World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) Symposium on Revitalization in Fukushima Creates Heap of Issues

Government leaders, doctors, Buddhist priests, dairy farmers, and representatives of evacuee groups gathered to debate for two days from May 13-14 at the Corrasse Fukushima Center in the city of Fukushima. The gathering was hosted by the World Conference on Religion and Peace’s Japan chapter under the theme Religious Round Table in Fukushima to Confront Revitalization. On the first day, discussion was held on the present situation and other issues especially how to care for the evacuees and victims of the nuclear incident. It became clear that both victims and those providing aid to them had reached a level of exhaustion.

WCRP福島
photo credit: Bukkyo Times

Session 1 was entitled The Issues of Fukushima. Minoru Aota, the Director of General Affairs for the Soma city government explained the situation of aid and relief from the government’s standpoint. In order to activate new policy for economic related suicide coming from increasing debt and other factors, the government established a free legal consulting service after gaining cooperative support from lawyers and other specialists. Aota also referred to a new system of scholarships for children who were victimized by the disasters and the building of public housing for disaster victims as measures taken to prevent deaths that occur from people becoming totally isolated in their new living situation.

The next speaker, Dr. Osamu Saito, explained the necessity of taking on continued medical examinations in a levelheaded manner. He explained that radioactive contamination of the lymph glands from nuclear fallout has caused increasing anxiety for the long-term health of evacuees, noting, “When we speak of ‘disaster related deaths’ in Fukushima, it is acceptable to change the terminology to it ‘nuclear incident related deaths’.”

Continuing on, Rev. Taiko Kyuma—the abbot Ryutoku-ji temple located in Da-te City on the edge of the nuclear exclusion zone and Advisor to the National Soto Zen Denomination Youth Association’s Department of Disaster Aid and Revival—spoke on the present situation of the sustainability of local communities. He explained that they are on the verge of crisis as the primary schools have no students because of their total evacuation. Further, local communities are becoming increasingly divided by such things as disputes between neighbors over differences in the amount of compensation received by the government from the nuclear fallout. He pointed out that, “You can see how the fallout has spread. Simply, is there really the presence of any human heart here?” He also expressed his concern about the land being used for the temporary disposal of radioactive soil saying, “A number of land owners have basically been forced to accept such soil under pressure from the authorities and community.” He concluded that, “I would like to work together with other priests and local people to revive the communities and tie back together the places that have been divided by this nuclear energy system, which I see as a type of violence.” He also appealed “for the need to reconsider the role of religious professionals” in order to protect against the effects of the nuclear incident.

Session 2 was entitled Spiritual Care. Kimitoshi Okawara, the Director of the Fukushima Social Welfare Association, began by explaining the visits of life support counselors to the temporary housing units in the prefecture, which in 2012 had 196 counselors in 29 different towns. He spoke of the support provided by public health officials, nurses, caregivers, and other specialists to confront various problems and to create places for connecting fellow citizens as a way of avoiding isolation and loneliness.

Kennichi Hasegawa, supervisor for the Fukushima Dairy Farmers Cooperative and the local head of the Maeda district of the town of Iiita-te, made an appeal to the “cries of the dairy farmers”. They have been coerced into virtually giving away their cattle when they were suddenly designated for evacuation. Hasegawa spoke critically about how after the nuclear incident, specialists in atomic energy visited their towns and gave “sermons on safety”. Not hiding his rage, he also explained how information about the nuclear incident was concealed and told the story of his friend and fellow dairy farmer from Soma who before killing himself wrote a note saying, “If only the nuclear power plant hadn’t happened.” Hasegawa continued by explaining that the government of Ita-te has been aiming for an early return to the town and so took on the goal of establishing an annual exposure level of 5 millisieverts (the international standard is 1 millisievert). He noted with indignation, however, that, “This level is the same as the level for compensation for those evacuated from Chernobyl. So this is the goal for Iita-te? You must be joking.” Expressed his own suffering, he concluded by saying, “We should make a temporary town for ourselves in another location.”

Nobuhiro Sakai, the representative of a network of autonomous evacuees who have moved from the city of Koriyama farther west to Aizu Wakamatsu, explained the discrepancies between government aid for the many households with mothers and children. She complained that, “We want to be able to live with some peace of mind about a fair system of aid. The destruction of our areas and the wounds in our hearts that have not healed from this nuclear incident is extremely harsh to deal with. Speaking from the heart, she said, “The people who have remained behind in the area have complicated feelings towards those who have evacuated, while the people who have evacuated have much suffering as well.”

Translated by Jonathan S. Watts with Rev. Yosharu Tomatsu; from The Bukkyo Times, May 23, 2013