June 19, 2014
EDITORIAL: Ishihara’s remark about interim storage facility adds insult to injury

No doubt about it. Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara’s insensitive remark about the problem of selecting a site to temporarily store radiation-contaminated soil reflected a slice of the grim reality of the terrible mess caused by the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“In the end, it will come down to money,” Ishihara said, giving the impression that giving wads of cash to residents in Fukushima Prefecture was the only way to resolve the problem.

Indeed, there are a slew of issues in areas affected by the nuclear catastrophe that cannot be solved without payments of money. A huge amount of funds will be needed to pay compensation to victims, complete decontamination work of affected areas and rebuild disaster-hit areas. There is also the question of returning local residents to their homes and providing support for evacuees who are living in new areas.

But it is not money people in the affected areas in Fukushima really want.

What they really crave is a return to the good old days when they didn’t have to worry about radiation while working their rice and vegetable fields or spending their leisure time on the beach laughing with their children and grandchildren.

They know full well that they can’t get that life back. That is what makes their current situation all the more wretched.

It is the central government, not residents in areas around the Fukushima nuclear plant, that wants to solve all the problems with money.

Money is certainly a convenient tool. It seems to be a panacea for issues involving compensation.

Since the triple meltdown in 2011, however, money has been undermining the affected communities in Fukushima.

Some people in these communities have received payouts, while others haven’t. Some have received what was seen as “too much” compensation, while others felt the payments to them were “insufficient.”

Despite appearing to be neutral and impartial, the money has aggressively intruded into local communities, families and relationships between friends in a divisive manner.

Over the past three years, people in Fukushima have had enough painful experiences to make them aware of how money can create contradictions and emptiness. During the period, they have also had to fight the perception that they are pursuing money as their ultimate goal.

Given these circumstances, they have been struggling to pull themselves together, rebuild their relations with people around them and figure out how to live. It is people in Fukushima, not the central government, who have been addressing these weighty problems.

The same can be said about the proposed facility for interim storage of radioactive soil. The residents, quite naturally, do not want such a facility in their hometowns. But there can be no progress in the efforts to rebuild Fukushima unless contaminated soil can be stored somewhere.

Some people probably attended explanatory meetings for local residents as a way to escape from their anxieties and find answers for the way forward.

Ishihara’s remark broke the hearts of those people.

The government’s promise to dispose of the soil outside the prefecture within 30 years can now only sound hollow.

Which community outside the prefecture would be willing to accept a huge amount of contaminated soil?

The grossly irresponsible way the government has been making empty promises concerning the issue seems to be reflected in the callous attitude of the minister, who bluntly said that it is after all a question of money.

Since the controversial remark, Ishihara has been busy explaining what he meant and offering apologies.

The negotiations over the storage site have already been difficult and arduous.

It will be a formidable task to repair the government’s relations with the local communities that have been badly damaged by Ishihara’s gaffe.

Ishihara, the minister responsible for the issue of the storage site, didn’t attend any of the explanatory meetings held over a period of about two weeks.

Ishihara should visit the communities and listen to what their residents say.

Doing so would help him realize the grave implications of what he said and the seriousness of the damage it caused to the communities.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 19

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