As Fukushima residents return, some see hope in nuclear tourism

posters promoting fukushima sightseeing at the Fukushima prefectural government office in Fukushima city.jpg
Posters promoting fukushima sightseeing at the Fukushima prefectural government office in Fukushima city
June 21, 2018
FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – On a cold day in February, Takuto Okamoto guided his first tour group to a sight few outsiders had witnessed in person: the construction cranes looming over Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Seven years after a deadly tsunami ripped through the Tokyo Electric Power (9501.T) plant, Okamoto and other tour organisers are bringing curious sightseers to the region as residents who fled the nuclear catastrophe trickle back.
Many returnees hope tourism will help resuscitate their towns and ease radiation fears.
But some worry about drawing a line under a disaster whose impact will be felt far into the future. The cleanup, including the removal of melted uranium fuel, may take four decades and cost several billion U.S. dollars a year.
“The disaster happened and the issue now is how people rebuild their lives,” Okamoto said after his group stopped in Tomioka, 10 kilometres (6.21 miles) south of the nuclear plant. He wants to bring groups twice a week, compared with only twice a month now.
Electronic signs on the highway to Tomioka showed radiation around 100 times normal background levels, as Okamoto’s passengers peered out tour bus windows at the cranes poking above Fukushima Daiichi.
tourists from Philippines & tour guide Takuto Okamoto, Futaba town, May 17 2018.jpg
Tourists from Philippines & tour guide Takuto Okamoto, Futaba town, May 17 2018
“For me, it’s more for bragging rights, to be perfectly honest,” said Louie Ching, 33, a Filipino programmer. Ching, two other Filipinos and a Japanese man who visited Chernobyl last year each paid 23,000 yen ($208.75) for a day trip from Tokyo.
 
NAMIE
The group had earlier wandered around Namie, a town 4 kilometres north of the plant to which residents began returning last year after authorities lifted restrictions. So far, only about 700 of 21,000 people are back – a ratio similar to that of other ghost towns near the nuclear site.
Former residents Mitsuru Watanabe, 80, and his wife Rumeko, 79, have no plans to return. They were only in town to clear out their shuttered restaurant before it is demolished, and they chatted with tourists while they worked.
“We used to pull in around 100 million yen a year,” Mitsuru said as he invited the tourists inside. A 2011 calendar hung on the wall, and unfilled orders from the evacuation day remained on a whiteboard in the kitchen.
“We want people to come. They can go home and tell other people about us,” Mitsuru said among the dusty tables.
 
Okamoto’s group later visited the nearby coastline, where the tsunami killed hundreds of people. Abandoned rice paddies, a few derelict houses that withstood the wave and the gutted Ukedo elementary school are all that remain.
It’s here, behind a new sea wall at the edge of the restricted radiation zone, that Fukushima Prefecture plans to build a memorial park and 5,200-square-metre (56,000-square-foot) archive centre with video displays and exhibits about the quake, tsunami and nuclear calamity.
LURING TOURISTS
“It will be a starting point for visitors,” Kazuhiro Ono, the prefecture’s deputy director for tourism, said of the centre. The Japan Tourism Agency will fund the project, Ono added.
Ono wants tourists to come to Fukushima, particularly foreigners, who have so far steered clear. Overseas visitors spent more than 70 million days in Japan last year, triple the number in 2011. About 94,000 of those were in Fukushima.
Tokyo Electric will provide material for the archive, although the final budget for the project has yet to be finalised, he said.
“Some people have suggested a barbecue area or a promenade,” said Hidezo Sato, a former seed merchant in Namie who leads a residents’ group. A “1” sticker on the radiation metre around his neck identified him as being the first to return to the town.
Slideshow (21 Images)
“If people come to brag about getting close to the plant, that can’t be helped, but at least they’ll come,” Sato said. The archive will help ease radiation fears, he added.
SPECTACLE
Standing outside a farmhouse as workmen refurbished it so her family could return, Mayumi Matsumoto, 54, said she was uneasy about the park and archive.
“We haven’t gotten to the bottom of what happened at the plant, and now is not the time,” she said.
Matsumoto had come back for a day to host a rice-planting event for about 40 university students. Later they toured Namie on two buses, including a stop at scaffolding near the planned memorial park site to view Fukushima Daiichi’s cranes.
Matsumoto described her feelings toward Tokyo Electric as “complicated,” because it is responsible for the disaster but also helped her family cope its aftermath. One of her sons works for the utility and has faced abuse from angry locals, she added.
“It’s good that people want to come to Namie, but not if they just want to get close to the nuclear plant. I don’t want it to become a spectacle,” Matsumoto said.
Okamoto is not the only guide offering tours in the area, although visits of any kind remain rare. He said he hoped his clients would come away with more than a few photographs.
“If people can see for themselves the damage caused by tsunami and nuclear plant, they will understand that we need to stop it from happening again,” said Okamoto, who attended university in a neighbouring prefecture. “So far, we haven’t come across any opposition from the local people.”
($1 = 110.1800 yen)
Advertisements

Fukushima Route 114 to Namie is No Route 66!

35864520_830136463852837_5482498720819838976_n.jpg
Even after lifting the ban on R114 last September, the route leading to Namie, a town near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, radiation remains very high.

Japanese Citizens Reject Government Plan to Use Soil Contaminated by Fukushima

1052448157.jpg
 
June 18, 2018
Japanese residents are fighting a government proposal to use soil contaminated with radiation from the area of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant for agriculture and road construction.
On June 3, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment released the outline of its plan to use soil contaminated by the nuclear accident that occured in March 2011 after a tsunami caused the facility’s power supply and emergency generators to fail. As a result of the power failure, meltdowns occurred in three reactors, resulting in the release of radioactive material. 
In 2011 after the accident, Japan enacted a law that allows the government to use contaminated waste from the Fukushima site for public purposes, Osamu Inoue, environmental law partner at Ushijima & Partners in Tokyo, recently told Bloomberg BNA.
According to the ministry’s plan, the contaminated soil will be used to grow horticultural crops in Fukushima Prefecture that won’t be consumed by humans. In a similar plan released in 2017, the ministry also suggested that contaminated soil be used for road construction.
However, the use of contaminated soil for road construction and agriculture has been heavily criticized by residents living in close proximity to the project locations with safety concerns.
“Pollutants contained in crops will surely pollute air, water and soil, thereby contaminating food to be consumed by human beings,” Kazuki Kumamoto, professor emeritus at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo, told Bloomberg Environment. Kumamoto also noted that contaminated crops could release radiation into the environment.
According to Kumamoto, because contaminated soil isn’t considered nuclear waste under Japanese law, it doesn’t have to be treated by special facilities. While the International Atomic Energy Agency’s standard for contamination radioactive waste that needs to be treated by special facilities is 100 becquerels per kilogram, the Japanese limit is much higher, at 8,000 becquerels per kilogram for nuclear waste and soil.
“The relaxed benchmark is one factor triggering safety concerns among residents,” Nagasaki told Bloomberg Environment earlier this month. 
“The government is saying that the contaminated soil will be covered by materials such as concrete, effectively reducing radiation levels, but many residents near the reuse projects aren’t convinced,” he added.
In addition, more than 2,300 property owners in the areas where the projects are expected to take place are declining government offers to sell their land because they don’t believe they are being compensated appropriately, Yoshiharu Monma, chairman of the Association of Landowners in Fukushima Prefecture, recently told Bloomberg. According to Monma, the government is only agreeing to compensate property owners for half of what the land was worth before the 2011 disaster if the land is to be used for interim storage facilities.
“This is totally unfair and, as much as the landowners are willing to sell their land to facilitate the government’s decontamination plans, they won’t do so until the government fixes such compensation discrepancies,” Monma noted.

Trouble-hit nuclear reactor in southwestern Japan resumes operations

genkai npp.jpg
In this Nov. 6, 2016 file photo, from left, the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Genkai Nuclear Power Plant are seen from a Mainichi helicopter in Saga Prefecture
 
 
June 16, 2018
FUKUOKA (Kyodo) — A nuclear reactor at a trouble-hit complex in southwestern Japan restarted operations Saturday for the first time in more than six and a half years amid lingering safety concerns.
The No. 4 unit at the Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture is the fourth reactor of operator Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s to go back online and the ninth nationwide under stricter safety rules implemented after the Fukushima crisis in 2011. The utility aims to generate and supply electricity from Wednesday and start commercial operations in mid-July.
The restart sparked local protests, with around 100 people gathering in front of the plant.
Hajime Aoki, an 80-year-old farmer living about 6 kilometers away from the plant, said, “Everyone knows that nuclear plants are dangerous. If I think about the Fukushima nuclear accident, I certainly cannot agree to this.”
Recognizing the opposition of the local residents, Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi promised to deal with the issue seriously, while Michiaki Uriu, president of Kyushu Electric, separately said the plant’s operation will proceed by taking into account “safety as a top priority.”
At the same time, there were some residents who said that while they were worried about plant safety, they also saw the economic benefits to having such plants in the area.
The restart comes after the Genkai complex has been mired in troubles. In May, pumps installed to control the circulation of cooling water at the No. 4 unit suffered malfunctions, following a steam leak from a pipe at the No. 3 reactor just a week after it was reactivated in March.
Kyushu Electric estimates cost savings of 11 billion yen ($100 million) per month due to the restarts of the No. 3-4 units at Genkai, as this will reduce its reliance on thermal power generation.
The No. 4 unit, which began undergoing a regular checkup in December 2011, won approval for restart by the Nuclear Regulation Authority in January 2017 under the tougher rules implemented after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi complex, triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
Some local residents opposed to the Genkai plant’s operation question the validity of safety standards and cite the risk of volcanic eruptions in the region. The Saga District Court rejected in March a request for an injunction to suspend the plant’s restart.

Blowback Over Japanese Plan to Reuse Tainted Soil From Fukushima

34407913_1687856461335367_4070658394128646144_n.jpg
June 14, 2018
By Brian Yap
Japan’s plan to reuse soil contaminated with radiation from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant accident for agriculture is sparking something of its own nuclear reaction.
Residents and other critics don’t want any part of it.
“Pollutants contained in crops will surely pollute air, water and soil, thereby contaminating food to be consumed by human beings,” Kazuki Kumamoto, professor emeritus at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo told Bloomberg Environment. Contaminated crops “could trigger the release of radiation.”
The Ministry of the Environment released its latest plan June 3 for reusing the soil as part of a decontamination project associated with the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011. The accident occurred after a tsunami disabled the facility’s power supply and caused its emergency generators to fail, leading to meltdowns in three reactors, hydrogen-air explosions, and the release of radioactive material.
The ministry’s plan calls for using the soil to develop farmland in Fukushima Prefecture for horticultural crops that won’t be consumed by humans, the June 3 document said. It builds on the ministry’s 2017 plan to use the contaminated soil for road construction.
Japan enacted a law in 2011 to respond to the Fukushima accident that provides for post-disaster measures and enables the government to reuse contaminated waste for public works and other purposes, with roads themselves being disposal sites, Osamu Inoue, environmental law partner at Ushijima & Partners in Tokyo, told Bloomberg BNA.
Safety issues
The reuse projects for road construction and agricultural land have met heavy opposition from residents living close to where such projects have been planned, according to Akira Nagasaki, environmental law partner at City-Yuwa Partners in Tokyo.
Key among their concerns are the changes Japan made to its benchmark.
Contaminated soil isn’t classified as nuclear waste under the law and therefore isn’t required to be treated by special facilities, Kumamoto said. That’s because Japan relaxed its benchmark, based on one set by the International Atomic Energy Agency, for determining at what level of contamination radioactive waste must be treated and disposed using more protective measures.
The international agency standard is 100 becquerel, a measure of radioactivity, per kilogram. Japan revised its limit to 8,000 becquerel per kilogram for nuclear waste and soil, exempting a greater amount of contaminated soil from strict treatment requirements and allowing it to be reused for public works projects and agricultural land.
 
“The relaxed benchmark is one factor triggering safety concerns among residents,” Nagasaki told Bloomberg Environment June 8. He added that the government has been promoting its plan to put contaminated soil back to earth, which seems contrary to the former process of removing it.
“The government is saying that the contaminated soil will be covered by materials such as concrete, effectively reducing radiation levels, but many residents near the reuse projects aren’t convinced,” he said.
The government’s original scheme set in 2012, Kumamoto said, was to have the contaminated areas in Fukushima Prefecture completely cleaned up in 30 years, with the tainted soil that had been temporarily stored offsite moved to interim storage facilities near the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Plant.
Thirty-six of the prefecture’s 59 cities and townships are included in the government’s decontamination plan, environment ministry statistics show. Contaminated soil temporarily stored outside the areas closest to the Fukushima No. 1 plant was supposed to have been moved to interim storage facilities on land nearest the nuclear site by 2015 and kept there for 30 years.
Unfair Compensation
Another concern is how the government plans to compensate the owners of the land where these sites would be located.
Most of the more than 2,300 property owners in the area have refused to sell their land to the government for the storage sites because they don’t think they’re being fairly compensated, said Yoshiharu Monma, chairman of the Association of Landowners in Fukushima Prefecture.
The government agreed to compensate the owners for what the land was worth before the 2011 disaster if that property was to be used for the temporary storage sites, Monma said. But if the land has been designated for interim storage facilities, the government will only pay half of its value before the disaster.
“This is totally unfair and, as much as the landowners are willing to sell their land to facilitate the government’s decontamination plans, they won’t do so until the government fixes such compensation discrepancies,” Monma added.

Strong earthquake shakes Osaka: Officials in neighboring Fukui Prefecture say all 15 nuclear reactors are still functioning

Strong earthquake shakes Osaka

All but 1 or 2 of these are supposedly shut down since 3-11.
Just before 8 am local time a magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck northern Osaka. It’s categorized as a six-minus on a scale of zero to seven on Japan’s seismic intensity scale.
No tsunami warning has been issued.
Hyogo, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara are also affected.
At least 5 people were injured and have been transferred to hospital.
Officials in neighboring Fukui Prefecture say they’ve checked all the 15 nuclear reactors there, both online and offline, and no problems have been found.
Shinkansen bullet train service has been halted.
Local train services in the region have also been affected.
The 3 airports in the region temporarily halted operations but have just resumed.
Some areas in Osaka are reportedly experiencing power shortages.
A viewer has posted a photo showing water gushing from a cracked pipe along the Yodo River in Osaka Prefecture in the city of Takatsuki.
He said the water is still flowing from the pipe.
Senior government officials are gathering for an emergency meeting at the Prime Minister’s office.
Japanese Self-Defense Force fighter jets and helicopters are heading to the area to gather information.
 
At least three people killed, several injured after strong earthquake rattles Osaka area
n-osakaquake-a-20180619.jpg
Elementary school students in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, evacuate to the school yard Monday morning after a magnitude 5.9 quake hit the Kansai region.
 
OSAKA – One of the most powerful earthquakes to rock the Kansai region in decades struck Osaka and neighboring prefectures Monday morning, leaving at least three people dead and a number of others injured.
The earthquake, measuring magnitude 6.1 and a lower 6 on the Japanese seismic scale of 7, hit at 7:58 a.m. and occurred at a depth of about 13 km in the northern part of Osaka Prefecture, the Meteorological Agency said. No tsunami warning was issued.
A 9-year-old girl in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, was confirmed dead after being struck when a wall surrounding a swimming pool fell on her as she walked by. Also in the prefecture, a man in his 80s from Ibaraki died after he was crushed by a bookshelf at his home, according to the Osaka Prefectural Government.
n-osakaquake-c-20180619.jpg
People get off a train in Osaka’s Kita Ward Monday morning after West Japan Railway Co. and other railways suspended operations following a major earthquake.
 
NHK also said an 80-year-old man in the city of Osaka died after being hit by a falling wall, while a number of other people were also feared dead.
A number of injuries and dozens of fires were reported from Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto and Mie prefectures, according to local police and city authorities.
A water pipe under a road in Takatsuki burst and flooded the area, according to police.
Disaster management minister Hachiro Okonogi said people were reportedly trapped under a collapsed building. Authorities were working to confirm the details.
According to police and rescuers, two people were trapped in an elevator at a train station in Yamatokoriyama, Nara Prefecture. More people were believed to be stranded in elevators in apartment buildings, they said.
The weather agency issued a warning against landslides, adding that people should be cautious about possible aftershocks for a few days.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, speaking in Tokyo, said the government was not aware of any reports of damage to nuclear power plants near Osaka, such as the Takahama and Oi plants in Fukui Prefecture.
Suga said that, following instructions issued by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the government set up an emergency task force to gather information about the situation. The government vowed to “do its utmost” to extend disaster-relief efforts and help with reconstruction, as well as provide the public with relevant information.
There is no immediate plan at the moment to open evacuation centers or supply food or drinking water to affected areas, Suga said, adding that the government has not so far received any request for Self-Defense Forces personnel to be dispatched.
The top government spokesman also urged residents in the hardest-hit areas, including the cities of Takatsuki, Hirakata and Ibaraki in Osaka Prefecture, to “stay calm” and be vigilant against “strong” aftershocks, which he said could be as strong as a lower 6 on the Japanese scale, over the next week or so.
A senior government official, meanwhile, expressed guarded optimism that damage due to Monday morning’s quake is unlikely to too widespread, citing what appears to be the “localized” nature of the quake and swift power recovery.
More than 60 bullet trains were canceled during the morning, and some expressways were also closed. Both Kansai International and Kobe airport temporarily closed but resumed operations after confirming that there was no structural damage to the facilities.
In Osaka Prefecture, power was restored after the quake left about 170,800 homes and buildings without electricity for several hours.
Osaka Gas said it turned off gas supplies to 108,000 households. Kansai Electric Power Co., meanwhile, said its nuclear plants in Fukui Prefecture were operating normally.
No abnormalities were reported at the Takahama, Mihama and Oi nuclear plants in the prefecture, according to Kepco.
The quake left many commuters stranded at stations or on streets during the morning rush hour after it disrupted shinkansen and other rail operations in western and central Japan.
The Tokaido Shinkansen Line connecting Osaka with Tokyo came to a halt in both directions shortly after the quake. As of 10 a.m., the section between Nagoya and Osaka remained closed.
A Japan Times staff member aboard a Tokyo-bound shinkansen said his train had stopped shortly before reaching Kakegawa Station in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Onboard announcements said safety checks following a quake-linked power outage between Tokyo and Odawara stations had led to the Tokyo-bound stoppage.
In a quake with an intensity of lower 6, it is difficult to remain standing and unsecured furniture may move or topple over, according to the meteorological agency.
Although its magnitude was relatively weak, the quake is believed to have triggered high-intensity tremors because of its shallow epicenter.
In the deadly 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake in the region, which had a magnitude of 7.3 and recorded 7 on the seismic intensity scale, 6,434 people were killed.
It was the latest in a string of quakes over the last few days. A magnitude 4.6 quake hit southern Gunma Prefecture on Sunday, and a magnitude 4.5 temblor struck Chiba Prefecture on Saturday.