Dealing with the Japan nuclear power plant accident

The enormous impact of the accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)'s Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant prolonged evacuation of farmers and other residents, suspended shipments of...

The enormous impact of the accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)'s Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant prolonged evacuation of farmers and other residents, suspended shipments of local agricultural and livestock products, sharp drops in prices and stagnating consumption, not to mention soil contamination has shaken the very viability of local agriculture.

The JA Group has continued pushing TEPCO and the national government to arrange full compensation for farmers, to make prompt payment of damages, and to take steps to halt the spread of harmful rumors and restore public confidence in local products. The JA Group has also endeavored on its own to support sales of agricultural produce from the devastated areas. The national government should heed the woeful pleas of local producers and implement swift and robust measures. It is also imperative that contaminated soil be decontaminated so that farming can be resumed as soon as possible.

Our nation's worst nuclear power plant accident has had an immense and extensive impact on agriculture, causing shipments of vegetables, tea, beef and other local agricultural and livestock products to be halted; dramatically driving down farm revenue as a consequence of a substantial decline in market transactions; radioactively contaminating farm soil as well as rice straw and cow manure; and forcing livestock farmers who have become long-term evacuees out of business. The national government has imposed a two-tier rice inspection regime — pre-harvest preliminary inspections and post-harvest full inspections — on 17 prefectures in eastern Japan. Farmers are under serious strain, and delays in rice shipments are but one of the impacts being fen in production areas.

In response to this unprecedented nuclear power plant accident, the JA Group Central Headquarters for Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Recovery & Reconstruction Measures, comprising presidents and other heads of JA Group national organizations and JA prefectural unions in the afflicted prefectures, reached agreement on April 14 on a first set of requests for measures pertaining to the nuclear power plant accident and began making appeals to the government and to both ruling and opposition parties. The principal requests called for prompt resolution of the accident, measures to help rebuild agriculture, and full compensation for halted shipments and damage stemming from harmful rumors in the wake of the accident.

In conjunction with these requests to the government and political parties, JA Group representatives staged protests against TEPCO. JA-Zenchu President Mamoru Moteki expressed his anger: "There have been no apologies and no explanations for the mass"e damage suffered by farmers, and farmers across the country are filled with anger and distrust."

This nuclear power plant accident has debunked the "safety myth" surrounding nuclear power plants and has made clear that it is those in the agricultural, forestry and fishery industries that suffer most when radiation leaks occur. The JA-Zenchu executive board meeting on June 9 approved a second set of requests centered on restoration/recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake & Tsunami and measures addressing the TEPCO Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant accident, submitting these requests to Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano on that same day.

JA-Zenchu called for appropriate inspections for the presence of radioactive materials, quick and full compensation, and rules for lifting restrictions placed on shipments that take into account the characteristics of particular commodities, be they annual or perennial crops. TEPCO was asked to provide prompt compensation for all damages suffered, including those attributable to price drops, while the national government was implored to develop a program for quickly making provisional payments.

To help producers through the procedures for claiming damages from TEPCO, councils have been organized around the JA Group in various prefectures. As of the end of September, councils had been set up in 18 prefectures in eastern Japan and the compensation demanded (by 14 prefectures as of the end of September) had reached 70.6 billion yen (9 billion USD). However, the provisional payments actually dispersed by TEPCO thus far only come to 20.2 billion yen (2.7 billion USD), not even 30% of total claims.

The discovery on July 8 of radioactive cesium exceeding provisionally permissible levels in rice straw being provided to beef cattle has developed into a situation that has rocked the beef market and livestock producers. The central government has imposed suspensions on beef shipments tram Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures, but the impact of plummeting beef prices and a consumer shift away tram beef has reverberated across an even broader scope, including neighboring prefectures and the entire Kanto region, sparking the most serious livestock crisis since the 2001 outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

In order to dispel public doubts about beef, JA Group organizations in all regions have begun lobbying to quickly launch blanket testing of beef cattle for radioactive materials. On July 20 JA-Zenchu and JA Group Fukushima asked Reconstruction Minister Tatsuo Hirano to promptly establish a blanket testing system for beef cattle and a buyback program for beef exceeding the provisionally-established radiation ceilings, and to get TEPCO to pay compensation for losses incurred as a result of the halt in beef shipments, the drop in beef ounces, and the decline in transactions. JA Group organizations in Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, Tochigi and elsewhere also submitted their own requests to Minister Hirano and other government officials.

On July 26 the national government announced a number of measures to be taken, but, in addition to implementation being left to the private sector, the measures themselves were facing in effectiveness and were insufficient to dispel consumer distrust in beef.
Required straight away are measures that offer the maximum help to livestock farmers in stabilizing their businesses, such as the prompt establishment of a government-run blanket testing regime, full compensation for damages, and programs to expand consumption. The JA Group convened a meeting on Great East Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Countermeasures and Basic Agriculture Policy Formulation on July 29, and pleas were made for swift and full compensation for all damages, blanket testing of beef cattle, a government buyback program, and price support measures.

The Dispute Resolution Panel to Determine Compensation for Nuclear Power-Related Damage (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) on August 5 approved 'interim guidelines' to serve as rules for determining compensation. These guidelines extended eligibility for compensation to losses resulting from harmful rumors suffered by the agricultural, forestry and fishery industries. The JA Group will be verifying whether these guidelines are adequate in view of the losses suffered, and will be managing the necessary appeals to the government and relevant organizations to ensure that producers, JAs and others are compensated for all harm actually incurred. In addition, the JA Group will be firmly demanding prompt payment of damages from TEPCO and the government and continuing its efforts to see its demands met. 

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