The Children of Fukushima Return, Six Years After the Nuclear Disaster

1Children at a nursery school this month in the hamlet of Naraha in Fukushima. The government lifted the evacuation order on the town in 2015.

NARAHA, Japan — The children returned to Naraha this spring.

For more than four years, residents were barred from this hamlet in Fukushima after an earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at a nuclear power plant north of town. When the government lifted the evacuation order in 2015, those who returned were mostly the elderly, who figured coming home was worth the residual radiation risk.

But this month, six years after the disaster, 105 students turned up at Naraha Elementary and Junior High School for the beginning of the Japanese school year.

Every morning, cafeteria workers measure the radiation in fresh ingredients used in lunches. In some grades, as few as six students take their lessons in classrooms built to accommodate as many as 30. There are not enough junior high students to field a baseball team on the new field next to the school.

Yet the return of the schoolchildren, the youngest of whom were born the year of the disaster, has been a powerful sign of renewal in this town, which is in the original 12-mile exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant.

Reopening the school “is very, very meaningful,” said Sachiko Araki, the principal of the junior high school. “A town without a school is not really a town.”

The new, $18 million two-story building has shiny blond wood floors, spacious classrooms, two science labs, a library filled with new books and a large basketball gymnasium. A balcony at the back of the building overlooks the sea.

Many emotions fueled the decisions of the families who returned to Naraha. It was always a small town, with just over 8,000 people before the disaster. So far, only one in five former residents has come home.

2The library at Naraha Elementary and Junior High School. The school was being built when the disaster hit, so workers started over, removing mounds of dirt in an effort to decontaminate the site.

A bank, post office and medical clinic are now open, but a supermarket is still under construction. Because neighborhoods have stood empty for so long, wild boars sometimes roam the streets.

With thousands of bags of contaminated soil piled high in fields around town and radiation meters posted in parking lots, the memory of the nuclear disaster is never distant.

At the Naraha school, which was being constructed when the disaster hit, workers destroyed a foundation that had just been laid and started over, removing mounds of dirt in an effort to decontaminate the site.

Today, radiation is regularly monitored on the school grounds as well as along routes to the building. The central government, based on recommendations from the International Commission on Radiological Protection, set a maximum exposure of 0.23 microsieverts an hour, a level at which there is no concrete scientific evidence of increased cancer risk. (Microsieverts measure the health effects of low levels of radiation.)

Still, some teachers say they are extra careful. Aya Kitahara, a fifth-grade teacher, said she and her colleagues had decided it was not safe to allow children to collect acorns or pine cones in the neighborhood for art projects, for fear that they would pick up small doses of radiation.

Nearby, a nursery school and day care center was built mostly with money from the nuclear plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, in 2007 and reopened this month. Keiko Hayakawa, the principal, said she was surprised that the city had pushed to bring back children before all bags of contaminated soil had been cleared from town.

We had to start and keep moving to open this facility as soon as possible,” Ms. Hayakawa said on a morning when 3- and 4- year-olds romped in a large playground, climbing a jungle gym, riding scooters and digging in a sandbox. “Otherwise, there was a fear that people might never come back.”

3A class of elementary students. In some grades, as few as six students take their lessons in classrooms built to accommodate as many as 30.

Calculations of radiation exposure are imprecise at best. They may not detect contaminated soil from rain runoff that can collect in gutters or other low-lying crevices. Risk of illness depends on many variables, including age, activities and underlying health conditions.

I don’t want to accuse anyone of being consciously disingenuous,” said Kyle Cleveland, associate professor of sociology at Temple University in Tokyo, who has written about the psychological effects of the Fukushima disaster. But government officials “have every incentive to downplay the level of risk and to put a positive spin on it.”

Reviving the towns of Fukushima is also a priority for the central government. With the 2020 Olympics to be held in Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to deliver on his promise that the Fukushima cleanup effort is “under control.”

It is really up to the individuals whether they would accept the current environment or not,” said Kentaro Yanai, the superintendent of the Naraha school district. “But for us, we did the best that we could have done so far in order to reduce radiation levels.”

For young families, factors other than radiation risks weighed on the calculus of whether to return. Some longed to go back to the town that had been their home for generations, while others assumed they could afford more space in Naraha.

And as national compensation payments for evacuees are set to expire next year, some residents secured jobs working for the town government or for contractors involved in the reconstruction work. Still others are employed by Tokyo Electric, which is coordinating the huge cleanup at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Ayuka Ohwada, 29, had originally thought she and her family would stay in Iwaki, a city of about 340,000 more than 20 miles south, where many Naraha residents lived during the evacuation period. But once her parents moved back to their old home, Ms. Ohwada and her children, now 8 and 6, began visiting on weekends.

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Day care workers and children in Naraha. The town now has a bank, a post office and a medical clinic, but a supermarket is still under construction.

I started thinking that maybe the countryside is a much better environment for my children,” said Ms. Ohwada, whose parents offered her a piece of land to build a new house. Ms. Ohwada, who was employed as a convenience store clerk before landing a job at town hall, said she and her husband, who works in a nearby town at a company involved in decontamination, could never afford a stand-alone house in Iwaki.

In Naraha, the school is doing as much as it can to cushion the return for young families.

The building, which was originally designed for the junior high school, now houses two elementary schools as well. Extra counselors talk students through lingering anxieties, and the fifth- and sixth-grade classes have two teachers each. All students will receive tablet computers, and lunch and school uniforms are provided free.

Yuka Kusano, 37, said her children had grown accustomed to large classes while they were evacuated in Iwaki. But after enrolling in the Naraha school this month, she said, they benefit from individualized attention rare in Japanese schools.

Her 12-year-old daughter, Miyu, is in seventh grade with just five other classmates, and her son, Ryuya, 9, is in a fourth-grade class of 13 students.

It is really luxurious,” Ms. Kusano said. Still, with so few children in Naraha, she drives Ryuya to Iwaki on weekends so he can continue to play on a softball team.

Hints emerge of the turmoil the students have endured in the six years since the disaster. During a recent presentation for parents, one girl with thick bangs and large black glasses said she had struggled with frequent moves.

I am doing O.K.,” she said. “I just want to keep stability in my life.”

Such stability is one reason many families with young children have chosen not to return.

5Uninhabited houses in Naraha. The town numbered just over 8,000 before the disaster. So far, only a fifth of the former residents have returned.

Tsutomu Sato, a nursing home manager with three daughters, 9, 5 and 2, said the family had moved seven or eight times after being evacuated from Naraha.

I just want to build a base for my family as soon as possible,” said Mr. Sato, who bought a house in the Yumoto neighborhood of Iwaki. He said his oldest daughter cried whenever he raised the possibility of moving back to Naraha, where his parents and grandmother were restoring their house and planned to move back next year.

In exile, he maintains a fierce attachment to his hometown and has formed a volunteer group, Naranoha, to stage cultural events to bring together the diaspora of former residents around the region. He said that if his parents grew too frail to take care of themselves, he would consider moving back.

With or without the disaster, we have to make life decisions based on our circumstances,” he said.

In Naraha, the mayor, Yukiei Matsumoto, said surveys showed that just under three-quarters of former residents wanted to return eventually.

In order to clear the stigma that people have,” he said, “we are back now to show the rest of the country and the rest of the world that we are doing well.” But he acknowledged that if more young people did not return, the town had a dim future.

Kazushige Watanabe, 73, said he had come back even though his the tsunami had destroyed his home and his sons lived outside Fukushima Prefecture.

He has moved into a compact bungalow built by the city in a new subdivision in the center of the town, where he has lived alone since his wife’s death in January.

He pointed out a house around the corner where a family with three children had moved in recently. “I can hear the children’s voices,” he said. “That is very nice.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/world/asia/japan-fukushima-nuclear-disaster-children.html

Where to put all the radioactive waste is now the burning issue

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The call might have been made to decommission five over-the-hill nuclear reactors, but the problem remains of where to dispose of their total 26,820 tons of radioactive waste.

The plant operators have yet to find disposal sites, and few local governments are expected to volunteer to store the waste on their properties.

The decommissioning plans for the five reactors that first went into service more than 40 years ago was green-lighted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority on April 19.

It is the first NRA approval for decommissioning since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami.

That disaster led to a new regulation putting a 40-year cap, in principle, on the operating life span of reactors.

The reactors to be decommissioned are the No. 1 reactor at Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tsuruga plant in Fukui Prefecture; the No. 1 reactor at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture; the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama plant in Fukui Prefecture; and the No. 1 reactor at Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Shimane plant in Shimane Prefecture.

The decommissioning will be completed between fiscal 2039 and fiscal 2045 at a total cost of 178.9 billion yen ($1.64 billion), according to the utilities.

In the process, the projects are expected to produce 26,820 tons of radioactive waste–reactors and pipes included.

An additional 40,300 tons of waste, such as scrap construction material, will be handled as nonradioactive waste due to radiation doses deemed lower than the government safety limit.

Securing disposal sites for radioactive waste has proved a big headache for utilities.

About 110 tons of relatively high-level in potency radioactive waste, including control rods, are projected to pile up from the decommissioning of the No. 1 reactor at the Mihama plant.

Such waste needs to be buried underground deeper than 70 meters from the surface and managed for 100,000 years, according to the NRA’s guidelines.

In addition, the decommissioning of the same reactor will generate 2,230 tons of less toxic waste as well, including pipes and steam generators.

Under the current setup, utilities must secure disposal sites on their own.

Kansai Electric, the operator of the Mihama plant, has pledged to find a disposal site “by the time the decommissioning is completed.”

But Fukui Prefecture, which hosts that plant and others, is demanding the waste from the Mihama facility be disposed of outside its borders.

The project to dismantle the reactor and other facilities has been postponed at Japan Atomic Power’s Tokai plant in Ibaraki Prefecture because the company could not find a disposal site for the relatively high-level waste.

The decommissioning of the reactor had been under way there since before the Fukushima disaster.

The expected difficulty of securing disposal sites could jeopardize the decommissioning timetable, experts say.

Even finding a disposal site for waste that will be handled as nonradioactive has made little headway.

What is more daunting is the hunt for a place to store high-level radioactive waste that will be generated during the reprocessing of spent fuel, they said.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201704200039.html

Niigata governor dashes TEPCO’s hopes for reactor restarts in 2019

uguhgjkmll.jpgTokyo Electric Power Co. President Naomi Hirose, left, hands a report to Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama at the prefectural government office in Niigata on April 19.

NIIGATA–Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama said a longer period may be needed to verify safety at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, destroying Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s schedule to restart reactors there.

Yoneyama announced the possible extension of the safety-confirmation period, which he had earlier put at three or four years, at a news conference on April 19 after his meeting with TEPCO President Naomi Hirose here.

The governor said it will take time to confirm that the nuclear plant can withstand major earthquakes, especially a building that is expected to serve as the headquarters in the event of a severe accident at the site.

Only after safety is confirmed can discussions begin on restarting the nuclear plant in the prefecture, Yoneyama said.

Under TEPCO’s reconstruction plan currently being worked out, operations at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, one of the largest in the world, will resume in April 2019 at the earliest.

However, TEPCO needs the prefectural government’s consent to restart reactors, and Yoneyama’s words show that the utility’s plan will be impossible to achieve.

TEPCO in 2014 became aware that the headquarters building at the plant was insufficient in terms of earthquake resistance. But the company failed to disclose the shortcomings and maintained its policy of using the building as a disaster headquarters.

The deficiencies of the building came to light in February this year.

Hirose visited the Niigata prefectural government office on April 19 to explain to Yoneyama the issue of the insufficient anti-quake capabilities at the plant’s building.

He acknowledged problems in the mindset of his employees.

They had a tendency to put priority on the benefits of their own company,” Hirose told the governor.

As for the time needed to confirm safety at the nuclear plant, Yoneyama told Hirose, “The period could become longer depending on the circumstances.”

The prefectural government plans to set up a committee in June at the earliest to verify safety at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

I don’t think nuclear power plants are indispensable for the economies of Japan and Niigata Prefecture,” Yoneyama said at the news conference after his meeting with Hirose.

The reactor restarts, however, may be crucial for TEPCO’s finances.

The company needs to secure 500 billion yen (about $4.6 billion) every year for 30 years to decommission the reactors at its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and pay compensation to those who evacuated after the disaster unfolded in March 2011.

Resumed operations of two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant could provide 100 billion yen a year for TEPCO.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201704200028.html

Japan to scrap 5 more nuclear reactors

String of facilities approaching maximum life span

0420N-Decommissioning-Business_article_main_image.jpgWorkers take apart a pump at Chubu Electric Power’s Hamaoka nuclear plant.

TOKYO — Five nuclear reactors in Japan were approved for decommissioning on Wednesday, pushing utilities and other companies to join hands to tackle both the great business opportunities and daunting technical problems involved with the process.

Two reactors at Kansai Electric Power‘s Mihama plant, as well as one each at Japan Atomic Power’s Tsuruga plant, Chugoku Electric Power‘s Shimane plant and Kyushu Electric Power‘s Genkai facility received the green light from Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority. The safety updates needed to keep them running beyond their mandated 40-year life span were deemed too costly.

Japan had 54 nuclear reactors before the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. A total of 15, including the six at Fukushima Daiichi, are now set to be taken out of service. Another one or two will be brushing up against the 40-year limit every year, unless one-time, 20-year extensions are sought and granted.

Companies now face a pressing need to acquire expertise on dismantling reactors and disposing of radioactive materials. No commercial nuclear reactor has ever been decommissioned in Japan before, and utilities are looking for partners with the necessary capabilities.

Kansai Electric is seeking help from France’s Areva and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in decommissioning the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at Mihama, particularly in decontaminating pipes and equipment. Japan Atomic Power and U.S.-based EnergySolutions signed an agreement last spring to cooperate on the former’s Tsuruga plant.

Japanese utilities are also beginning to work with each other. Kansai Electric entered a partnership last year with Kyushu Electric, Chugoku Electric and Shikoku Electric Power. The four plan to cut decommissioning costs by jointly procuring materials and sharing technology and staffers. 

Other players are also angling for a piece of the pie. Two years ago, Mitsubishi Heavy set up a department specializing in dismantling nuclear reactors. The company was a key player in building the Mihama and Genkai reactors, and wants a lead role in taking them apart. Japanese general contractor Shimizu also signed a technical cooperation agreement with U.K.-based Cavendish Nuclear.

Utilities have increased their rates in order to raise the necessary funds to decommission the five newly approved reactors. They have already come up with about 160 billion yen ($1.47 billion) of the estimated 180 billion yen total. But the process will likely take two or three decades, and costs could easily grow.

The utilities may also face significant challenges to disposing of the roughly 27,000 tons of contaminated waste the five reactors are expected to generate. For example, Japan Atomic Power wants to bury less radioactive materials at the site of the Tokai nuclear plant, one of the earlier plants approved for decommissioning, but faces strong local opposition.

Relevant legislation has not been finalized either. Highly contaminated materials are supposed to be buried more than 70 meters below ground. But the Nuclear Regulation Authority has only just begun debating exactly how they should be buried.

http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Policy-Politics/Japan-to-scrap-5-more-nuclear-reactors

5 Reactors Decommissioning Approved

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Decommissioning plans for 5 reactors approved

Japan’s nuclear regulator has approved plans submitted by operators of 4 power plants to decommission 5 aging nuclear reactors. The reactors are to be scrapped in a process lasting up to nearly 30 years.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority approved the plans at a meeting on Wednesday.

Under a government policy introduced after the 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, reactor lifespan was limited to 40 years in principle.

In 2015, utility companies decided to dismantle the 5 reactors. The 5 include 2 reactors at the Mihama plant and one at the Tsuruga plant, both in Fukui Prefecture, one at the Shimane plant in Shimane Prefecture and one at the Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture.

The plans call for first decontaminating pipes and dismantling facilities that are free of radioactive contamination.

The operators assume that the reactors and their buildings will be taken down and removed by fiscal 2045 at the latest.

At issue is where to put control rods, reactor parts and other radioactive waste. No site for a final disposal facility has been designated.

The regulator is checking another decommissioning plan for a reactor at the Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture. The facility’s operator decided last year to dismantle it.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20170419_18/

 

Nuclear authority approves decommissioning plans for 5 aging reactors

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japan’s nuclear authority approved decommissioning plans for five aging reactors at four power plants on Wednesday, the first such approvals since a government regulation was implemented after the 2011 Fukushima disaster to stop the operation of reactors beyond 40 years.

The five reactors are the Nos. 1 and 2 units at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama plant in Fukui Prefecture, the No. 1 unit at Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tsuruga plant in Fukui Prefecture, the No. 1 unit at Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Shimane plant in Shimane Prefecture and the No. 1 unit at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture.

While the utilities indicated it will take about 30 years to complete the decommissioning of each reactor, the disposal sites for the radioactive waste from the facilities have yet to be determined.

The decommissioning work will involve removing spent fuel from pools, dismantling reactors and demolishing surrounding facilities.

The regulation brought in following the 2011 disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant prohibits nuclear reactors from operating for over 40 years in principle, but the Nuclear Regulation Authority can approve the operation of a unit for up to 20 more years if the operator makes safety upgrades and the unit passes screening.

It was decided in March 2015 to scrap the five reactors, mainly due to profitability, as huge amounts of additional investment would be needed to meet the new safety requirements to keep the reactors operating beyond 40 years.

Meanwhile, the authority has given approval for the extended operation of the No. 3 unit at Kansai Electric’s Mihama plant as well as the Nos. 1 and 2 units at its Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture, which are also around 40 years old.

The authority is currently examining Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s decommissioning plan for the No. 1 unit at the Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture, after the utility decided in March 2016 to scrap the reactor.

In Wednesday’s meeting, the authority also decided that Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.’s uranium enrichment facility in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, satisfies regulatory requirements, virtually giving a green light for its operation. The decision will become official after consultation with the industry minister.

It will become the second fuel plant to clear new regulatory requirements after Global Nuclear Fuel-Japan Co.’s plant in Kanagawa Prefecture.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170419/p2g/00m/0dm/079000c

TEPCO Restaurant Opened to Public in Nuclear No-Go Zone

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Okuma, Fukushima Pref., April 17 (Jiji Press)–A restaurant of a Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. employee dormitory in an Fukushima Prefecture exclusion zone designated after the March 2011 nuclear accident was opened Monday to local residents who make temporary visits to their homes.


It is the first restaurant that can be used by residents of the town of Okuma, one of the host municipalities of TEPCO’s disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, since the accident at the plant forced a blanket evacuation.


The staff restaurant, Okuma Shokudo, has about 240 seats and is open to the general public from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., except on weekends and national holidays. It offers 21 menu items at the prices for TEPCO employees.

The restaurant operator, Torifuji Honten, is now based in the Fukushima city of Iwaki after evacuating from its head office in the town of Tomioka, also in the northeastern prefecture.


“We hope to contribute to disaster reconstruction if only a little bit,” said Takanobu Mori, 49-year-old manager of the TEPCO staff restaurant.

http://jen.jiji.com/jc/eng?g=eco&k=2017041700795

Children must learn respect for Fukushima evacuees

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Many children of families who have fled Fukushima Prefecture after the 2011 nuclear disaster have become targets of bullying at school.

The education ministry said on April 11 that a total of 129 cases of school bullying in which children from Fukushima were victims have been confirmed over the past fiscal year.

Only four have been formally recognized as cases linked directly to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and the consequent catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. But the ministry said it has not tracked down all bullying cases involving Fukushima evacuees.

The confirmed cases are, of course, the tip of the iceberg.

In some past cases, the victims suffered various forms of verbal abuse.

The nuclear plant exploded because of people like you,” is one example of verbal harassment hurled at a bullying victim. “Don’t come close to me. I don’t want to get contaminated with radiation,” is another.

These harrowing stories of bullying are reminiscent of the high-profile harassment case involving a boy who moved from Fukushima to Yokohama with his family after the accident. In that case, which made headlines in the media last autumn, the boy stopped attending classes.

Behind the problem is a lack of understanding about radiation and the situations of evacuees,” said education minister Hirokazu Matsuno.

Children tend to be influenced by the words and attitudes of adults around them. The problem of rampant bullying of Fukushima evacuees reflects a lack of understanding among adults about the plight of these people.

But some Cabinet members have also made remarks that hurt the feelings of people in Fukushima Prefecture.

Masahiro Imamura, the minister in charge of rebuilding areas affected by the nuclear accident, for example, recently said so-called “voluntary evacuees,” or people who have fled areas not subject to evacuation orders, are “responsible for their lives.”

Nobuteru Ishihara, speaking about where to store contaminated soil from the crippled nuclear plant, said, “In the end, it will come down to money.”

Tamayo Marukawa, while voicing skepticism about the government’s goal for lowering radiation levels around the plant, said, “There are people who express anxiety no matter how much (radiation levels) are lowered, people who can be called the ‘anti-radiation’ crowd, if I may use an unusual term.”

Both made these remarks while serving as environment minister.

The government seems to be betting that an increase in the number of Fukushima evacuees who return home will help the reconstruction of the prefecture make progress, or at least make it look as if progress is being made.

The government’s desire and efforts to see that happen may be making Fukushima evacuees not returning home feel small.

If a lack of understanding is the cause of bullying of children from Fukushima, adults have the responsibility to give children opportunities to learn and think about the reality.

Collections of materials for ethics education compiled by the Fukushima prefectural board of education may help. Different versions designed for classes at elementary, junior and senior high schools are now available and can be obtained from the education board’s website.

The collections include materials based on real stories concerning such serious topics as the feelings of local residents who were forced to leave their homes, discrimination driven by fears of radiation and unfounded prejudice against agricultural products grown in Fukushima.

Reports and documentaries describing the lives of evacuees and the realities of Fukushima can also be used as teaching materials.

These topics and issues can also be dealt with along with those related to radiation in comprehensive learning or contemporary social studies classes.

People in Fukushima have made different decisions on such vital questions as whether they should leave their communities or stay and whether they should return home to make a fresh start or rebuild their lives where they are living now. That’s because there is no simple answer to these questions.

We hope children will have honest discussions, recognize that they may disagree on some issues and learn to get along while respecting one another,” says a Fukushima prefectural board of education member.

The problem of bullying of Fukushima evacuees should be taken as a good opportunity for educators to tackle the challenge of offering classes designed to encourage children to think on their own instead of instilling ideas and views into them.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201704170027.html