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Gov’t to seek lower EU guard on farm produce, seafood imports from Fukushima

13 September 2017

The central government is set to work harder on the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union (EU), to go ahead with its planned relaxation of restrictions on agricultural produce and seafood imported from Japan, including from Fukushima Prefecture. The move follows the adoption of a resolution by the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee calling for reviewing the proposed easing of curbs, imposed after the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. In response to a joint emergency petition by the governors of 10 prefectures, including Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori, senior government officials such as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Ken Saito indicated on Sept. 12 that the central government will take the initiative in dealing with the issue.

Uchibori and his top aides held a series of talks in Tokyo with Suga, Saito and Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Mitsunari Okamoto, among other officials. The Fukushima side cautioned them that harmful rumors at home and abroad about Fukushima products would worsen, to the detriment of resumption of exports to non-EU countries, if the EU fails to realize its proposed policy to lower restrictions on food imports from Japan. The policy was revealed last July by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Saito said at the outset of his meeting with the Fukushima officials that the government’s “strong intention to seek relaxation and removal of import restrictions on the basis of scientific grounds remains absolutely intact,” adding that it “will continue to work on the European Commission.”

The farm minister also made clear that the government briefed commission officials on the strictness of inspections for radioactive substances and other details of safety measures in Japan after the committee resolution was adopted, renewing its call for the elimination of import curbs on Fukushima products such as rice and some fish species this fall or thereafter.

Talks with Suga were held behind closed doors. After the meeting, Uchibori told Fukushima-Minpo Co., publisher of the namesake vernacular daily, that he “was able to confirm the government’s strong will to address the issue at its own initiative.” The European Commission is expected to make a final decision soon, possibly between late this month and early October. The government is poised to step up efforts in partnership with the prefectures concerned to have the commission proceed with its original plan.

As for the highest allowable standard for radioactive cesium content in general food, the EU has set it at 1,250 becquerels per kilogram while Japan has a far stricter standard of 100 becquerels, less than a 10th the EU level.

Photo: Farm minister Ken Saito (right) tells visiting Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori of a government policy to take the initiative in calling for relaxation of EU food import curbs at a meeting at the ministry in Tokyo on the morning of Sept. 12.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

6 September 2017

Fukushima University students help with Houston disaster cleanup

[Translated by the Japan Times] Five students at Fukushima University are volunteering in Houston in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey.

The students happened to be in the disaster area as participants of an internship program at the Houston city office. They are helping with the operations of shelters and cleanup efforts clearing out disaster debris, reciprocating the gratitude they felt for the kindness of Americans in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

The five are: Natsuki Igarashi, 20, a native of Nasushiobara, Tochigi Prefecture; Yuki Sato, 19, from the city of Koriyama; Yuki Tanpo, 19, a native of Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture; Aya Watanabe, 20, originally from Murakami, Niigata Prefecture; and Kin Shiryu, a 29-year-old graduate student originally from Beijing.

The students have been in Houston since Aug. 6, as part of an internship program at the city hall, where, before the storm, they had studied English and worked alongside city employees on an alcohol and drug dependency prevention program, measures against child delinquency, and public relations.

Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25, causing record-level floods and wreaking havoc on the city. While the students, who are living at homestay accommodations, were not personally affected, the entire city suffered catastrophic damage. The City Hall was swamped with water, forcing the suspension of the internship program.

Mountains of debris piled up along the roads and the crowds of people at shelters brought back the students’ memories of Fukushima in the aftermath of the March 2011 disasters. This inspired the students to volunteer and show their feelings of gratitude for the support Fukushima received.

Cooperating with host families and friends in the Houston area, the students have been sorting out relief supplies, removing furniture damaged by the flood and mopping the floors of restaurants.

Sato, whose home was damaged in 2011, said: “I want to be useful to people of Houston, using my experience as a disaster victim. I want to support the recovery of the city as a representative of Fukushima.”

Philip McCasland, an associate professor of business administration at Fukushima University who accompanied the students to the city, was impressed by their actions.

“They were proactive in the way they took part in the recovery efforts,” he said.

Daisuke Numata, an associate professor at the university in charge of the internship program, expressed hope the students will grow through their experience in Houston. The five are set to return to Fukushima later this month.

7 September 2017

70% of Fukushima residents afraid of another nuke mishap

More than 70% of some 10,000 households in seven towns and villages in the Futaba region of Fukushima Prefecture feel “uneasy and pained” about a possible recurrence of the 2011 nuclear accident and about the safety of planned facilities for interim storage and disposal of polluted waste, Fukushima University said in an interim survey report on Sept. 6. The second survey since the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant showed that a combined 71.4% of the responding families find it “strongly true” or “slightly true” they hold such sentiments over the possibility of another accident occurring before the crippled plant is decommissioned and that 70.3% feel similarly about the safety issue. The respondents were allowed to pick multiple answers to each question.

The survey results brought home local people’s desire for securing the safety of decommissioning work as well as ensuring careful operation and management of such facilities as the interim storage complex to be built in an area straddling the towns of Okuma and Futaba that host the nuclear plant.

According to the survey that asked what residents feel “uneasy and pained” about, 49.6% said it was “strongly true” and 21.8% “slightly true” they felt such a sentiment about a possible recurrence of the accident ahead of completion of the decommissioning work. Meanwhile, 46.4% picked “strongly true” and 23.9% “slightly true” for feeling such concern about the safety of the storage and disposal facilities.

A spate of trouble has occurred in the decommissioning project, including the human error-caused stoppage of a pump that pours cooling water onto melted nuclear fuel inside reactor Unit 3 and the temporary halt of a cooling function for a pool of spent fuel in each of Units 2 and 3. Both incidents occurred last December.

The survey also showed that a combined 74.9% feel it is “strongly true” or “slightly true” that “connections and exchanges within their communities have become sparse” while 72.1% feel it is “strongly true” or “slightly true” that “connections and exchanges with longtime friends and acquaintances have become sparse.”

The survey was based on a questionnaire mailed last February to 26,582 households of families who lived in the towns of Naraha, Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba and Namie and the villages of Kawauchi and Katsurao at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident. Replies were received from 10,081 of them. The previous first survey was conducted in 2011.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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