UNTIL THE APPLES ROT
I am currently in the Netherlands to meet with children coming from Fukushima, my quasi eternal obsession, and my host gave me a very interesting book to read: リンゴが腐るまで (Until the apples rot), by 笹子美奈子 (Sasako Minako), a journalist at the Yomiuri Journal. It is pretty surprising that a journalist of a right-wing, conservative newspaper writes about what happened in Fukushima, with a critical viewpoint, but il faut de tout pour faire un monde, as we say in French.
I am only at the 54th page (I read so slowly in Japanese that it’s crazily frustrating, even for me), but some pieces of information have already caught my eyes. In this article, I’ll be talking about the issue of financial compensations that were implemented after 3.11 and how it created huge disparities and social conflicts in Fukushima.
The issue of financial compensation in the aftermath of 3.11 is a real issue. First, there is a need to explain on what compensations are based and how they differ from one person to another. What you have to remember first is that 3.11 is basically 3 events combined in one: earthquake, tsunami, nuclear accident. The earthquake did not kill many people (for some people, it is actually difficult to say if they were killed by the earthquake or if they were killed in the tsunami), but it provoked huge infrastructure damages, also in inner lands of Tōhoku. Then the tsunami submerged the coast, killing close to 20.000 people. At last, explosions happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, projecting radioactive particles in the air and contaminating the prefecture partially. Therefore, people get different types of compensations, depending on the part of the catastrophe that affects them.
The second level of differentiation is related to “how much” you were touched by the disaster. In the case of people struck by the earthquake or the tsunami, someone (experts? insurance companies? municipalities?) will come to see how damaged your house is and then put you in one of these cases: totally destroyed, partially destroyed, damaged. Of course, the amount of money you will be receiving will depend on this expertise. In Fukushima, the level of compensation depends on where you come from and what status your hometown has. Again, you have 3 types of evacuation zones: the zone where resettlement will be difficult (帰還困難区域, <50 mSv/year), the zone where you can spend a limited amount of time – meaning you cannot spend the night there – (居住制限区域, between 20 and 50 mSv/year) and the zone where resettlement will be possible after decontamination (避難指示解除準備区域, <20 mSv/year). To give an example presented in the book, concerning buildings you own, you will get the following compensations, according to your status:
– Zone where resettlement will be difficult: 9.370.000 yen (approximately 73.000€)
– Zone where you can spend a limited amount of time: 7.810.000 yen (approximately 61.000€)
– Zone where resettlement will be possible after decontamination: 4.690.000 yen (approximately 37.000€)
Well, people could say it’s normal to mark differences between people because they did not suffer from the same damages. That might be true. But here is an example of what I heard while conducting a fieldwork:
“Well, some people have their houses categorized as ‘partially destroyed’ or even ‘damaged’, but sometimes it means that they cannot live there anymore. I mean, if your house was strongly shaken up by the earthquake, it might not be as stable as before. Some of those houses are dangerous, with walls falling apart. But the houses are still standing, so they are ‘damaged’ or ‘partially destroyed’. Their owners cannot live in them anymore, but they won’t get full compensations either, so they might not have the means to have them repaired or to reconstruct a house. Some people just live in dilapidated houses and do not dare try to get a temporary housing, because they would get criticized by other people.”
In Fukushima prefecture, you have the same issue. Some municipalities, such as Minamisōma (南相馬市) were divided in 3 zones. Therefore, inhabitants from the same city receive different amounts of money. How do you explain to a person that his/her direct neighbor receives more money than him/her because he simply lives on the other side of the street, side that is comprised in the no-resettlement zone? The movie “Land of Hope“, the arbitrary line put in place by the government shows the absurdity of the situation: “Sorry, the limit is at 20km, and you’re outside of that circle.” Are you supposed to believe that you will be able to live free from radioactivity just because your house is after the barricade? I don’t think so. And in the case of Minamisōma, I think it’s even worse, since part of the city must not even be considered an evacuation zone, meaning that some people are living “normally” there, without receiving any compensation, while residents from other districts are being evacuated (sometimes to the Northern part of the same city!) and compensated. Here is a map of evacuation zones in Fukushima prefecture. You can clearly see Minamisōma city (North-East) and how it’s divided in different zones:
The very simple consequence of those differences of treatment is that inhabitants start criticizing each other: “Did you know that blabla got full compensation for his/her house? I can’t believe he/she has it and I don’t!!” This horrible administrative puzzle is destroying communities and social networks. Families are driven apart, while old friends stop gathering. Rumors start spreading, accusing evacuees from living off compensation, buying expensive cars, gambling and drinking, all of this without working a single hour. There is no cohesion possible. People fight each other, instead of attacking TEPCO and the state. And those conflicts are poisoning a possible social reconstruction, outside the evacuation zones, preventing solidarity from arising.
I think it’s an issue we should think about before anything terrible happens in Europe. I don’t want to be too pessimistic, nor too optimistic, but I don’t trust French nuclear plants that much, especially looking at recently released information. If something were to happen, we need to think about evacuation issues in advance, instead of breaking up communities like it happened (and happens) in Japan.