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

Fukushima Radioactive Debris: 2 Bangladeshis tricked into cleanup job

Two Bangladeshi asylum seekers in Japan cleared up radioactive contamination from one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters on the false promise doing so would win them permission to stay in the country longer, media reported yesterday.

The Fukushima nuclear plant suffered multiple meltdowns after being hit by a tsunami triggered by a big earthquake on March 11, 2011. Companies decontaminating areas around the plant, which usually involves removing radioactive top soil, have struggled to find workers willing to do the job.

The two men, who arrived in Japan in 2013 saying they were escaping political persecution, said they were told by brokers and construction companies that their visas would be extended if they did decontamination work, the Chunichi newspaper reported.

“We believed the visa story because they said it’s a job Japanese people don’t want to do,” Chunichi quoted one of the men, Monir Hossain, as saying.

Reuters was not able to reach the two men.

The men did the decontamination work in Iitate village, about 50 km (30 miles) south of the plant, from January to March 2015, Chunichi said.

Japan maintains tight controls on the entry of foreign workers but asylum seekers are allowed to work while their applications are reviewed. Many have permits allowing them to stay and work that have to be renewed every six months.

Mitsushi Uragami, a justice ministry official who oversees refugee recognition, said there were no residence permits on offer for people doing decontamination.

“The length of asylum seekers’ residence permits and them doing decontamination work are unrelated. If anyone is giving inaccurate explanations about this, it’s problematic,” Uragami told Reuters.

The department was investigating the case, he said.

Takuya Nomoto, an environment ministry official overseeing decontamination, said the Chunichi report did not give the names of the companies or labour brokers involved, and as such the ministry was not able to confirm it.

“The ministry expects all contractors involved in decontamination to comply with the law,” he said.

The Fukushima Labour Bureau said this month more than half of the 1,020 companies involved in decontamination violated labour and safety laws last year.

Reuters revealed in 2013 that homeless men were put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima for less than the minimum wage.

Reuters also found the clean-up depended on a little scrutinised network of subcontractors – many of them inexperienced with nuclear work and some with ties to organised crime.

http://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/fukushima-nuke-debris-2-bangladeshis-tricked-cleanup-job-1373098