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Asia more “worried” than Europe, U.S. about Fukushima food

6 December 2017

According to a survey on the reputation of food produced in Fukushima Prefecture covering some 12,500 people at home and abroad, more respondents in Asia said they are “worried about agricultural products from the prefecture” than in Europe and the United States. The survey, undertaken in February this year by a University of Tokyo graduate school, Fukushima University and other parties, found Taiwan had the greatest proportion -- 81.0% -- of concerned respondents, followed by South Korea with 69.3% and China with 66.3%. Five Western countries -- four European nations and the United States -- surveyed had lower rates ranging from 20% to 50%. Officials in charge of the poll said the safety of Fukushima food is ensured by routine tests for radioactive substances, thus pointing out the need to send out information more aggressively.

The outcome of the survey was reported in Tokyo on Dec. 5 by Naoya Sekiya, project associate professor at the Center for Integrated Disaster Information Research, Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, University of Tokyo, during a meeting on damage caused by unfounded rumors stemming from the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The Internet poll was taken by dividing it into international and domestic surveys, targeting men and women in their 20s to 60s. A total of 3,000 people from the United States and nine countries and region in Asia -- including Japan -- and Europe replied to the international survey while 9,489 people in and outside Fukushima responded to the domestic questionnaire. The results of past surveys undertaken using a similar formula were also announced.

In the international poll, the ratio of people with safety concerns exceeded 60% in each of the top three responding zones -- Taiwan (81.0%), South Korea (69.3%) and China (66.3%) -- while comparable proportions elsewhere were 56.0% in Russia, 55.7% in Germany, 39.7% in France, 35.7% in the United States and 29.3% in Britain. Japan had a 30.3% rate.

Referring in particular to the fact that Fukushima’s image in Asia has not recovered yet from immediately following the nuclear disaster, Sekiya said at the meeting: “It is necessary to more aggressively transmit information about the system of examination for radioactive substances and their results.” Ryota Koyama, professor of agricultural economics at the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Fukushima University, told the meeting that it is “important for the government to explain to foreign countries in a careful manner what has changed between right after the nuclear accident and the present.” He added, “The prefecture and other parties concerned, building on that, should push ahead with exploitation of new markets, branding and other efforts.”

An official of the prefectural government’s farm produce distribution section said of the survey results that “checks on radioactive substances and other relevant information have not been fully understood by neighboring countries while import restrictions are being eliminated gradually elsewhere, including in Southeast Asia and the European Union.”

The EU has removed some Fukushima products such as rice and vegetables from a list of food subject to import curbs, but the United States maintains an import ban on prefectural rice and some other products.

In Asia, some countries, including Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, have lifted import restrictions on Fukushima food. But other countries and regions continue to prohibit imports of prefectural products, including food banned in China and Taiwan, vegetables and fruit in Hong Kong, and seafood in South Korea and Singapore.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

27 November 2017

Iitate to introduce “hometown residence registry” for visitors

The village of Iitate is considering introducing a “hometown residence registry” system in fiscal 2018 for the first time among municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture to offer public services to visitors. The scheme includes a plan to allow visitors to use public facilities for the same fees as villagers. It is intended to help increase visitors and encourage them to take up residence in the village as well as strengthening bonds with former residents who have transferred their residence certificates to other municipalities following the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The hometown residence registry was proposed jointly by a private-sector think tank and eight municipalities in Japan, including Iitate, in 2015. Under the Iitate scheme, anybody interested in the village will be allowed to register irrespective of age or place of residence.

Details of specific services to be offered have yet to be fixed. Current plans include one permitting the use of accommodations and other public facilities in the village for the same charges as villagers. It is also planned to present exclusive goods to visitors and let them act as one-day village mayor. The village is poised to set aside related expenses in its initial budget for fiscal 2018 starting next April. It will issue “hometown resident cards” to registrants. The cards will come in three different designs, with 500 cards to be issued for each design for a total of 1,500.

Outsiders targeted for the residence registry scheme are donators under the “hometown tax payment program” that allows taxpayers to pay their local tax to municipalities of their choice in return for some deductions from their tax payments. Such donators to Iitate have added up to some 17,000 cases. Also presumed as potential registrants are those who have contributed their goodwill to the “Future Fund for Iitate Kids.” The village is seeking to collect support from outside to help ensure sustained regional development.

An evacuation order issued in the village after the nuclear disaster was lifted at the end of last March except in a “difficult-to-return zone.” The number of Iitate residents stood at 546 as of Dec. 1, 9.2% of the registered village population of 5,934. The evacuation of the whole village forced many residents to move their residence certificates to other municipalities. Against that background, the village is discussing a plan to encourage those who have relocated elsewhere to maintain contact with residents through mutual exchanges by having them register in the planned hometown residence registry.

Following the nuclear accident, Iitate Mayor Norio Kanno urged the central government to introduce a “dual residence card” system that would allow villagers to register themselves as residents in multiple municipalities. But the request went nowhere as the government failed to fix relevant policies, including those associated with taxation and voting rights. “We would like to rack our brains about what sorts of services we could offer to those who are caring about our village,” Kanno said.

※Hometown residence registry: A discretionary system under which municipalities provide people other than residents with public services. It was proposed in August 2015 jointly by policy think tank “Japan Initiative” and the heads of eight municipalities, including Iitate. Under the system, a participating municipality fixes details of services to be offered and issues cards to registrants. Hino town, Tottori Prefecture, launched it in February 2016 for the first time in Japan. At present, five municipalities in three prefectures – Tottori, Tokushima and Kagawa – have done so. Main services include the delivery of a publicity magazine, the supply of freebies and exchanges with senior municipal officials.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

22 November 2017

Polluted waste shipments to interim storage site seen completed as soon as FY2021

Transportation to an interim storage complex of soil and other waste collected in Fukushima Prefecture by decontamination work associated with the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant may be completed as soon as fiscal 2021 ending in March 2022, the Environment Ministry told Fukushima-Minpo Co., publisher of the namesake vernacular daily, on Nov. 21.

Under the ministry’s plan, 12.5 million cubic meters, about 80% of total planned waste shipments from various places in the prefecture, are to be trucked to the complex by fiscal 2020. The facility is under construction in an area straddling the towns of Okuma and Futaba that host the crippled plant. With acquisitions of privately owned land for the project well underway, the reminder of waste is expected to be transported to the complex in about a year after the bulk is brought in.

The ministry showed a revised version of its five-year waste shipment plan for fiscal 2016-2020 at a meeting of all municipal assembly members of Okuma and Futaba, each held the same day. The volume of waste generated by cleanup operations in the prefecture and scheduled to be carried into the complex is estimated at 15.2 million cubic meters. Based on progress in land acquisitions, the plan calls for 1.8 million cubic meters to be shipped to the complex in fiscal 2018, 4 million cubic meters in fiscal 2019 and 6 million cubic meters in fiscal 2020.

With 700,000 cubic meters scheduled for shipment from fiscal 2016 and by the end of fiscal 2017, the combined total comes to 12.5 million cubic meters by fiscal 2020. To be left over are some 2.7 million cubic meters. "Given this pace of shipment, waste transport can be completed by the end of fiscal 2021," a ministry official said.

But decontamination work has yet to be finished in some municipalities. Moreover, work to set up "designated reconstruction hubs" in highly contaminated difficult-to-return zones is expected to get into full swing in the years ahead. The project thus faces uncertain factors, with the total volume of waste to be brought into the complex subject to change in the future.

■44.9% of land plots contracted

As of Nov. 20, the ministry concluded land purchase contracts with 1,233 owners out of 2,360 in total. The contracted land plots add up to about 718 hectares, approximately 44.9% of the total land area planned to be acquired for the complex.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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