On November 30, 2011, seven of the forty golf clubs that form the Fukushima Prefectural Golf Association filed a claim against TEPCO for damages arising from loss of income.
The clubs have reported a total loss in revenue of 247 million Yen (3.16 million Yen) between March and August, 2011, which they say was directly attributed to the radiation fears from the troubled nuclear power plant.
Some of the clubs include the Aizu Bandai Country Club, the Adatara Country Club and the Shin Shirakawa Golf Club. The clubs are all located between 60 ~ 100 kilometers from the nuclear plant. Although the golf courses have radiation readings of less than 0.5 microsieverts per hour (0.2 microsieverts/hour is the average normal background radiation for most cities in the world), visitors to the courses were down 20 ~ 40% from 2010.
According to the Association, the total revenue from the seven clubs between March and August fell 30% from the previous year. Several other golf courses within Fukushima Prefecture remain closed, including one course which lies in the 20km exclusion zone and five courses which were directly affected by the earthquake and nuclear disaster. In 2010, approximately 1,240,000 people visited the courses, but this year the number has dropped to 300,000 ~ 400,000 visitors.
The Kashima Country Club is located 30km north of the nuclear plant and most of the course falls within the emergency evacuation zone. Radiation levels on the course were 0.3 microsieverts per hour, with readings as high as 3.0 microsieverts/hour reported in some locations. The 27-hole course closed on March 12 but 18-holes were temporarily opened to members from June 4th. The majority of the club members, however, had evacuated outside of the Prefecture and the club was only attracting 20 players per day. With course fees of 3500 Yen, the income was not enough to cover the gasoline for the golf carts, herbicide, and staff salaries. The club was closed once again, the 45 staff were let go and 4 volunteers are now left trying to maintain the grounds. The club manager said that even if they decontaminate the course, they cannot be sure that members will return.
Earlier in November, the Sunfield Nihonmatsu Golf Club took TEPCO to court demanding they decontaminate the course and compensate the club 87 million Yen (1.11 million USD) for maintenance costs. TEPCO’s argument was that they no longer “owned” the radioactive substances once they left the nuclear plant and that these “radioactive materials (such as cesium) that scattered and fell from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant belong to individual landowners there, not TEPCO”. The Tokyo District Court rejected this idea, but ruled that decontamination work should be the responsibility of the central and local governments, although companies also have the right to demand decontamination work by TEPCO.
The course is located 45 km west of the nuclear plant and the owners voluntarily closed the course from March 12, citing high radiation levels. In August, a reading as high as 2.91 microsieverts/hour was recorded at the tee of the sixth hold, and 51.1 microsieverts/hour was recorded in a drainage ditch. TEPCO suggested that these readings were inaccurate and that such radiation levels would not pose a problem in any case. The science ministry said that levels below 3.8 microsieverts/hour are suitable levels for schoolyards, so the district court said that the golf course should also be able to resume operations. The golf club’s lawyers, however, said that operations were suspended because of potential risks to employees and customers. The Golf Association canceled a tournament at the course in July due to high radiation levels. Soil tests detected 235,000 becquerels of cesium per kg of grass – levels that would put the area into a no-entry zone under safety standards enforced after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Radioactive strontium at 98 becquerels per kg were detected in the grass and ground.
In related news, 15 translator / tour guides that operate in Fukushima Prefecture have also filed a claim for damages against TEPCO to the amount of 27.5 million Yen (352,000 USD). The guides said that the severe drop in foreign visitors to the prefecture have reduced their income significantly. One Japanese-French translator said that following the nuclear disaster, eleven tour groups had canceled and there are still no signs of visitor numbers returning.
“TEPCO: Radioactive substances belong to landowners, not us” The Asahi Shimbun, November 24, 2011.
The Asahi Shimbun, December 5, 2011.
The Daily Yomiuri, August 17, 2011.
The Daily Yomiuri, December 5, 2011.