Residents of Fukushima’s Iitate Village file petition for nuclear damage compensation to restore home village Nuke Info Tokyo No. 164

Nearly half of the entire population of Iitate Village, Fukushima Prefecture, filed a petition with the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center (NDCDRC) on November 14, 2014, demanding measures to restore the lives of the nuclear disaster victims. The petitioners are 2,837 villagers from 737 households and the petition is addressed to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) President and CEO, Naomi Hirose.

The petitioners’ group and their lawyers have recently compiled a booklet that contains the text of their petition and part of the accompanying materials. We introduce some of the contents of the booklet in this article.

Main points of the petition seeking NDCDRC arbitration for an out-of-court settlement

The petitioners call on TEPCO to

  1. admit legal responsibility for causing serious radioactive contamination in the village and inflicting massive damage on the villagers, and to sincerely apologize to the villagers for this,
  2. pay 3 million yen to each villager to compensate for mental anguish regarding their health and other psychological stress caused by radiation exposure that could have been prevented,
  3. raise the amount of compensation for the period of evacuation from 100,000 yen per person per month to 350,000 yen,
  4. pay 20 million yen to each of the petitioners as compensation for destroying their livelihoods and causing psychological distress,
  5. pay the maximum amount of compensation (that for the “difficult-to-return zone”) to the residents who need to secure their houses, but without categorizing the locations into “difficult-to-return zone,” “restricted habitation zone,” and “evacuation directive lift preparation zone,” and without forcing them to take complicated procedures for filing applications, and
  6. pay lawyers’ fees for this class action suit.

Purpose of the class action suit

This class action suit was launched by the Iitate residents for the purpose of extracting an apology from TEPCO for forcing all the villagers to evacuate after the utility’s accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in 2011, to seek just compensation for the damage they have suffered in order to regain their pride as Iitate villagers and to restore their home village.

As of November 2014, three years and eight months had passed since the outbreak of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power station (NPS). Yet all the residents of Iitate Village are still being forced to take shelter elsewhere, deprived of their livelihoods, and with many families dispersed in different locations. The utility that operated the crippled NPS has yet to apologize to the victims even now, and compensation for the damage is not moving forward. Although only extremely superficial decontamination is being carried out, the central and prefectural governments, as well as the village office, are scaling back the off-limit areas and urging the residents to return home.

To date, the Japanese government has repeatedly turned their back on the public when pollution-induced environmental destruction has occurred, for example, in the Ashio Copper Mine Pollution Case that broke out in Gunma Prefecture in the 1880s and in the case of the Minamata disease caused by organic mercury poisoning, which was brought to light in Kumamoto Prefecture in the 1950s. It is absolutely unacceptable that the Iitate villagers should be dispersed into evacuation and then compelled to swallow their poor fortune without due compensation.

Iitate Village before the nuclear disaster

Iitate Village has an area of 230 km2, of which forest accounts for nearly 75 percent. Located on a plateau, the village enjoys a cool climate. In summer, the seasonal cold Yamase wind blows, causing crop damage. The villagers, however, worked hard to stimulate the local economy by drawing up their own economic development plans. They reformed their agriculture by developing new varieties of cold-resistant crops, promoting dairy farming, and taking other measures.

Most of the villagers grew vegetables for home consumption in their gardens. They picked herbs and mushrooms in the mountains, and caught fish such as iwana and yamame (kinds of river trout) in the nearby rivers. They frequently hunted for wild boar and pheasant. For these reasons, they spent hardly any money on food. Their high environmental awareness enabled them to negotiate the freezing of a golf construction project in the village.

As can be seen from this, the villagers did not rely on large-scale economic development projects, and collaborated to build economic independence and local development.

Villagers who were unable to flee and their exposure to radiation

On March 15, 2011, the peaceful life of the Iitate villagers, based on co-existence with the natural environment, abruptly changed with the radioactive contamination caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident. The village is situated 30 to 50 kilometers to the northwest of the plant. On that day, the containment vessel of Unit 2 was severely damaged and a huge amount of radioactive substances released into the atmosphere, the plume drifting in the direction of the towns of Ohkuma, Futaba and Namie, Iitate Village and Fukushima City. After nightfall, rain and snow fell in those areas, washing the radioactive substances to the ground. The toxic substances soaked into the ground, causing extremely high radioactive contamination exceeding 1,000 to 3,000 kBq/m2 (kilobequerels per square meter), which is similar to high-level contaminated zones during the Chernobyl NPS accident.

In the evening of March 15, an extraordinarily high air dose rate of 44.7μSv/h (microsieverts per hour) was registered in front of the Iitate village office. However, many of the villagers had no knowledge of this and children played outside in snow that contained enormous amounts of radioactive substances. Many of the adults also stayed outside most of the day, cooking meals for the people who had taken refuge in the village. Others were busy directing and controlling traffic in an attempt to cope with traffic jams on the village roads because of the evacuees escaping from the nuclear accident.

An expert calling himself an adviser on radiation-related health management, dispatched from the Fukushima prefectural government, came to Iitate and repeatedly told the residents that the situation in the village was safe and posed no threat to their health. Hearing this comment, some residents recalled family members from evacuation locations in other prefectures and other villagers decided not to evacuate.

The village mayor also stressed that just staying indoors was enough to avoid radiation risk, and the central and prefectural governments failed to issue any evacuation orders for as long as one month.

Villager radiation exposure survey

The Fukushima Prefecture survey of residents’ health later announced the estimated early-stage exposure rates for the four-month period from March 11 to July 11, 2011.  Based on the materials released on June 5, 2013, a summary of the residents who were living in municipalities where residents received 5 mSv or greater exposure shows that 80% of those were residents of Iitate Village. At the same time, the survey team also conducted a survey on 3,102 villagers, revealing that the average exposure dose was 3.6 mSv.

Meanwhile, a similar study conducted by Assistant Professor Tetsuji Imanaka of Kyoto University during the same period revealed that the average exposure dose to 1,812 villagers stood as high as 7.0 mSv. Moreover, this figure did not include internal exposure.

This massive exposure to radiation could have been prevented if TEPCO, the central and prefectural governments and the Iitate village office had provided correct information to the villagers.

Villagers’ prolonged life in evacuation

Nearly four years have passed since the Iitate villagers took shelter in areas outside the village. In the meantime, about 100 relatives of the petitioners have died due to both physical and mental distress resulting from the hard life as evacuees. Elderly people, in particular, have suffered aggravation of chronic ailments, or dementia, affected by the sudden change in their lives, and some of them have committed suicide or died suddenly. The bereaved families are feeling impotent rage over these tragic occurrences.

The petitioners have stood up to demand that TEPCO apologize to them, provide them with sufficient compensation, and return to them the clean and safe environment of their home village.

We hope that their plea will be heard by as many people as possible, that they will gain more support for their fight, and that they will obtain an apology and just compensation from the utility as soon as possible.

(Kaori Yoshioka, CNIC)

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