Even as Evacuation Orders are Lifted, Recovery Remains Distant Prospect for Many Fukushima Residents

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Six years after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, the government has lifted evacuation orders on four municipalities around the plant, allowing residents to return home for the first time since the meltdowns. The author, who has been involved in reconstruction planning since the evacuation orders were first given, calls for a multiple-track plan to meet the complicated needs of those who return and evacuees who continue to live elsewhere as evacuees.

The Beginning of the End, or the Prelude to New Heartache?

The Japanese government on March 31 and April 1 of this year lifted evacuation orders for areas around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station it issued in the wake of the nuclear accident at the plant more than six years ago. The decision finally allowed some 32,000 residents of the four radiation-affected municipalities of Iidate, Kawamata, Namie, and Tomioka to return to their homes. Following the move, the only places still subject to evacuation orders are Futaba and Ōkuma (where the Daiichi plant is located) and parts of five neighboring towns and villages.

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The Japanese media almost universally hailed the decision as a “major milestone” toward residents of affected areas rebuilding their lives. But this supposed milestone can be taken in two quite different ways. In much of the media there was an optimistic sense of a return to normalcy, resulting in the view that the evacuation orders lifting was a long-awaited new beginning in the recovery effort, and that residents would finally be able to start rebuilding their lives and communities. Another, more cynical view, however, is that it merely marked the start of new string of woes. Considering the challenges that face residents, in my opinion this second interpretation is closer to the truth.

The optimistic view is pushed by the national and prefectural authorities in charge of advancing recovery efforts in Fukushima, and is based on the following scenario.

1. Designate evacuation zones across areas affected by radiation, and provide support to evacuees in the form of temporary housing and compensation.

2. Decontaminate the affected areas.

3. Prepare to lift the evacuation orders as radiation levels fall.

4. Rebuild local infrastructure and reestablish local services, rebuilding health, welfare, and retail facilities where necessary.

5. Lift evacuation orders.

6. Evacuees return home.

For the thousands of evacuees forced to live away from their homes over the past six years, however, there is quite a different sense to the orders being lifted. Some people will decide to return home while others will remain where they are. No matter their decision, though, we must face the fact that new challenges await both groups.

Many of those most eager to return home are the elderly, but health and welfare provisions are still far from satisfactory in many areas. There are also lingering doubts for other members of the community, such as the future of the area’s farming, forestry, and fisheries. Local economies have been devastated, raising the question of employment and whether people will even be able to buy daily necessities, let alone support themselves long term.

The situation at the power plant also remains precarious and much work remains to be done. The problem of radioactive water has yet to be solved and a medium-term storage facility must be found for huge amounts of contaminated material. However, there is not even a timetable for when these will be accomplished. Faced with such uncertainty, many people will simply choose to remain where they are rather than risk returning home. However, this decision brings a different set of problems, as many of the support systems put in place to help evacuees will be cut off now that they are no longer prevented from going back.

In surveys carried out between 2014 and 2017 by the Reconstruction Ministry, the Fukushima Prefectural government, and the evacuated municipalities, more than half of residents of Futaba, Namie, Ōkuma, and Tomioka said they did not plan to return to their homes after the evacuation orders were lifted. In other areas where more than a year has already passed since evacuation orders were rescinded, the number of residents who have returned remains at 20% or less everywhere except Tamura. These sobering figures illustrate the steep road awaiting evacuees wishing to go home.

Assessing Conditions in the Affected Areas

The fact that authorities lifted evacuation orders despite so many issues still unresolved demonstrates a disregard for the challenges confronting residents. Now more than ever, we must consider and assess the uncertainties residents face and ascertain future challenges.

In the areas recently deemed fit again for human habitation, flexible containers filled with contaminated materials still lie in heaps at various temporary storage points, where they have been since clean-up operations began. While the plan is to eventually move these to medium-term storage facilities, I wonder if authorities when deciding to lift the evacuation order really understood the anxiety and stress placed on residents who must live their lives surrounded by mountains of contaminated debris.

d00319_ph02-680x451Containers of contaminated soil in temporary storage await safety checks in Minamisōma, Fukushima, on June 11, 2016.

The town of Hirono is situated 22 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi. Following the disaster, the town’s medical services fell to the sole efforts of the head of the local hospital, Dr. Takano Hideo. However, the future of the hospital was thrown in doubt when Takano died in a fire late last year. Nakayama Yūjiro, a physician in Tokyo, assisted for a time, spending two months earlier this year as the hospital’s resident doctor.

Nakayama wrote a diary based on his experience, which was published in April 2017 by Nikkei Business online as Ishi ga mita Fukushima no riaru (The Reality of Fukushima: A Doctor’s View). In his account, Nakayama describes the ongoing tragedy of the disaster and discusses the numerous people who have died from conditions brought on by the stress of residing in temporary living conditions. He points to three main reasons for these deaths: Separation from family and loss of community; interruption of ongoing medical treatment; and change of environment. Nakayama’s experience illustrates how in indirect ways, the death toll from the disaster continues to rise.

Giving Up on the Dream of Going Home

The situation is worse still for people whose homes are subject to ongoing evacuation orders. Sasaki Yasuko, who was evacuated from her home in Namie, spent the time since the disaster in temporary housing in the town of Koori. In a 90-page record of her life as an evacuee called Osoroshii hōshanō no sora no shita (Under a Fearsome Radioactive Sky), she writes: “I don’t want to die in temporary housing. That’s all I ask. Everyone is talking about wrapping things up and bringing an end to the disaster—but I don’t want my life to end like this. . . . Since the disaster, there seem to be slogans everywhere I go that are meant to keep our spirits up. But what more can I do than what I’m already doing? I wish someone would tell me what I’m expected to do.”

I met Sasaki for the last time in the spring of 2013. She was still living in temporary housing and was working to complete a model of her home in Namie, desperately trying to recreate from memories a place she thought she would never see again. Around a month after that, I learned that she had been hospitalized and had passed away at the age of 84. I also heard that before entering the hospital, she had taken her model and smashed it to pieces.

d00319_ph03-680x453Sasaki Yasuko toward the end of her life, at work on a model of her abandoned home in Namie.

I had many other opportunities to talk to people whose homes are in areas “closed to habitation indefinitely.” Several of them told me that when they had tried to tidy up one of their short visits home, they found their houses in a state of chaos as a result of intrusions by boars and other wild animals. The residents asked the authorities to do something about it, saying, “Can’t you catch the boars, or at least hire someone to stop them from getting into our houses?” But no business could be persuaded to take the project on as everyone was too afraid of the high radiation levels.

Faced with difficulties and indignities like this, people’s eagerness to return home slowly withered. They say that the radiation tore everything up by the roots—history, culture, community—and they wonder if any amount of compensation can make up for such a loss. Robbed of their local heritage, many residents of affected areas continue to lament the cultural implications of the disaster.

The Need to Support Both Returnees and Evacuees

The authorities imagine a simplistic scenario where lifting the evacuation orders results in everyone returning home and living happily ever after. But life is not so simple, and this storyline does not include solutions for problems like those outlined above. As well as working to restore and rebuild the physical infrastructure in the evacuated towns and villages, the authorities need to work with residents to develop programs that will help them get their lives back on track. These programs need to have realistic outlooks of the future and must consider the hopes of the residents themselves.

From the initial days after the disaster, the message from the national government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the Daiichi plant, has been: “Leave this to us.” This has permeated their attitude in establishing support efforts for evacuees in temporary housing, setting radiation safety standards, cleanup work, compensation negotiations, livelihood support, and reconstruction plans. Everything has been handled in an ad hoc fashion, leading to misunderstanding and anxiety and opening gaps between the authorities and those they are supposedly trying to help. For residents, all these actions are closely connected. There is still no process for building consensus and bridging the gulf that has formed between the authorities and the residents who should be playing a leading role in rebuilding their communities. It is in this context that the evacuation orders were lifted.

The authorities should make it a priority to draw up a less simplistic scenario that better reflects the reality on the ground. There must be a multiple-track plan balancing programs to rebuild communities and support returnees’ lives back home with measures that provide help to evacuees who choose to remain where they are. One idea worth considering would be a program that allowed evacuees to divide their lives between two areas for a bridging period, giving them time to rebuild their hometowns while remaining in temporary housing. One way this could be accomplished is to provide residences where evacuees could live on a part-time basis as they work to rebuild their communities and repair their damaged and neglected homes.

(Originally published in Japanese on May 9, 2017. Banner photo: A photographer snaps photos of somei-yoshino cherries in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, on April 12, 2017. Most of the 2.2-kilometer stretch of cherry trees is barricaded off inside an evacuation area. Since this spring, the first 300 meters of the road have been opened to the public during the daytime. The district is now designated an “area closed to habitation provisionally.” © Jiji.)

http://www.nippon.com/en/currents/d00319/

Lifting Fukushima evacuation orders

28 feb 2017

The lifting of evacuation orders in four municipalities around Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holding’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant over the weekend does not normalize the lives of former residents forced out of their hometowns due to the radioactive fallout from the March 2011 triple meltdowns at the plant. The government needs to keep up support for the residents — both those returning to their hometowns and those choosing to stay out for various reasons — to help them rebuild their lives, which were shattered by the nuclear disaster six years ago.

Since 2014, the government has been moving to lift its evacuation orders issued to areas once designated no-go zones around the Tepco plant where the level of radioactive pollution is deemed to have declined to acceptable levels through decontamination efforts. The lifting of the evacuation orders in parts of the Fukushima towns of Namie, Tomioka and Kawamata and Iitate village on Friday and Saturday paves the way for the return of about 32,000 former residents. The total areas designated as no-go zones have now been reduced to roughly one-third of their peak — although areas that used to be home to 24,000 people will continue to be off-limits to former residents due to still high radiation levels.

Last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said reconstruction from the March 11, 2011, disasters — the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear fiasco — is making steady progress and is “entering a new stage” with the lifting of evacuation orders to the former no-go zones around the Tepco plant. Also at the end of March, public housing assistance was terminated for people who had voluntarily evacuated from areas located outside the no-go zones out of fear of radioactive pollution.

However, government decisions alone will not return evacuees’ lives to a state of normalcy. In areas where evacuation orders have earlier been lifted since 2014, only 13 percent of the former residents have returned to their hometowns. In Namie and Tomioka, where some parts of the towns will continue to remain off-limits due to high radiation levels, more than 50 percent of former residents told a Reconstruction Agency survey last year that they have no plans to return in the future.

Some of the former residents cite continuing concerns over the effects of radioactive contamination, while others point to the slow recovery of infrastructure crucial to daily life such as medical services and shopping establishments in their hometowns. Other former residents have started life anew in the places to which they have evacuated.

The prospect is also bleak for businesses that used to operate in the areas. According to a survey by the association of Fukushima Prefecture chambers of commerce and industry, about half of the companies located in the no-go zones were unable as of last September to reopen their businesses as they lost their customers and business partners in the years since the 2011 disaster. Many of the busineses that have reopened after the evacuation orders were lifted said they have not been able to earn the same level fo profits as before the nuclear crisis.

Reconstruction from the March 2011 disasters continues to lag in Fukushima compared with the other devastated prefectures of Miyagi and Iwate, because of the additional woes caused by the Tepco plant disaster. Nearly 80,000 Fukushima residents remain displaced from their homes six years on — roughly half the peak figure of 165,000 but still accounting for a bulk of the national total of 123,000 as of February.

With the lifting of the evacuation orders, monthly payments of consolation money from Tepco to the residents of former no-go zones will be terminated in a year. Fukushima Prefecture’s housing aid, essentially funded by the national government, to more than 20,000 Fukushima people who voluntarily evacuated from their homes outside the no-go zones was cut off at the end of last month — although substitute assistance programs will be continued on a limited scope.

Officials say that decontamination and restoration of social infrastructure have progressed in the former no-go zones around the Tepco plant. However, administrative decisions such as the lifting of evacuation orders alone will not compel evacuees to return to their hometowns or rebuild their communities shattered by the nuclear disaster. The government must keep monitoring the real-life conditions of residents in affected areas and extend them the support they need, as well as continue to improve crucial infrastructure so more evacuees feel they can return home.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/04/03/editorials/lifting-fukushima-evacuation-orders/

Fukushima decontamination near-complete in evacuated areas, so they claim

When you hear the word “decontamination” think of the word “distribution.” Scrapping some contaminated top soil from here to move it there, and again and again ad infinitum.
 
Full decontamination is just impossible. 80 % of the Fukushima prefecture is forests and woods which are impossible to decontaminate, have therefore not been decontaminated, with loads of accumulated radionuclides there, which carried by the rain and the wind recontaminate any « decontaminated » area.
 
These 2.6 trillion yen ($23.56 billion) spent over the past five years have been spent totally in vain, they should have use that money to relocate properly all the evacuees from the evacuated zones and from other non evacuated hot spot zones, instead to force the evacuees to return to live in a everlasting radioactive environment, imposing them to live with an annual radiation dose up to 20 millisieverts, which is the international annual radiation maximum dose for nuclear plant workers, not for civilians, not women, children and babies.

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SIX YEARS AFTER: Fukushima decontamination near-complete in evacuated areas

Decontamination work in areas covered by the evacuation order from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster is expected to conclude this month, paving the way for evacuees from the affected communities to return home.

With the project’s completion, the government’s focus will shift to the cleanup of heavily contaminated areas near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and infrastructure building.

The areas covered in the Environment Ministry’s decontamination project constitute those in 11 municipalities, including Okuma and Futaba, the two towns co-hosting the nuclear complex.

The decontamination project got under way there in fiscal 2012 to remove soil, fallen leaves and other materials contaminated by radioactive substances primarily in residential areas, roads, and rice paddies and fields.

But the areas collectively known as the difficult-to-return zone where annual radiation doses were estimated to exceed 50 millisieverts as of the end of 2011 and still estimated at more than 20 millisieverts five years after the disaster were excluded from the decontamination work in those 11 local governments.

The cleanup in nine municipalities has already been completed, while the project in the remaining two is expected to finish this month, according to the government.

The completion of the project comes after the Cabinet approved a policy to finish decontamination by the end of March 2017 at a meeting in March 2016.

The evacuation order for Okuma and Futaba will remain in place even though the cleanup project will soon be over.

But the government expects to lift the order for people from the remaining nine municipalities, except for residents from the difficult-to-return zone, by April 1.

That will make the total area remaining under the evacuation order 30 percent of the size six years ago.

According to the ministry, decontamination operations have been carried out in 99 local governments in and outside of Fukushima Prefecture, costing about 2.6 trillion yen ($23.56 billion) over the past five years.

Although the government initially covers the costs of decontamination, it sends the bill to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator.

Despite the cleanup project, many evacuees will likely remain anxious about radiation exposure when they return because forests and woods except for those close to residential areas have not been decontaminated.

The government envisages setting up hubs for rebuilding the difficult-to-return zone by carrying out an intensive cleanup to make the areas habitable by 2022.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201703270039.html

Visualizing nuclear radiation: Team images gamma rays to help decontaminate Fukushima

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A Kyoto University team has developed a new camera to visualize radioactive hotspots

Extraordinary decontamination efforts are underway in areas affected by the 2011 nuclear accidents in Japan. The creation of total radioactivity maps is essential for thorough cleanup, but the most common methods, according to Kyoto University’s Toru Tanimori, do not ‘see’ enough ground-level radiation.

“The best methods we have currently are labor intensive, and to measure surface radiation accurately,” he says, “complex analysis is needed.”

In their latest work published in Scientific Reports, Tanimori and his group explain how gamma-ray imaging spectroscopy is more versatile and robust, resulting in a clearer image.

“We constructed an Electron Tracking Compton Camera (ETCC) to detect nuclear gamma rays quantitatively. Typically this is used to study radiation from space, but we have shown that it can also measure contamination, such as at Fukushima.”

The imaging revealed what Tanimori calls “micro hot spots” around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, even in regions that had already been considered decontaminated. In fact, the cleaning in some regions appeared to be far less than what could be measured by other means.

Current methods for measuring gamma rays do not reliably pinpoint the source of the radiation. According to Tanimori, “radiation sources including distant galaxies can disrupt the measurements.”

The key to creating a clear image is taking a color image including the direction and energy of all gamma rays emitted in the vicinity.

“Quantitative imaging produces a surface radioactivity distribution that can be converted to show dosage on the ground,” says Tanimori. “The ETCC makes true images of the gamma rays based on proper geometrical optics.”

This distribution can then be used to relatively easily measure ground dosage levels, showing that most gamma rays scatter and spread in the air, putting decontamination efforts at risk.

“Our ETCC will make it easier to respond to nuclear emergencies,” continues Tanimori. “Using it, we can detect where and how radiation is being released. This will not only help decontamination, but also the eventual dismantling of nuclear reactors.”

https://phys.org/news/2017-03-visualizing-nuclear-team-images-gamma.html#jCp

Fury sparked in Japan as companies found duping foreign refugees into decontamination work in Fukushima

TOKYO, March 17 (Xinhua)– “Such scams are a shame to Japan,” said a reporter from Tokyo Metropolitan Television Broadcasting Corp., referring to a recently-exposed scandal involving labor dispatch agencies duping foreign refugees into doing decontamination work in Fukushima.

Various local media have exposed recently that some Japanese companies have swindled foreign refugees into doing decontamination work in Fukushima with empty promises that such work might help extend their visas to stay in Japan.

Fifty-year-old Hosein Moni and 42-year-old Hosein Deroaru from Bangladesh were both caught in such a scam, according to a recent report by the Chunichi Shimbun, one of the largest newspapers in Japan.

The two came to Japan in 2013 seeking to be recognized as political refugees. In Japan, foreigners are given temporary permission to stay for up to six months at one application before they are recognized as refugees and given status as residents.

According to government data, the number of refugees actually afforded recognition as refugees in Japan is disproportionately low among developed nations, while the numbers of those applying for refugee status has been rapidly increasing in recent years in Japan.

The government received some 5,000 such applications in 2014, but only 11 were granted refugee status, according to the data.

Moni and Deroaru were told by a so-called labor dispatch agency in Nagoya that they could do decontamination work in exchange for an extension of their visa.

The two, knowing little Japanese and trying to seize every opportunity they could, accepted the job and worked in Fukushima for three months in 2015.

But when they finished their work and went to the local immigration bureau to extend their stay, they were told by officers there that they knew nothing about such a policy.

They later found out that the construction company that had hired them had changed its company name, and its Fukushima branch had closed.

Half of the 20 workers that they had worked with in Fukushima were foreigners, many of whom had been applying for refugee status in Japan, the pair later recalled.

Their work mainly involved clearing away contaminated soil with spades, and while they were at work might well have been affected by high levels of radiation. “The radiation detectors we brought with us kept sounding alarms, which was rather scary,” they were quoted as saying.

The incident, after been exposed by local media, also caused a splash on social network sites. Many Japanese netizens felt indignant that such scams were happening in their homeland.

“Earthquake, nuclear plant, poverty… there are always some people trying to cheat or hurt other people here just for money,” remarked Kojima on Twitter.

“Why has my home country degenerated to such a low place,” said “Hootoo,” another netizen here.

They also called on the Japanese government to strengthen regulations on the Japanese companies to prevent such scams from happening.

Japan’s immigration bureau, for its part, said that the incident was with “vile nature”, and it would conduct investigations soon.

In fact, however, for a long time, due to lack of manpower, many of Japan’s “three-K” (kiken, kitanai, kitsui, which means dangerous, dirty and tiring) jobs have been done by foreign immigrants, as the Japanese are reluctant to do such work.

“As Japanese people don’t want to do the work, it has to be done by foreigners,” said Ishikawa, a Brazil-born Japanese who was in charge of coordinating foreign workers in decommissioning work linked to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, according to a report published by the Mainichi Shimbun last year.

Most of the foreign workers could hardly speak Japanese. As anti-radiation brochures provided by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO), were only available in Japanese or English, many of the workers could not understand it, Ishikawa was quoted as saying.

The foreign workers, to some extent, saved the contractors and TEPCO by pushing forward the decommissioning work of the nuclear plant, remarked the report.

A magnitude-9.0 earthquake in 2011 triggered a massive tsunami which destroyed the emergency power and then the cooling system of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and caused a serious nuclear disaster, forcing some 300,000 people to evacuate.

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, has said it plans to decommission the crippled reactors in about four decades.

However, the difficult tasks such as processing contaminated water, cooling the reactors and removing nuclear fuel and debris, continue to pose serious challenges to the power company as well as the government.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-03/17/c_136137295.htm

The illusion of normality at Fukushima

Six years after it suffered a nuclear meltdown, Fukushima appears to have returned to a semblance of normalcy. But there is still a long way to go in terms of cleaning up the site. Martin Fritz reports.

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A filter mask covering the mouth and nose, a headscarf, a helmet, gloves and two layers of socks – they constitute the protective gear that must be worn by any ordinary visitor to the Fukushima nuclear power station. 

Only a few workers now have to wear face masks and hazmat suits, since most of the ground at the site has been sealed with concrete.

“The radiation is now as low as in the Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district,” Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) manager Yuichi Okamura assured a group of journalists during their recent visit to the plant.

But the illusion of normality evaporates as soon as the visitors get off their bus and stand within sight of the reactors, with dosimeters indicating radiation levels of around 160 to 170 microsieverts per hour – nearly 2,000 times above what is considered safe.

“We cannot stay here for long,” warns Okamura.

On the surface, it appears that much has changed in Fukushima since the disaster struck six years ago. The clean-up work has evidently made progress.

But the sight of skeletal steel frames, torn walls and broken pipes immediately reminds one of the 17-meter-high tsunami which flooded the facility six years ago and brought its reactors to a complete standstill.

It’s expected to take 30 to 40 years to completely clean up the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was hit by the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl following a magnitude-9 earthquake and the subsequent tsunami. The operation is likely to carry a hefty price tag, with Japanese officials recently estimating it to cost around $189 billion in total.

Today, with 6,000 workers employed, the nuclear power plant is Japan’s largest and most expensive construction site – and it will remain so for decades. “We’re struggling with four problems,” says TEPCO manager Okamura: “Reducing the radiation at the site, stopping the influx of groundwater, retrieving the spent fuel rods and removing the molten nuclear fuel.”

Black lumps in the reactor containment

Progress in these areas, however, is slow. For instance, workers are erecting scaffolding around the collapsed roof of reactor No 1, but it will likely take four more years for the debris there to be cleared away. Only then can the almost 400 old fuel rods be retrieved from the reactor’s holding basin.

In the adjacent reactor No 2, the blue exterior still remains intact. Workers in hazmat suits can be seen walking on a new metal platform halfway up the reactor building.  But behind the wall lies a nuclear nightmare. A robot sent into the reactor in January found highly dangerous black lumps of leaked fuel on a platform in the outer reactor containment.

“There is now fatally high radiation in that part,” says Okamura.

The engineer quickly turns to reactor No 3, where the progress is more obvious. A hydrogen explosion had turned the reactor’s roof into a tangle of bent metal. It took years of work to dismantle this steel scrap and remove the rubble. “Now we’re building a new roof with an integrated hoisting crane,” says Okamura proudly.

“From next year, we would finally be able to close in on the nearly 600 burnt fuel rods,” he noted. But unlike in reactor No 4, the clean-up must be undertaken remotely as the radiation is so strong that people can only stay there for a few minutes. As a result, the construction of the lifting device has already been delayed by several years. 

Unclear conditions

The situation at the reactors raises doubts about the optimism shared by Japanese officials with regard to the orderly decommissioning of the plant. At the next stop, Okamura shows the control center of the underground ice wall that was built to prevent groundwater from leaking into the reactor basements and mixing with radioactive coolant water.

Since its construction, it has managed to reduce the amount of groundwater flowing into the reactor basements. But five sections of the wall have had to be kept open to prevent water inside the reactor basements from rising and flowing out too rapidly.

Despite all these adversities, the Japanese government and TEPCO are planning to decide as early as this summer how to remove the molten nuclear fuel from the reactors.

Even Shunji Uchida, the Fukushima Daiichi plant manager, couldn’t hide his skepticism from the visiting journalists. “Robots and cameras have already provided us with valuable pictures,” says Uchida, adding: “But it is still unclear what is really going on inside.”

http://www.dw.com/en/the-illusion-of-normality-at-fukushima/a-37885120

Decontamination work in Fukushima Pref. far from finished business

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FUKUSHIMA — With six years having passed since the onset of the nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the government’s decontamination plan in this prefecture is fast approaching the end of its first phase at the end of March.
As a consequence of the decontamination project — and the fact that radioactive material decays over time — radiation levels in Fukushima Prefecture have declined to some extent.

However, in certain areas of the prefecture, radiation levels continue to be high, and the issue of what to do with decontamination waste still needs to be tackled. The government does plan to carry out decontamination work in the neglected “difficult-to-return” evacuation zones in fiscal 2017, but local residents are skeptical that the end is near.

To date, the Environment Ministry has carried out decontamination work in 11 municipalities across the prefecture subject to evacuation orders. However, no decontamination has been done yet in the “difficult-to-return” zones. In other municipalities, where the radiation dose is 0.23 microsieverts per hour or higher, decontamination work has been performed by the relevant local government office.

Initially, the central government-led decontamination was supposed to finish in March 2014, but this was pushed back to March 2017, owing to delays related to makeshift storage sites for contaminated soil. The Environment Ministry plans to finish its decontamination work by the end of March 2017, after which it plans to move the contaminated soil to interim storage facilities.

In areas where the central government is in charge of decontamination, “follow-up” decontamination will also take place in the event that radiation levels do not drop enough, in the hope that residents will eventually be able to return home. Conversely, there will be no follow-up in cases where decontamination is being handled by a local authority, making local residents anxious.

Nevertheless, there are a few spots where follow-up decontamination has taken place in addition to the work in the 11 municipalities overseen by the government. There are nine such spots in total, and they are all in the city of Soma. The Soma Municipal Government initially intended to conduct decontamination in about 30 locations across the city, but this was eventually reduced to nine locations, owing to radiation level-related criteria for follow-up decontamination as instructed by the Environment Ministry.

A Soma Municipal Government representative stated, “Radiation levels are particularly high in forests here, and it is unknown what the future impact of this might be. I want to have a system set up whereby decontamination can be easily conducted again in the future, as necessary.” (By Hanayo Kuno, Science & Environment News Department, Kazuhisa Soneda, Fukushima Bureau, Makoto Ogawa, News Layout Center, and Yohei Kanno, Visual Group)

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170311/p2a/00m/0na/027000c