact the embassy had told her only that Nguyen had died suddenly.

The embassy did not immediately reply to Reuters telephone and email requests for comment.

Nguyen was prescribed painkillers by a doctor at the centre last Wednesday, the detainees said in their letter, only for guards to ignore his later complaints of pain and admonish him to be quiet.

A Reuters investigation into the death of a Sri Lankan held in a solitary cell at a Tokyo detention center revealed serious gaps in medical care and monitoring of people held in Japan’s immigration detention system.

The cause of Nguyen’s death has not been announced. The centre and the country’s Justice Ministry, which oversees the detention centres, have said the authorities would perform an autopsy.

The East Japan Immigration Center held 297 detainees at the end of last year, according to the Justice Ministry.  

Reuters

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Opposition Parties Want PM Shinzo Abe's Wife To Testify

PM Abe's Wife, Akie Abe

Four opposition parties on March 24 agreed to demand that first lady Akie Abe testify as a sworn witness in the Diet to determine who is lying in relation to a questionable deal over state-owned land.

The move comes a day after Yasunori Kagoike, chief of the Osaka-based Moritomo Gakuen educational institution, repeated his claims about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Akie, and the couple again rejected Kagoike’s words as falsehoods.

“There is a total contradiction in what Akie said and what Kagoike said,” Kazunori Yamanoi, Diet Affairs Committee chairman for the main opposition Democratic Party, said. “We are forced to make this request (to have Akie appear before the Diet) in order to clarify the facts.”

Kagoike, testifying as a sworn witness, told the Diet that he sought Akie’s help on a leasing deal for the state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, that Moritomo Gakuen wanted to buy for a planned elementary school.

Kagoike also repeated that Akie gave him a 1 million yen ($9,000) donation from the prime minister.

The ruling coalition is opposed to calling Akie before the Diet on grounds that both she and her husband have repeatedly denied donating money to Kagoike or being involved in Moritomo Gakuen’s purchase of the land for 14 percent of its appraised value.

In Diet questioning on March 24, the prime minister again denied any involvement by him, his wife or his office in the land deal.

He and other government officials also blasted Kagoike’s claim that Akie gave him the money when they were alone in his office at Moritomo Gakuen.

“It is extremely regrettable that comments were made counter to the facts by laying out a situation involving a conversation in a closed room that makes it impossible to provide counter evidence,” Abe said at the Upper House Budget Committee on March 24.

He also criticized Kagoike for revealing only some of the e-mail exchanges between his wife and Akie to give the impression that the first lady had asked them to keep quiet about the evolving scandal.

The prime minister said he intended to disclose the e-mail exchange between the two women over a two-year period.

Kyodo

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cesium Spread In Fukushima By Wild Mushrooms

Source: Asahi News - 朝日新聞

Radioactive cesium released after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant's triple meltdown in 2011 is continuing to contaminate the environment through wild mushrooms, scientists say.

It turns out that the fungi absorb cesium and then release it through their spores after concentrating it.

But the amount of cesium in the environment is miniscule and poses no threat to human health, say the researchers, who are primarily with the Meteorological Research Institute of the Japan Meteorological Agency, Ibaraki University and Kanazawa University.

The new findings indicate that cesium is released into the environment again by mushroom spores in mountains and forests in zones designated as difficult to return to because of high contamination levels after the nuclear accident triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Radiation levels in the air are measured at monitoring posts and disclosed to the public. Those measurements are taken at a designated height to measure radiation from the ground and in the atmosphere.

In a separate effort, a team of scientists from the Meteorological Research Institute and other bodies measured the radioactivity concentration of cesium-137 by collecting airborne particles 1 meter above ground in Fukushima Prefecture.

The team’s survey showed that cesium levels in a mountainous area in the northwestern part of the town of Namie rise five times in summer compared with winter. The region is part of the difficult-to-return zone.

The increased cesium level during summer is equivalent to less than one ten-thousandth of the radiation dose of 2.1 millisieverts, which the average individual is naturally exposed to each year.

The latest findings were in marked contrast to studies covering the prefectural capital of Fukushima and elsewhere that showed cesium levels were higher in winter than summer.

Initially, the researchers considered the possibility of cesium on the ground's surface being kicked up by clouds of dust. But they found no clear association between the cesium level and dust.

Teruya Maki, an associate professor of microorganism ecology at Kanazawa University, analyzed genes of airborne particles gathered in forests and mountains in the northwestern part of Namie from August to September 2015.

The results showed that many of the particles were derived from mushrooms.

Between June and October last year, more than 10 kinds of wild mushrooms were gathered on 10 occasions in the region’s forests and mountains. The radioactivity concentration levels in the spores measured up to 143 becquerels per gram.

When multiplying the cesium concentration per spore by the number of collected spores per cubic meter, the result roughly matched the measured cesium concentration for the area.

“Spores in which cesium was concentrated were likely released into the atmosphere, raising the airborne concentration,” said Kazuyuki Kita, an air environment science professor at Ibaraki University, who was involved in the analysis of cesium levels.

The amount of cesium contained in a spore of sampled mushrooms was extremely small.

“Even if people inhale the air in areas where mushroom spores containing cesium are spreading, that could never affect human health,” said Kazuhiko Ninomiya, a researcher of radiochemistry at Osaka University, who is a member of the research team.

The researchers are also trying to ascertain the extent to which the mushroom spores spread. They are planning more studies to figure out if the distances involved could be several kilometers.

Last summer, airborne cesium concentration levels for mountains and forests in Namie that have yet to be decontaminated were almost the same as those for an area 1 kilometer away that has been decontaminated on a trial basis.

That indicates cesium is likely spreading in the air, according to the scientists.

Asahi News

Monday, March 20, 2017

Tokyo Gas Suggested Back Door Talks For Fish Market

Former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara
 
A former Tokyo deputy governor said Sunday that Tokyo Gas Co. suggested backdoor negotiations on the sale of contaminated land for a new Tokyo fish market.

The remark by Takeo Hamauzu, 69, contradicts the Tokyo government's official records that state Hamauzu in October 2000 sounded out Tokyo Gas, the owner of the land at the time, about holding secret talks on the sale.

The Tokyo government's main negotiator for the purchase of land to replace the aging Tsukiji fish market told a powerful committee of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly looking into the controversial relocation plan that the gas company had used the term "behind closed doors."
Among several potential relocation sites, the city government selected the land in the Toyosu waterfront area that was formerly used as a gas production site, reaching a basic agreement on the relocation plan in July 2001.

However, Yuriko Koike, upon becoming Tokyo governor last August, decided to postpone the planned November 2016 relocation of the market, which also deals in fruit and vegetables, amid lingering concerns about soil and air pollution at the new site.

Tokyo Gas was initially reluctant to sell the land to the Tokyo government as it thought the former gas production site would not be appropriate for a market. But according to the government records, Hamauzu approached the company and began secret talks on the land deal.

Hamauzu, close aide of then-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, told the committee that as the gas company was originally considering using the land for a different development project, he thought the company wanted to discuss the land sale to the Tokyo government quietly as an abrupt change in the plan for the use of the Toyosu site could cause disruption.

"Since negotiations usually do not go well without taking into account a partner's demand, I said, 'We are fine to talk about it behind closed doors,'" Hamauzu told the committee.
Ishihara will appear before the committee Monday.

The metropolitan government said the same day benzene at up to 100 times the government-set safety limit had been detected in groundwater samples taken at the Toyosu site, higher than the benzene level of 79 times the allowable limit from Tokyo's ninth test results announced in January.
A former Tokyo deputy governor said Sunday that Tokyo Gas Co. suggested backdoor negotiations on the sale of contaminated land for a new Tokyo fish market.
The remark by Takeo Hamauzu, 69, contradicts the Tokyo government's official records that state Hamauzu in October 2000 sounded out Tokyo Gas, the owner of the land at the time, about holding secret talks on the sale.
The Tokyo government's main negotiator for the purchase of land to replace the aging Tsukiji fish market told a powerful committee of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly looking into the controversial relocation plan that the gas company had used the term "behind closed doors."
Among several potential relocation sites, the city government selected the land in the Toyosu waterfront area that was formerly used as a gas production site, reaching a basic agreement on the relocation plan in July 2001.
However, Yuriko Koike, upon becoming Tokyo governor last August, decided to postpone the planned November 2016 relocation of the market, which also deals in fruit and vegetables, amid lingering concerns about soil and air pollution at the new site.
Tokyo Gas was initially reluctant to sell the land to the Tokyo government as it thought the former gas production site would not be appropriate for a market. But according to the government records, Hamauzu approached the company and began secret talks on the land deal.
Hamauzu, close aide of then-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, told the committee that as the gas company was originally considering using the land for a different development project, he thought the company wanted to discuss the land sale to the Tokyo government quietly as an abrupt change in the plan for the use of the Toyosu site could cause disruption.
"Since negotiations usually do not go well without taking into account a partner's demand, I said, 'We are fine to talk about it behind closed doors,'" Hamauzu told the committee.
Ishihara will appear before the committee Monday.
The metropolitan government said the same day benzene at up to 100 times the government-set safety limit had been detected in groundwater samples taken at the Toyosu site, higher than the benzene level of 79 times the allowable limit from Tokyo's ninth test results announced in January.
Kohei Urano, emeritus professor at Yokohama National University, said while benzene at 79 times or even 100 times the safety limit would pose little danger to health unless the groundwater was used at the market or to drink, it might still arouse public concern about food handling at the market.


ニュースサイトで読む: http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170319/p2g/00m/0dm/105000c#csidxf97e61e34c06ad6aaa32833cd94a8a0
Copyright 毎日新聞

Friday, March 10, 2017

Fukushima Evacuees Face End Of Housing Subsidy

Fukushima residents protests end of evacuee subsidies

Saturday will mark six years since the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.  It marks as well the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster which caused the evacuation of over 150,000 residents of not only Fukushima City, but Fukushima Prefecture residents also.

At the end of this month, housing subsidies run out for those who fled the Fukushima nuclear disaster from areas other than the government-designated evacuation zones, and as the clock ticks down, evacuees have had to decide whether to return or move once again.

Many of these so-called voluntary evacuees are mothers seeking to avoid risking their children’s health while their husbands remain in radiation-hit Fukushima Prefecture, according to freelance journalist Chia Yoshida.

This is why the term “voluntary evacuee” is misleading, as it gives the impression that they fled Fukushima for selfish reasons, Yoshida told a news conference in January in Tokyo.

At the same news conference, another journalist proposed using the term “domestic refugee” to describe them.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government has been paying the cost of public and private housing for voluntary evacuees under the Disaster Relief Act since the reactors melted down at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The number of evacuees from the disaster, including those from mandatory evacuation areas, peaked at 164,865 as of May 2012, according to the prefectural government.

Its latest tally, conducted earlier this year, shows that 11,321 out of the 12,239 voluntary evacuee households had already decided where to live after April, while 250 had not.

It was back in June 2015 when Fukushima announced the plan to end the rent subsidy this month, saying that decontamination work in the prefecture had advanced and food safety had been achieved.

Still, the central government’s evacuation orders have not been lifted in “difficult-to-return zones,” which include the towns of Futaba and Okuma, home to the crippled nuclear facility.

Those no-entry areas are subject to radiation of over 50 millisieverts per year, compared with the government’s long-term annual target of less than 1 millisievert after decontamination work.

Rika Mashiko, 46, is a voluntary evacuee living in Tokyo. She has decided to rent a house near the Fukushima-paid apartment where she and her daughter, now in elementary school, are currently living so that her daughter will not miss her friends.

Mashiko and her daughter fled Fukushima about two months after the nuclear crisis started, leaving behind her husband in their house in Miharu, located in the center of the prefecture.

Mashiko said many women evacuated from Fukushima with their children, compelled by their instinct as mothers to avoid danger.

“Maybe nothing might have happened, but if it had, it would have been too late,” she said.

Mashiko, who first moved to a house in Higashiyamato in eastern Tokyo that was leased for free, said mothers like her who fled the nuclear disaster feel they shouldn’t have to pay their housing costs and are angry at being “victims of the state’s nuclear policy.”

Many voluntary evacuees are financially struggling as they have to cover the double living costs in their hometowns, where typically the fathers remain, and the new places where the mothers and children moved.

In that sense, the free housing has been a “lifeline” for them, particularly in the Tokyo metropolitan area where housing costs are high, according to journalist Yoshida.

In an attempt to extend support to those families, Makoto Yamada, a veteran pediatrician in Tokyo, established a fund with ¥3 million out of his own pocket to help them rent new houses, for example by covering the deposit.

The initiative was the latest example of the support he has been providing to evacuees. Three months after the disaster, he held a counseling session in the city of Fukushima that attracted some 400 people concerned about radiation exposure. He has continued to hold similar sessions in Tokyo.

Yamada, 75, says poor understanding of the plight of voluntary evacuees has also played a role in bullying cases involving evacuee children that have been reported across Japan since last year.

In one high-profile case, a first-year junior high school student in Yokohama was called a “germ” at school, in reference to his supposed exposure to radiation.

Society appears to generally feel that voluntary evacuees have received a lot of money on top of the one-time compensation payment made by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., the operator of Fukushima No. 1.

Yamada says if people understood that voluntary evacuees had no wish to leave but felt they had to, such bullying would disappear.

The first financial support from Yamada’s fund went to 10 mothers and their children on Jan. 15. He was surprised to see the recipients shed tears of joy upon receiving ¥200,000 or ¥300,000 each.

Yamada said the government has tried to reduce the number of evacuees from Fukushima in order to claim that their ranks have decreased and that the disaster has been overcome.

Yoshida echoed that view, describing the voluntary evacuees as “people who will be eliminated from history as the government seeks to trivialize the damage from radiation contamination and say their evacuation was unnecessary.”

As long as there are evacuees living outside Fukushima, they will remain a symbol showing the situation has yet to be solved, Yamada said.


“If you say ‘we will not forget about Fukushima,’ you should never forget the terror of radiation, bearing in mind that people will not live in safety as long as nuclear plants exist in the world,” he said. “So, I want to continue to think about the evacuees.”

Kyodo