Fukushima 'voluntary' evacuees to lose housing support

 (From left) Nuclear researcher Hidetake Ishimaru, former Fukushima resident Noriko Matsumoto and journalist Chia Yoshida speaking in Tokyo on Jan 17, 2017.
(From left) Nuclear researcher Hidetake Ishimaru, former Fukushima resident Noriko Matsumoto and journalist Chia Yoshida speaking in Tokyo on Jan 17, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Thousands of Japanese evacuees from Fukushima should keep getting free housing, supporters said on Tuesday (Jan 17), as the local government readies to yank support offered after the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Some 27,000 so-called voluntary evacuees - people who chose to leave their homes in the region after the 2011 accident due to safety concerns - are set to lose the six-year-old housing subsidy at the end of March.

That means leaving state-paid housing in other parts of Japan and possibly returning to homes in the region where a quake-sparked tsunami swamped the nuclear plant, sending some reactors into meltdown and spewing radiation into the environment.

"If we lose this housing support - the only lifeline we have - single-mother evacuees like me will fall into poverty," Madam Noriko Matsumoto told a press briefing in Tokyo organised by activists.

Madam Matsumoto left her family's home 50km from the plant, after her daughter, then 12, began suffering an array of health problems, including nose bleeds and nausea.

Madam Matsumoto, 55, who now lives with her daughter in Kanagawa, about 250km from the plant, said she also developed serious health disorders after the accident, including hormonal disorders and a non-cancerous tumour in her thyroid.

"I am furious that the central government and Fukushima prefecture stigmatised and now abandoned us," she told reporters.

A local government spokesman said areas not covered by the original evacuation orders have been deemed safe to live in.

"The environment is safe for leading a normal life and that means we are no longer in a position to provide temporary housing," he told AFP.

Some evacuees will still be eligible for a small housing subsidy, the spokesman added.

The 2011 accident drove more than 160,000 people from their homes, some by evacuation order and others by choice.

Some have since returned but many stayed away, creating a new life elsewhere amid lingering concerns about radiation.

Japan has lifted most evacuation orders for areas around the plant, with the total number of evacuees now standing at about 84,000, according to local government figures.