Original text from Blog of Koichi Oyama in Minamisoma City 06.07.2012
You'll have difficulty understanding this interview unless you are VERY good at reading.. LOL (* The city mayor Sakurai is awkward in speech)
Interview Date; Friday, March 25 2011
Guest ; Katsunobu Sakurai, the mayor of Minamisoma
Interviewer ; Toru Yamaji (APF representative)
Photographer ; Toru Nakajima
and thanks for Uta-san for making a written version of it! Here is the link for Uta-san's blog ; http://p.tl/mqob (JAPANESE ONLY)
Yamaji: The chief cabinet secretary Edano has just promoted a voluntary evacuation from the areas within 20-30 km in a press conference, which already grabbed headlines. But how do you see this?
Sakurai: It was such a sudden announcement and sudden conference. To be honest, I'm surprised.
Yamji: You mean, you were not informed in advance?
Sakurai: No, I wasn't. On 11, Minamisoma was hit by the Tsunami. The people evacuated home, while not being able to make a search for missing persons. And the vapor explosion of Reactor 1 followed on 12th.
Immediately after the explosion, the national government issued the evacuation order from the areas within 10 km, which covered a part of Minamisoma. It was the isolated area, where the Self Defense Forces was about to hurry to rescue.
The evacuation centers were set up after the Tsunami hit in every community facility in the city, such as school buildings or community centers, and the people came to take shelter there. And that was the crisis response to the Tsunami (Not the nuclear accident yet).
In this situation, on the second day, the evacuation area was extended up to within 20 km.
There was a concern that a vapor explosion of Reactor 3 might occur, and temperature of Reactor 2 was rising. Under such conditions, the government issued the evacuation instruction. Some areas in Minamisoma (Kudaka District and Haramach District) were included to the areas within 20 km. The population of the two districts was about 14.000.
I had to force the people to get out of the area. I imagine that they experienced a great pain. However, they followed my instruction, and during the panic, some people requested distribution of iodine preparation.
That was impossible. In both Haramachi and Kashima, the coastline was totally destroyed by the Tsunami, so the evacuation centers were already filled with the victims when the people from the restricted zone arrived. At some point, about 2.000 people were squeezed in one place. And in their cases, it was not a voluntary but a mandatory evacuation.
While they were not even capable of searching for missing relatives, a forced evacuation order was issued as if hitting them one after another. In the areas between within 20 and 30 km, the people had to stay indoors.
Maybe some people accepted the circumstances which was surely beyond our control, however, the accident got worsen and even Reactor 4 exploded eventually. After the government extended the restricted zone up to within 30 km, rescue supplies and fuel became unavailable in Minamisoma. I demanded the government or politicians to deliver goods, but they responded that they couldn't do anything about it.
I said I would come to get goods to Ko-riyama since aid delivery couldn't reach any further than that due to the disaster. To carry out the operation, we needed a driver who has hazardous materials engineer's license.
It was the urgent matter, but we had a lot of difficulty to carry this out. However, I finally managed to send some people to Ko-riyama. They arrived there around 12 (am? pm?). It snowed, and they left there around 2 am. It was this complicated. Many people were evacuated at the time when Reactor 1 exploded and also immediately before the explosion of Reactor 3. The cars running out of the area lined up bumper to bumper on National Route.
There were still the people left behind in the evacuation center with no transportation or money. Their anxiety was becoming intense, and they began to complain to us. In such circumstance, a neighboring city offered accommodation and transportation to evacuate the rest of residents. They even asked a cooperation to the other municipalities around. We asked a bus company to take the people out of Minamisoma.
In fact, I asked them to get out of here.
Many of the city officials were against my decision, however, I did it for the good. I decided to evacuate them as far as possible, as the situation was getting worse and worse.
Fortunately, NHK and the other TV stations broadcasted my message in the night on 15th and the following morning. The governor of Niigata Prefecture, which is next to Fukushima, contacted me instantly: "Niigata also experienced the disasters recently. You can evacuate the victims to Niigata. It's possible for us to accommodate all the population of Minamisoma", he said. "I'm going to issue an instruction to all the municipalities in order to provide you every possible transportation."
I was truly relieved by his words.
Yamaji: Did the central government contact you then?
Sakurai: No, they didn't. They didn't provide information either, however, I got information in the morning on 16th. Then we held a headquarter meeting and discussed about a deal with evacuating the people. We decided to evacuate them to safety, where they no longer had to feel anxious. The evacuation plan got a direction and it was promptly developed.
The plan set out to start evacuating them from 17th. We held an explanatory session on 16th, and it took 4 days to finish evacuating almost everyone who were in the centers.
Some people insisted to stay home, as they decided that it was more the state than the nuclear accident which deserved to be called "catastrophe". We distributed fuel to some, while offering a bus ride to the others.
We evacuated the most people to Niigata, though I also appreciate to Iida (Nagano), Suginami (Tokyo), Higashi-Azuma, which has a sister city relationship with Suginami, and Katashina village who offered emergency housings or even to come to pick up the people, after my appeal on TV. I accepted their warm offers, as I wished that everyone would be evacuated to safety.
We evacuated about 5.000 people by 20th. Total number of the evacuees by March 21 was about 50.000, including the number of voluntary evacuation. The reason why I focus on this date, 20th March, is that it would have been too late after 20th, and also the city officials were about to reach the end of their tether because of the tense feelings and anxiety.
On 14th, Some Self Defense Force Unit gave false information that the restriction zone should be extended up to within 100 km, and it spread to the government buildings where we were at, to the hospitals and the city.
Some officials was guided by misinformation and evacuated. There was a hospital where all the staffs were evacuated to hear the SDF announcement. As a consequence, the hospital was abandoned with the patients left alone.
To prevent this kind of panic, I repeatedly demanded the national government to share information.
Yamaji: So, lack of information provokes a panic.
Sakurai: Exactly. And I managed to make it in such a situation. The strange thing is that the governor of Niigata responded quickly to my message, while the governor of Fukushima contacted me in the morning on 17th for the first time.
Yamaji: Mr. Yuhei Sato?
Sakurai: Yes. I didn't express my anger to him (for abandoning Minamisoma). I wished that he could contact me earlier, so that I might not have had such a tense feeling. Same with the central government. They didn't comprehend the actual situation on the ground.
Not only me but also the people in Minamisoma had to make a decision based on the TV footage, as either the central government or prefectural government didn't provide us information.
What we could understand from the terrifying news on radio was that we should better evacuate from Minamisoma. I also wanted to give some rest to the city officials, as they were all exhausted.
I summoned the officials on 20th and told them to take turns to have a day off, and to do no overtime for the following 3 days.
Maybe it caused concern for them, but I decided to give them a rest to get rid of fatigue. Otherwise, they wouldn't be able to function if anything bad happened to make the situation more severe.
I also told them that I would make a statement on 24th to the people in Minamisoma, after they got to take time off.
"I might call it "adjuration" instead of "statement"." I said. "And my intension is to protect the people's life as much as possible. I have to recommend them or ask them to follow my instruction."
I repeat that my intension was to give the people as much safety as possible, in order to remove the fear associated with the accident. I made a call to some city official.
"No, please don't tell us to evacuate home" He let out an anguished cry. "I take care of a (bedridden) grandma. If you issue a recommendation, I won't have any time to rest and I have no idea how to deal with my grandma!"
How can I call it? Privations? I saw it in his eyes, and it was the first time I saw such a piercing eye.
But I kept insisting, only to make ourselves prepared for the situation that would come next.
During the 3-day off, the situation was changing. The radiation level decreased, and commodity distribution managed to reach to Minamisoma, though it hadn't yet fully recovered. "Wasn't the accident over?" Some people complained about my recommendation under this circumstance.
Yamaji: Some people complain that the government recommended an evacuation again.
When I take a retrospective look at the accident response, the central government issued an order to evacuate from within 30 km, and then recommended to evacuate from within 20-30 km, Each time, they didn't inform you in advance. They make decisions, which don't reflect the actual situation on the ground, so there are always enormous gap between your decision and their decision.
Sakurai: We are advanced than them. The people in Minamisoma was evacuated for their own sake, which no one can call as panic or fear-mongering.
When the city came to a decision to support those who remained in Minamisoma, some business operators visited me and said in a bitter voice: "My company will bankrupt if this goes on. I really need to resume business. Please demand the government to deregulate (the economic activity?). "
Yamaji: Within 30 km... Inside of this areas, goods became in short supply. Not only goods but also fuel. Volunteer workers also hesitate to cross this border. Many things became non-functional within the wall of 30 km, and the government orders the people to stay indoors. While the people stay inside, they don't deliver goods.
Sakurai: Yes, we are actually isolated because of the government's policy.
Meanwhile, Soma city, which is located outside of the areas within 30 km, began the reconstruction project, goods began to be available, and the banks, shopping centers, super market, or convenience stores reopened. There is a huge gap between within 30 km and the outer world.
The people in Minamisoma often complain about our policy, as they don't really understand that Minamisoma is being straitjacketed.
Objectively speaking, the officials tend to be pressured by this sort of barrier, or a wall if you prefer to call it, much more than the people.
I could demand the government to lift this ban or that, but they may be too much concerned about their own personal honor to lift restriction which was once issued.
Actually, before this interview, the chief cabinet secretary called me. Yes, just today. And he asked me, "Just tell me what you want as the mayor".
So I told him frankly the actual situation of the people who still remain in Minamisoma and their effort to rebuild the life again, also that the banks want to reopen, that some people want delivery of goods from the "outer world", and that the government should lift the closure and allow the free flow over the border, because the people here want to begin to rebuild their life.
So whatever happens, the people are free to choose to be evacuated or not.
Freedoms of the people in Minamisoma is not guaranteed now. We are as if being kept in agony. The "border" disrupts distribution, therefore, production site can't resume operation. I told him that I couldn't accept this.
Tohoku Electricity managed to provide electricity to the business facilities in the areas within 20 km.
Yamaji: I entered the areas within 20 km today. There was electricity and water supply. I could see that the city made so much efforts about it.
Sakurai: Despite the government does nothing, our policy is to supply the minimum to give as many opportunities as possible to the people. So we asked the electricity company to provide electricity.
By contrast, the government leave us stay indoors and then they recommended us to evacuate home.
We have made efforts to maintain infrastructure in order to encourage the citizens, and we also must resume the economic activities. The people demanded me to make a minimum request on the central government. I placed a requirement directly on Cabinet Office.
If they can't comply with a request or get rid of the "border", they should at least assure distribution or free travels between the areas separated by the border.
Only if the government decides to lift the closure of the border, which we have given a tacit approval to, business in Minamisoma can resume activities with its self-judgement and self-responsibility.
This will be able to give us a hope and encouragements. However, immediately after the discussion with the chief cabinet secretary, the government made that announcement (recommendation to evacuate from the areas within 30 km).
I asked myself what was going on.
Yamaji: So, as a practical matter, the way the government perceives this time's nuclear accident creates a big difference in their decision. They may find it a very serious crisis, or they may be believing that the accident is under control.
Have they ever told you how they take the accident, even as an undefined idea?
Sakurai: When Mr. Tsutomu Takamura, a young representative of the Democratic Party visited me, as I tell to all the politicians who comes here, I told him to stay here to know what was really happening. Mr. Takamura investigated the situation in Minamisoma 2 days ago.
When we conducted simulated experiments assuming the case the restriction area was extended to 30 km, he told us that the government was gathering information on it.
According to him, they were tracking the spread of radiation with the simulation system based on objective data . The radiation didn't spread in a circle.
Also he told us that we would be informed in advance in the case if the restriction zone would be extended again.
I interpreted his information to mean that the accident was becoming serious, but then, "that" was mentioned in the newspaper on the following day. Simulated data confirmed that Minamisoma is dangerous.
Iidatemura as well.
Minamisoma is a bit better than Iidatemura..
So... why had the government set the restriction zone in a circle until today? Why have they covered up objective data which has a lot to do with what is happening now?
The people of Iidatemura suffered a lot as well. They must be feeling so anxious, as the level of radiation there is 10 times higher than Minamisoma.
Yamaji: Iidatemura is outside of the areas within 30 km. Although the government set the evacuation zone in a circle, the results of the actual radiation measurement show that the radiation is scattered like isolated enclaves.
Sakurai: The radiation level of Fukushima city is 3-4 times higher than Minamisoma.
Yamaji: Actually, the radiation level of Minamisoma is rather low, though it is in the 30 km circle. On the contrary, Fukushima city, Ko-riyama or Iidatemura marks much higher radiation doses. The people of Minamisoma are aware of that, and they believe there are contradictions (between reality and the government's perception).
Sakurai: The people who were evacuated to Fukushima city told me that they want to return home.
It is necessary for the central government to share information with the local. Otherwise, the people can't get rid of uneasy feelings, and from SPEEDI data, many people in Minamisoma wonder why we should evacuate home while the radiation dose is rather low.
The politicians should visit Minamisoma to see the severe reality in the Tsunami affected area, the public unease, or their energy (for reconstruction), and report it to the government and TEPCO.
The government also should force TEPCO to share information, otherwise, it will keep evoking a feeling of strangeness.
Yamaji: The government should lift the closure of the border and make a new contamination map based on the realities, so that distribution will resume.
Sakurai: Mr. Matsushita, a state secretary visited me today. I told him the same thing. "Please send the state officials to Minamisoma and make them see what is happening. "
He promised me that he would dispatch personnel to Minamisoma tomorrow. I believe that he will keep his word.
As for the official announcement today, did they pull it out of thin air? They should come up with a reason of it, otherwise, the people will stay confused. If there is no danger, they can resume business.
Yamaji: It is much better for everyone to return home than becoming sick in an evacuation center.
Sakurai: Exactly. They can take a bath for example. That's what they really want to do now. I would demand that the government and TEPCO provide normal life to the victims, Our mission is to encourage the people. We must make efforts to encourage them together with the government and TEPCO,
Yamaji: I understand what you meant. The government announced that the evacuation plan from the areas within 20-30 km is under review, and I supposed it brought a confusion to the people.
Lastly, do you have a message for the citizens of Minamisoma?
Sakurai: I would like to emphasize that it is the people's life and safety which are considered to be the top priority in our policy. So, after this time's Tunami hit and the nuclear accident, though we would prioritize evacuation assistance to the people, we would like to begin a reconstruction operation if the accident really gives no further damage to Minamisoma. I would like to give assistance to the people, who I believe are capable to rebuild their life.
Some of them may feel that we are taking an inconsistent policy, but I repeat that all what we have done is to protect the people's life. I would fight against the central government, TEPCO and the prefecture for Minamisoma.
This time's accident will definitely go down in the history. I would be pleased if the rest of the world could learn from our crisis response and our direction for protecting the people's life. All our efforts will be worth something if our willingness to rebuild the life together with the citizens would be understood worldwide.
Yamaji: Thank you very much. Please take care of yourself.
Sakurai: You are right. I live on stresses.
Courtesy : Koichi Oyama