FOCUS

Date:
leadership
at work

As of 1st May 2015

Area
Population
Density

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 265 km²
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61,678 (65,749 on 1st March 2011)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233/km²

Located near Fukushima City, some 50 kilometers northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Date is a city of 62,000 inhabitants – roughly the same population as Minamisoma.
City Mayor Shoji Nishida, 66 at the time of the accident, recalls the uncommon strength of the earthquake on that afternoon of March 11th, 2011: “A powerful tremor occurred. Well, we are not particularly surprised by earthquakes, but we immediately understood this one would be something we had never experienced before. The incredibly violent shaking went on and on. Of course, we had no more electricity, and many services were interrupted; therefore, the municipal staff was dispatched throughout the city to check the actual situation, and in particular collapsed or weakened houses to provide shelter to the people concerned. Two elementary schools had also collapsed. So we were still on the job until late at night.”
Some ten days after the mega-quake and the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, dose-rate information received by the municipality of Date showed that the contaminated plume had reached the city.

On duty day and night, Mayor Nishida, a city-hall official, Takahiro Hanzawa, and the municipal staff provided rescue services, distributed food and drinking water, etc., to Date inhabitants even as they faced totally unprecedented issues: decontamination, radiological screening of residents, shelter for evacuees arriving in droves, mainly from Minamisoma, and so on.

Leadership and responsiveness

Based on contamination measurements, the Mayor of Date City embarked on a decontamination plan that started with school playgrounds and extended to the most contaminated parcels of land within the city limits. The operations in the schools benefitted from the guidance and support of one of Mayor Nishida’s acquaintances: Dr. Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the non-profit organization Japan Nuclear Safety Forum, who has since been appointed Chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority of Japan. They also received active support from the local Parents-Teachers Association.
With a strong sense of leadership, Mayor Shoji Nishida also provided the necessary funding – 1 billion yen (7.5 million euros) – to buy personal dosimeters and air conditioners to cool the schools during Japan’s sweltering summer without opening windows, among other things. He supplemented these with measures to protect children, such as school buses to decrease exposure linked to commuting and a summer school where children could play outdoors, as they were accustomed to doing in this beautiful countryside.

badge-date
« We don’t
lose heart! »
claims this pin
issued by the Date
City’s municipal 
team to reflect
its resoluteness.

Using their own processes and facilities to carry out rehabilitation work, civil engineering teams, helped by many volunteers, scraped off the upper layers of soil. As decontamination work progressed, the bags of contaminated soil piled up, awaiting storage. The mayor decided to create temporary storage areas called kariokiba, acting with absolute transparency towards the residents. “Gaining their understanding was sometimes a tough job,” Mayor Nishida concedes, “but we managed!” Shouldering some of the burden, the municipality decided to locate one storage area next to City Hall.

Children first
Date launched the decontamination of the Tominari elementary school playground and swimming pool only a couple of weeks after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Making the decontamination of a school a top priority was a clear sign of the municipal team’s willingness to meet the expectations of parents and teachers worried about the impact of the ban on outdoor activities on children’s health.
With the help of Dr. Shunichi Tanaka and Junichiro Tada, his right arm, the parents and teachers of the school together with Date’s municipal team proudly reopened the swimming pool as early as the summer of 2011.

Decontamination
of residential areas

The municipal administration of Date City performed radiation monitoring every four months, from August 2011 onwards, in all city areas.
For maximum efficiency, decontamination was carried out based on radiation dose levels measured within a 1-km grid. This gave an accurate distribution of contamination which was used to divide the city into A, B and C areas, according to the radiation level. The initial objective of decontamination was to reduce individual exposure below 5 mSv per year.
The two maps show the results achieved between the first monitoring campaign in August 2001 and the ninth campaign in March 2014.

Date City Complete Dose Measurement Maps
LEFT
August 19-21, 2011 (First time )
RIGHT
March 11-15, 2014 (Ninth time)

Discussing decontamination projects with citizens
How to discuss with people to get them involved in decontamination projects? To help citizens of Date quickly and easily grasp the risks associated with radioactivity and the benefits of decontamination, Takahiro Hanzawa, a city-hall official, developed creative didactic material that helps visualize the stakes and goals of decontamination. In a slideshow for instance, radioelements are compared to wild animals prowling around houses, ready to attack people; decontamination is likened to capturing them; and waste disposal is shown as a park where the animals are corralled to keep the population safe. This initiative is distinctive of the approach implemented by the municipal team: sharing decision-making and implementation with residents through on-going dialogue based on new modes of communication.

Sustained support conduciveto dramatic improvements

In the spirit of the ICRP Publication 111, which states that “Maintaining long-term restrictions on the production and consumption of foodstuffs may affect the sustainable development of the contaminated areas, and therefore call for appropriate implementation of the optimization principle. Reconciling the interests of local farmers, producers, and the local population with those of consumers and the food distribution sector from outside the contaminated territory has to be considered carefully,” Mayor Nishida supported farmers who decided to continue their agricultural activities, with a view to ultimately producing safe products – peaches, apples, strawberries, grapes, persimmons and other fruits – not only accepted all over Japan, but prized for their amazing taste.
Thanks to this resolute policy, the City of Date was able to retain most of its residents, with only 1,200 of them choosing to leave at that time. Later, 800 returned. Mayor Nishida’s ability to improve living conditions for Date City’s residents was based on intelligent synergy between his teams and non-profit organizations, on their talent for drawing inspiration from the experience of people living in contaminated territories in Belarus and Norway to develop self-help actions.
Another factor was Mayor Nishida’s readiness to making Date City Hall available to welcome the Dialogue seminars and to taking an active part in them. This contributed immeasurably to the understanding of the human aspects of the situation and the particular importance of preserving the dignity of the population living in the areas under rehabilitation, and to the reinforcement of local, national and international solidarity.

focus

Minamisoma:
the trauma of a split city

focus

Suetsugi:
individuals taking their fate
into their own hands