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75% of consumers, wholesalers "ready to buy" Fukushima fish "without doubt"

26 July 2017

About 75% of consumers and intermediate wholesalers surveyed in Tokyo are "ready to buy" fish from Fukushima Prefecture "without doubt" when there are displays showing the level of radioactive substances contained is less than the national standard, far exceeding 5% who "will not buy," according to the results of a questionnaire taken by the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations. The survey was conducted on July 22 at the Tsukiji Uogashi (riverside fish market) complex adjacent to Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market.

A total of 297 people replied to questions on Fukushima seafood in the survey. Of the respondents, 69% said they know fish caught in test operations in the sea off the prefecture is checked for radioactive content before shipment to markets. Asked if they will allow their family members and relatives younger than 18 to eat fish found to contain radioactive substances less than the standard, 70% said they will and 26% answered otherwise.

The federation issues examination certificates for wholesale markets when fish caught in test operations are shipped to those markets in an effort to dispel anxiety over the safety of prefectural seafood stemming from the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Given the survey results, federation officials said they "will urge shops and other retail outlets outside Fukushima to display examination certificates."

The survey outcome was reported at a meeting of fisheries cooperative association chiefs in the prefecture held in Iwaki city on July 25.

■Trawl fishing catch up 740 tons

The volume of fish caught by bottom trawling boats in Fukushima in the 10 months from September 2016 to June 2017 totaled about 1,445 tons, representing an increase of some 740 tons from the same period a year before, according to a report by the Fukushima Prefectural Fisheries Experimental Station at the meeting. The increase was attributed to the launch of the fishing of "hirame" flatfish, a mainstay species, among other factors.

At the meeting, Tsunemasa Niitsuma, deputy representative of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Revitalization Headquarters in Tomioka town, apologized for remarks made earlier by the utility's chairman, Takashi Kawamura, about releasing wastewater containing radioactive tritium into the ocean from the crippled plant. "We deeply apologize for causing worries to the parties concerned as the chairman failed to convey his true intentions," Niitsuma said.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

24 July 2017

Disaster-hit municipalities struggling to secure public health nurses

With a little more than six years past since the 2011 earthquake and nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, affected municipalities are taking great pains to secure public health nurses. Demand for them is growing as it becomes increasingly important to care for the health of evacuees, but more than half of the cities, towns and villages in Fukushima Prefecture that are requesting the dispatch of such nurses and other help have failed to cover their shortages. The prefectural government solicited applications for fixed-term public health nurses from across the country last month but applicants have ended up falling shy of its desired number.

While it remains a challenging issue to maintain and manage the health of evacuees as their lives away from home are protracted, it has also become necessary to take care of evacuees returning home in growing numbers for permanent residency following the termination of evacuation zones, thus adding to the shortage of helping hand.

Of municipalities where evacuation zones were set up following the quake-caused tsunami and ensuing nuclear accident, the number of those which requested the dispatch of public health nurses was 11, all located in the Hamadori region on the Pacific coast. Five of them -- the cities of Iwaki and Soma and the towns of Okuma, Futaba and Shinchi -- have had their needs satisfied, while shortages remain in Minamisoma city, the towns of Hirono, Tomioka and Namie, and the villages of Kawauchi and Iitate. The 11 municipalities had asked for 31 public health nurses in total but only 21 have been seconded. This is a far cry from July last year, when all of them had their required numbers of such nurses, highlighting the current keen shortage.

In June this year, the prefecture requested all local governments across Japan to invite 15 fixed-term public health nurses for employment in the Fukushima municipalities concerned in fiscal 2018, but only four have since applied. This appears to be attributable to reluctance to work in disaster-hit areas, where many take up jobs away from their families, as well as a nationwide shortage of such nurses.

An official in one Fukushima town singled out obesity, hypertension and other health problems worsening among evacuees as an urgent issue to be addressed. The official expressed a sense of crisis, saying, “The burden on public health nurses is growing ever as they are forced to do hard work such as moving between the restored town office and places where evacuees live.”

The prefecture is poised to consider taking relief measures on its own while seeking help for manpower supply from the central government as well as from across the country through the National Governors’ Association and other parties concerned.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

15 July 2017

Minamisoma municipal hospital to begin dialysis treatment

The Minamisoma Municipal General Hospital in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, is poised to launch dialysis treatment within the 2017 fiscal year ending next March. It has become difficult for new dialysis patients to find treatment options in the Soma region on the Pacific coast since the 2011 earthquake and nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. In response, the hospital intends to secure equipment for dialysis treatment and necessary personnel in partnership with the prefectural government, Fukushima Medical University and local medical institutions. Other local hospitals will also enhance their capacity for providing the therapy to pave the way for improved medical environment, enabling evacuees to return home permanently with peace of mind.

The municipal hospital plays a key role in medical care in the Soma region that lies in the northern coastal part of the prefecture. With dialysis patients expected to increase along with progress in the termination of evacuation areas, the hospital has judged it necessary to improve regional medical services.

The hospital plans to purchase about eight dialyzers by capitalizing on a new subsidy program scheduled to be introduced by the prefectural government within fiscal 2017.

Treatment is to be overseen by a team of doctors and nurses at the hospital. In order to treat as many patients as possible, the hospital will request the central and local governments, as well as Fukushima Medical University, provide manpower support, including the dispatch of specialist doctors. Consultations among the parties concerned are expected to begin soon. The hospital is also considering asking medical institutions in other regions to dispatch nurses and other staff as trainees in dialysis treatment.

Other hospitals already offering dialysis therapy are moving to improve services. Fukushima-Minpo Co., publisher of the namesake local daily, has learned that at least two of the four hospitals in the Soma region are considering purchasing more dialyzers -- two by the Soma Central Hospital in Soma city and one by the Ohmachi Hospital in Minamisoma. The Soma Central Hospital is set to increase the number of patients it can accommodate by accepting personnel such as nurses from other medical institutions elsewhere in the prefecture.

Prefectural and other officials believe that more people have come to suffer diabetes and other diseases in the Soma region since the quake and nuclear disaster. The residents' age and their prolonged stays in evacuation housing are blamed. The four hospitals in the region offering dialysis treatment can accept only about 200 patients at the most due to the shortage of doctors and nurses. New patients finding it difficult to receive treatment at the local hospitals have no choice but to visit those in the neighboring prefecture of Miyagi. But Miyagi hospitals are straining under the weight, making it hard for them to provide treatment to patients from Fukushima and thus boosting the need for action to strengthen local medical services in the Soma region.

Zones being prepared for the lifting of evacuation orders and residency-restricted zones were terminated this spring in the Soma region, except in the towns of Okuma and Futaba which host the crippled nuclear plant, further prompting the return of evacuated residents. Officials involved in medical care believe the planned increase in the number of new patients accepted in the Soma region "can produce the extra effect of promoting the homecoming of evacuees" to the region as well as to the Futaba region that lies south of Soma.

According to the Fukushima government, the number of dialysis patients in the prefecture continues to rise, reaching some 5,000 in fiscal 2016. But doctors and nurses are in short supply in mountainous areas, forcing patients to visit urban hospitals when local treatment services are insufficient. Efforts to improve preparedness for treatment are called for across the prefecture.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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