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Fukushima disaster evacuees told to return to abandoned homes

People who fled after March 2011 nuclear meltdown face losing housing subsidies if they do not go back, despite radiation fears

Thousands of people who fled the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant six years ago have been told they must return to their homes or lose housing subsidies, despite lingering concerns over radiation in their former neighbourhoods.

The instruction, condemned by campaigners as a violation of the evacuees right to live in a safe environment, will affect an estimated 27,000 people who were not living inside the mandatory evacuation zone imposed after Fukushima became the scene of the worst nuclear accident in Japanese history.

The meltdown in three reactors occurred after a magnitude-9 earthquake on 11 March 2011 triggered a powerful tsunami that killed almost 19,000 people along Japans north-east coast and knocked out the plants backup cooling system.

As a voluntary evacuee, Noriko Matsumoto is among those who will have their subsidies withdrawn at the end of this month, forcing them to make a near-impossible choice: move back to homes they believe are unsafe, or face financial hardship as they struggle on living in nuclear limbo.

Many of the other evacuees I know are in the same position, Matsumoto said at the launch of Unequal Impact, a Greenpeace Japan report on human rights abuses affecting women and children among the 160,000 people who initially fled from areas near the plant. As of last month, almost 80,000 were still displaced.

Matsumoto said: They would still have to contend with high radiation if they returned, but the government is forcing them to go back by withdrawing housing assistance thats tantamount to a crime.

At the time of the incident, Matsumoto was living with her husband and their two daughters in the city of Koriyama, 43 miles (70km) west of the stricken facility, well outside the area where tens of thousands of people were ordered to leave.

Matsumoto initially stayed put, but three months later, with her youngest daughter, then aged 12, having nosebleeds, stomach ache and diarrhoea, she left her husband behind and took their children to Kanagawa prefecture, more than 150 miles south of Fukushima.

She said: The government is playing down the effects of radiation exposure Yet people who dont return to places like Koriyama after this month will be left to fend for themselves. They will become internally displaced people. We feel like weve been abandoned by our government.

Many of the people who left their homes of their own volition after the triple meltdown were mothers and their young children, who experts say face greater risks to their health from prolonged exposure to relatively low levels of radiation.

The voluntary evacuations have forced families to live apart, while parents struggle to earn enough money to fund their new accommodation and keep up mortgage payments on their abandoned homes.

Kazuko Ito, a lawyer and the secretary general of Tokyo-based NGO Human Rights Now, said: The government has a responsibility to protect the human rights of evacuees, but it doesnt not recognise this obligation. Instead, it downplays the health impact of the accident, especially the dangers associated with long-term radiation exposure.

In an arrangement repeated among thousands of other Fukushima families, Matsumotos husband decided to stay in Koriyama, a city of 330,000 people that was never subject to an evacuation order, and run their restaurant, rather than risk becoming unemployed by joining his wife and children in Kanagawa. The high cost of travel means the family gets together once every two months.

The housing subsidy for households of two or more people from Matsumotos neighbourhood is typically 90,000 yen (640) a month, according to local officials, who say some households will receive smaller sums after the subsidy is withdrawn.

Matsumoto said: The nuclear accident is to blame for this situation, yet its been turned around to make it look like its our fault, like we are being selfish.

Residents who were not living in the mandatory evacuation zone when they fled have been campaigning to retain housing subsidies, in a challenge to the authorities attempts to convince more evacuees that some neighbourhoods have been properly decontaminated.

Campaigners have called on the government to declare Fukushima neighbourhoods unfit for human habitation unless atmospheric radiation is brought to below one millisievert (mSv) a year, the maximum public exposure limit recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

While 1 mSv a year remains the governments long-term target, it is encouraging people to return to areas where radiation levels are below 20 mSv a year, an annual exposure limit that, internationally, applies to nuclear power plant workers.

Matsumoto said the unprecedented decontamination effort in Fukushima had brought radiation levels in and around her home to below government-set limits, but insisted that children were still at risk from hotspots in places such as parks and forests. Those areas have not been decontaminated, she said. Its true that atmospheric radiation has been lowered, but thats not the case on the ground and in the soil.

At the end of this month, evacuation orders will be lifted in four more towns and villages near Fukushima Daiichi, with only those closest to the plant, where radiation is more than 50 mSv a year, still off-limits.

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Trump supports Dakota pipeline but claims it’s not due to his investment in it

Transition team says that the president-elects endorsement of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline has nothing to do with his personal investments

Donald Trump has said he supports a controversial oil pipeline that runs next to a Native American reservation in North Dakota a project that the president-elect is personally invested in.

A briefing from Trumps transition team said that the real estate magnate supports the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline and that his backing has nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans.

Financial disclosure forms released earlier this year show that Trump has a stake in Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based firm behind the pipeline, and Phillips 66, which will hold a share of the project once completed.

Trumps investment in Energy Transfer Partners dropped from between $500,000 and $1m in 2015 to between $1,500 and $50,000 this year. His stake in Phillips 66, however, rose from between $50,000 and $100,000 last year to between $250,000 and $500,000 this year, according to the forms.

The financial relationship has run both ways. Kelcy Warren, chief executive of Energy Transfer Partners, gave $103,000 to elect Trump and handed over a further $66,800 to the Republican National Committee after the property developer secured the GOPs presidential nomination.

However, Trumps transition team dismissed any conflict of interest. Those making such a claim are only attempting to distract from the fact that president-elect Trump has put forth serious policy proposals he plans to set in motion on day one, said a briefing note that was sent to campaign supporters.

In this 25 November 2016 satellite image taken by DigitalGlobe, construction of the Dakota Access pipeline is shown at the top right. Photograph: AP

Mary Sweeters, a spokesperson for Greenpeace, said Trumps support showed that crony capitalism will run his administration.

This is the definition of corruption, she said. The president of the United States should not be trading favors with oil and gas corporations. Millions of people will lose access to a clean water supply, including the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and the rest of America will face the impacts of catastrophic climate change from burning fossil fuels.

A protest camp has grown in North Dakota since April, amid fears that the $3.8bn Dakota Access pipeline will threaten the water and cultural artifacts of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The 1,170-mile pipeline will take oil from North Dakotas Bakken fields to a refinery in Illinois and will cross the Missouri river the main source of water for the tribe.

The long-running protest has unified Native American tribes against the project, with repeated clashes between protesters and police. This week, North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple ordered the immediate evacuation of the protest camp, amid accusations of police violence from the mass arrests and water cannon deployment that have echoes of the civil rights protests of the 1960s.

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