Radiation still high in Japan village near nuclear plant, NGO warns

Greenpeace Japan, an environmental organisation on Tuesday warned that high radiation levels are still present in a Japanese village that the government is planning to announce is safe for its 6,000 residents to return to, six years after the country’s worst atomic disaster.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is scheduled to allow residents in a large part of Iitate Village in north-eastern Japan to return home at the end of March, six years after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station disaster in March 2011.

However, Greenpeace research showed that radiation levels in its forests are comparable to the current levels within the 30-km no-go zone in Chernobyl, Ukraine – an area that remains officially closed to habitation since the 1986 nuclear disaster.

The organisation said that one month after the nuclear emergency at Fukushima, Tokyo issued an evacuation order for Iitate, located north-west of the crippled Fukushima plant.

It added that the village was not part of the no-go zone established soon after the nuclear emergency, caused by a powerful earthquake and ensuing tsunami.

The twin natural disasters claimed the lives of about 18,500 people in north-eastern Japan.

About 83,000 residents in Fukushima prefecture have not been able to return home due to radiation contamination near the plant, according to the local government. But many of them are unwilling to do so even if the evacuation order is lifted.

In September 2015, the government declared Naraha Town, south of the plant, was safe for its 7,300 residents to return to. Since then, however, only 10 per cent of them have resumed their lives in the town, which was part of the no-go zone, a local official said.

In Iitate Village radiation dose rates at houses are “well above long-term government targets, with annual and lifetime exposure levels posing a long-term risk to citizens who may return,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

Iitate village officials were not available for comment.

“The Abe government is attempting to create a false reality that, six years after the start of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, life is returning to normal,” said Jan Vande Putte, radiation specialist with Greenpeace Belgium.

“In the real world of today, and for decades to come, there is and will be nothing normal about the emergency radiological situation in Iitate,” he said.

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