As of March 2019, more than 40,000 people were still forced to evacuate the Fukushima Prefecture alone due to the accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in 2011 . The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was shut down due to an unexpected tsunami caused by a major earthquake , and the cooling function was lost. As a result, a large amount of radioactive material was diffused, and evacuation instructions were extended for a long time in certain areas. Regarding this effect, questionnaire surveys were conducted in 2012 for the Fukushima participants who were living outside the prefecture in 2012, a year after the Great East Japan Earthquake and two years later in 2013  . As a result, in 2013, two years after evacuation, physical changes and changes in the living environment were shown as stressors, leading to prolonged unstable and extraordinary refuge life, and its effect on people’s mental health.
The national and local governments have been moving forward with decontamination, infrastructure development and consultation desks , and preparations for arranging accommodation for the participants to return . The evacuation order has been gradually lifted from Tamiya City’s Miyakoji district three years after the accident. The return rate of the two towns close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant whose evacuation orders were canceled after March 2017 is less than 10% of the population as of December 2018. From this, it can be said that there are not many people who have returned to the affected areas  . In the survey of victims’ intentions by the Reconstruction Agency (Japanese administrative institution established for a period of time for the purpose of recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake) FY2016 , the reasons for not returning or not being able to make judgments include the premise of return, such as concerns about nuclear power and air dose rates, health-related issues, and the local government’s recovery status related to infrastructure development. Those related to future life such as the living infrastructure at the evacuation destination and the educational environment for children are listed. From this result, it can be imagined that the decision regarding the return of evacuees is not easy.
If the evacuation order is canceled in the area that was the base of life before the accident, the evacuees will have three choices to return and rebuild their lives/not return and live in a new place as a base reconstruction/not return as yet (wait for pending decisions). The focus of this study is on how those who have returned to the area where the evacuation order has been lifted are still anxious, and will decide to return. Whichever the evacuees choose, they will stand at a new starting point for rebuilding their lives.
2. Purpose of Research
This study aims to clarify the factors relevant to the self-determination of people to return in the presence of various anxiety factors caused by the long-term evacuation during the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident.
3.1. Research Participants
Participants were nine townspeople residing in the evacuation order cancellation area of J town in Fukushima Prefecture, close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
3.2. Data Collection
3.2.1. Survey Procedure
The researcher explained the purpose of the study to the person in charge of radiation health in J town in Fukushima Prefecture and obtained permission to conduct the survey. Participants were required to live in J town and be recommended by the person in charge. When both conditions were met, the researcher contacted the nominated person and investigated.
3.2.2. Survey Method
The survey was conducted through a semi-structured interview method. Participants talked freely about what was the important reason for deciding to return to J town. In addition, we recorded information about age, cohabitants before the disaster and at the time of the survey. Conducted at the study participants’ homes, each session lasted 40 to 60 minutes. In a survey at home, there were cases where cohabitants were present.
3.2.3. Data Analysis
The verbatim record was created from the recording data collected during the interview and was sectioned into one meaningful content. The attendee’s opinions were included in the attendee’s narrative, considering that the decision to return was the result of a family consultation. The sectioned data were interpreted based on the context of “thoughts and actions when deciding on returning” and then coded. The code was abstracted along with the semantic content similarity and accordingly divided into subcategories and categories. To ensure the appropriateness and validity of the analysis content, the analysis was repeated with the supervision of researchers familiar with qualitative research.
This study was conducted with the approval of the ethics committee of the research institution (reference 2016-065). The researcher explained to the participant the research purpose and method, the will of voluntary cooperation and withdrawal, the preservation of anonymity and privacy, the data storage method, and the interview recording permission. Participants’ participation was voluntary, and they were asked to notify us if they felt unconformable while sharing their narrative. This is because the research participants suffered from the disaster and experienced a long-term evacuation life, so the possibility of a psychological burden caused by recalling past experiences was taken into consideration. The survey was conducted after all the contents related to research cooperation were explained to the participants, and they signed an agreement to participate.
3.4. Participants Characteristics
According to the census, the population of town J in Fukushima Prefecture had more than 20,000 townspeople at the time of the 2011 earthquake. In June 2017, three months after the evacuation order was partially lifted, about 400 residents were disclosed.
The overview of the nine participants is shown in Table 1. Participants were aged 60 - 80 years (eight males and one female). All of them were returning to their own homes. Prior to the earthquake, there were nine married couples four with children, one with a child, one with a child and a grandchild. At the time of the survey, there were nine married couples one with a child, and one couple living only on weekends.
4.1. Categories of Factors Surrounding Return for Long-Term Evacuees after the Nuclear Accident
The codes, subcategories, and categories obtained from the participants are shown in Table 2. Hereafter, the word “data” will be written as “ ”, “code” as [ ], “sub-category” as < >, and “category” as [ ]. The narrative of the participants
Table 1. Overview of participants.
Table 2. Categories of factors surrounding return for long-term evacuees after the nuclear power plant accident.
comprised records of 140 data, 32 codes, 12 sub-categories, and 5 categories. Factors relevant to self-determination to return were represented by five categories. There were two categories that led to the factors that self-determination return significantly: Category 1) [desire to return emerged from life as a long-term evacuee], Category 2) [desire to return was retained by having obtained information about the original place of residence]. There were two categories that led to the factors that continued to maintain the desire to return: Category 3) [the will to return was acquired from long-term life as a refugee], Category 4) [the desire to return was retained while the potential risks of returning were accepted]. There was one category indicated that the decision to return was not just about the individual: Category 5) [people’s apprehension over talking about the importance of the future of the younger generation].
4.2. Category 1) Desire to Return Emerged from Life as a Long-Term Evacuee
Category 1) included
“It’s hard to imagine ending here on my behalf. (B)”
“I think the word is that I want to go back to making a place where I live and building a castle in that place. (D)”
This included that the tangible property that I built up and the heart of my hometown were different from the dimension that I settled with compensation. The property also included content that urges researchers who are third parties to be tired of being unable to return to their homes even though they existed after evacuation.
“I have compensation, but it’s not money. I have my own home and my hometown, but when I get back there, I was told I wasn’t worried. (omitted) I didn’t think it was so hard that I couldn’t go home where I had my property. (C)”
In this way, Category 1 was a collection of contents that would continue to ask why the participants wanted to return, confirm, and make sure reasons.
4.3. Category 2) Desire to Return Was Retained by Having Obtained Information about the Original Place of Residence
Category 2) included two sub-categories:
“My house is very rough, so I thought I had to go to the house and do some cleanup. (A)”
“At first, the grass was so stretched and it was really hard to get into the house. I cut the hard grass little by little. (omitted) I never didn’t feel like I couldn’t go home. (A)”
“At first, I didn’t go home every day, but when I realized I went home every day. (H)”
As described above, category 2 summarizes the content that strengthens the desire to return by collecting information on the return destination.
4.4. Category 3) the Will to Return Was Acquired from Long-Term Life as a Refugee
Category 3) included two sub-categories:
“The people around were full of strangers at the evacuation site. The people who lived evacuated apart. (omitted) I’ve been going home at first, and I’ve experienced that people who said they’re going home are getting sick. (G)”
“I thought I had to go home again because my wife was in tune. (D)”
As described above, Category 3 summarized the changes that were felt during the evacuation life, which supported their desire to return.
4.5. Category 4) the Desire to Return Was Retained While the Potential Risks of Returning Were Accepted
Category 4) included three sub-categories:
“Even if my friend didn’t go home, I thought I was decided to return. (I)”
“It’s not a big deal in the year, it’s okay. (A)”
“I’m back because I’m prepared for inconvenience and anxiety. (D)”
“Even if you are in the mountains, the mountains will explode. It is the same everywhere. (E)”
In this way, Category 4) consolidates the content of reconciliation by facing the risks that may return.
4.6. Category 5) People Were Apprehensive to Talk about the Importance of Future of the Younger Generation
Category 5) included two sub-categories:
“I think the best thing I can do now is if I do what I like for my child. (F)”
“I thought I had to talk (about returning) soon (to the child). (H)”
5.1. The Relationship between the Category of Factors That Determine Return and the Passage of Time
The extracted categories were considered to be positioned after the Fukushima Daiichi accident. This was not merely a lapse of time, but evacuees were involved in changes in social conditions, including policies until the evacuation order was lifted, and reluctantly built a prolonged evacuation life. It is thought that the result was that the evacuees had been willing to return while swaying in various information. Figure 1 shows the relationship between the categories of factors that determine the return and the passage of time. The time from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident to 2017 at the time of the survey was plotted on the horizontal axis. In the upper row, the situation of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the situation of the town, the social situation such as changes
Figure 1. Relationship between the category of factors that determine return and the passage of time.
in the evacuation order area, and the categories in the middle row, and the sustainability is indicated by arrows.
The residents who were evacuated due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident lost their livelihoods and became unstable in terms of their lives and mental health. The uncertain situation of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and the intricate information on the town, which were reported every day, prolonged the situation where they could not return. Category 1) [desire to return emerged from life as a long-term evacuee] was positioned in such an evacuation life. Then, when it was time to start returning home or review the transition of the area, it became possible to collect information on return destinations. It was thought that this would lead to Category 2) [desire to return was retained by having obtained information about the original place of residence] which strengthened the feeling of return.
However, if the evacuation order is canceled slowly, it will be difficult to retain the intention. Regarding the factors supporting Category 1) and 2), the change in evacuation life supports the willingness to return in Category 3) [the will to return was acquired from long-term life as a refugee], and the category 4) [the desire to return was retained while the potential risks of returning were accepted] that confronts the risks of returning was positioned.
In category 5) [people were apprehensive about the importance of the future of the younger generation], it is difficult to identify the time, but the evacuation triggered the younger generation to live apart from the evacuation destination, so the next time they came back home, it was thought that they would accept themselves to watch over, separated from the life created by generational families.
5.2. Reasons for Wanting to Return from the Norm Where Priority Was Given
Participants’ willingness to return could be considered a strong reason for returning. In considering the reasons, we also consider the influence of pre-war or domestic tradition norms, considering the age of participants.
It is said that nostalgia is prone to occur in negative emotional states such as loneliness and depression, and it is said that the feeling nostalgia increases positive emotions . Looking at Category 1) [desire to return emerged from life as a long-term evacuee], it was thought that nostalgia, which is a longing for the past, was involved. participants would have been more likely to cause nostalgia because they had evacuated and left their homeland. It can be imagined that those who were forced to leave their hometown became more aware of the “goodness” of the town where they once lived.
In the same category
5.3. Reasons for Wanting to Return from the Norm Where Priority Was Given
Retention of willingness to return was Category 3) [the will to return was acquired from long-term life as a refugee] and Category 4) [the desire to return was retained while the potential risks of returning were accepted].
The risks of Category 4) [the desire to return was retained while the potential risks of returning were accepted] were related to the safety aspects of nuclear power and radiation, and the environmental aspects of living. The risk corresponding to this is the above-mentioned illness caused by stress when continuing evacuation. participants have come to terms with these statements—“Be prepared,” “Because I’m old,” “I’m fine at this level,” and “I’m not worried”—about the risks of returning. That is, it is considered a trade-off to reduce the severity of the risk by considering the degree of the risk, not the presence or absence of the risk . After gathering information on the risks and confirming them while checking them on the ground, if the desire to return was strong, it was a factor that boosted the desire to return by making light of safety risks. This confirms that the method of weighting the risk depends to some extent on the will to achieve. These suggest that it is important to confirm each motivation and to support factors that make return decision making difficult.
5.4. The Relationship between Next-Generation Families and Decision-Making Factors for Returning
Category 5) [people were apprehensive to talk about the importance of the future of the younger generation] was that the returning people could be supported by their families and retain their intention to return, at the same time, care for the younger generation and boost their life. This was believed to have been performed by the repatriated side of the elderly.
Among the reasons why the results of the Reconstruction Agency’s survey of residents’ intentions  did not return, respondents who said they already had a living foundation or wanted to continue education for their children in the current environment were those who were raising children or working. In such cases, we consider the expression “don’t talk.”
However, because of the parent’s position and the existence of children and grandchildren, consideration for important others backed by bonds may be made. For those who are in the elder or retirement stage of the family development stage , the elderly said, “Let’s call,” or “I’m doing what I like now.” It is thought that watching over was an action that encouraged the independent younger generation to choose their life. This is because the younger generation is living apart from themselves, rebuilding their lives on the land, like “building a house and living” and “going elsewhere.” It was supported by what I had confirmed.
From the narratives of nine people who returned to town A in Fukushima Prefecture where evacuation orders were lifted after a long-term evacuation after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, the following categories were extracted as factors that determine the return. Category 1) desire to return emerged from life as a long-term evacuee, Category 2) desire to return was retained by having obtained information about the original place of residence, Category 3) the will to return was acquired from long-term life as a refugee, Category 4) the desire to return was retained while the potential risks of returning were accepted], and Category 5) people’s apprehension over talking about the importance of the future of the younger generation.
These categories were considered to be positioned over time after the accident. Categories 1) and 2) confirmed their wishes because of the lack of their previous lives due to forced evacuation and continued to collect and prepare information for their return. Categories 3) and 4) were factors that supported the desire to return for a long time before they could return. Category 5) was considered to be a factor in accepting to be on the watch side of the younger generation’s life, although it is difficult to determine when. It was suggested that the reason for the desire to return was that the norms in the age of co-workers and the way of perceiving risk also helped the choice.
We would like to thank the residents of J Town in Fukushima Prefecture for their time and cooperation with this research. I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to the staff in J Town, Fukushima Prefecture for their consent to conduct the research and for recommending their collaborators.
This research is part of a master’s thesis in graduate school. Part of this research was presented at the 9th International Conference on High-Level Environmental Radiation Areas.