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Saturday, Sep. 17, 2011
Six months after the massive earthquake and tsunami devastated the Tohoku Pacific coastal areas on March 11, people there are continuing to rebuild together their lives. In Fukushima Prefecture, people have suffered not only from the natural disasters but also from the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Those who have not been directly affected by these catastrophes, in particular politicians, should never underestimate or make light of the suffering and sorrow of those who have been directly impacted in Tohoku. The government must do its utmost to accelerate the reconstruction from the triple disasters.
The quake and tsunami left 15,788 people dead and 4,057 others missing. By the end of August, police inspections of 15,689 corpses in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures determined that drowning had caused 90.5 percent of the deaths, injuries, including crushing, had caused 4.5 percent of the deaths and fires 1 percent.
The identities of 14,553 dead have been established, with 55.7 percent of those identified being 65 years old or older.
At one time, more than 450,000 people were staying at temporary evacuation shelters. In Iwate Prefecture, all such shelters were closed by the end of August. In Fukushima Prefecture, a few shelters are still open. In Miyagi Prefecture, more than 2,000 people are staying at some 110 shelters.
In the disaster-hit areas, vital infrastructure such as roads and power have mostly been restored and more than 90 percent of planned fabricated houses have been built. But some 75,000 people have been forced to evacuate their communities and are living in the homes of relatives or friends or in shelters.
A survey by Kyodo News of the resident registers in 37 municipalities in the coastal areas of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures shows that 49,886 residents have left. There is a possibility that this number may be higher as many have left without changing their resident registers to reflect their new places of residence.
In the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, 9,011 residents have left — the largest number among the 37 municipalities. The town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, suffered a 13.7 percent drop in its population — the greatest percentage among the municipalities. Some 1,408 people there — nearly 10 percent of the town's population — died in the disasters, including the mayor.
The government should pay close attention to the dire employment situation in the devastated areas and the fact that many people there have little prospect of rebuilding their homes. A population decline in the disaster-struck areas could also hinder reconstruction efforts.
In addition to the damage from the March 11 quake and tsunami, residents in Fukushima Prefecture have suffered from the spread of radiation from the stricken nuclear power plant. The city of Minami Soma, part of which has become an off-limits zone, has some 66,929 registered residents. But the city government found that as of Sept. 5 only about 40,000 people were actually living there. The entire towns of Futaba, Okuma and Tomioka have become off-limits zones.
Some Fukushima farmers have suffered financial damage after sales of some of their products, including beef and milk, were banned due to radioactive contamination. Parents and children remain fearful of radiation, and justly so. It is imperative that the central and local governments vigorously move forward with decontamination work in the prefecture.
Skepticism of nuclear power generation continues to spread in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear fiasco. A poll of prefectural governors and municipal mayors by Kyodo News shows that 66 percent of them are opposed to building new nuclear power plants — with 38 percent saying they would not accept the construction of new nuclear power plants, 27 percent saying that new nuclear power plants should not be built and that current nuclear power plants should be abolished as soon as possible, and 1 percent calling for the immediate abolition of existing nuclear power plants.
Only 17 percent said that they accept nuclear power plants as long as their operation is confirmed safe. The poll was held between mid-August and early September, and 1,697 of the nation's 1,793 local government heads participated.
The poll also found that 54 percent are of the opinion that when new nuclear power plants are planned or when nuclear power plants are restarted, consent should be obtained not only from local governments adjacent to nuclear power plant sites but also from local governments more distant from such sites.
Given the public's overwhelming sentiment against nuclear power — some polls show 70 percent want it phased out — the central government should declare that it will seek to end Japan's reliance on nuclear power and work out a road map to achieve that end.
The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda should have the Diet pass the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 to fund disaster reconstruction as soon as possible. It is expected that ¥19 trillion will be required over a period of five years. The administration plans to submit the extra budget to the Diet in mid-October, but it should strive to do so faster as winter will come to the Tohoku region soon.