Interim storage site for Fukushima contaminated soil to begin full operations
Fukushima debris heading to intermediate storage facility
The lights of 750 housing units for Tokyo Electric Power Co. employees shine in the foreground in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, as the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant glimmers in the back.
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–As Kazutoshi Mabuchi drove down a mountain road here in the darkness, carefully avoiding a wild boar crossing his path, a cluster of orange-lit housing units suddenly came into view under the night sky.
These dwellings accommodate about 750 employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which Okuma co-hosts.
“It looks like a casino that popped up in the desert out of nowhere,” said Mabuchi, 71, as he patrolled the town.
Mabuchi could see a cafeteria where some TEPCO employees were dining while watching TV.
All 11,000 residents of Okuma were forced to evacuate after the nuclear disaster unfolded at the plant, triggered by the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
The town has been almost entirely empty since, with 96 percent of it designated as a “difficult-to-return zone” due to the high radiation levels. That means it is unknown if and when the evacuees will ever be able to return to their former homes to live. Barricades are put up on the roads as well as in front of the houses in the zone to prevent entry.
The TEPCO housing units are located in Okuma’s Ogawara district, which is excluded from the difficult-to-return zone. Classified as a restricted residence area due to relatively lower doses of radiation compared with most parts of the town, evacuees can visit Ogawara freely, but they cannot stay overnight.
Mabuchi is from Ogawara, and he, like all the other 360 people in the district, is still evacuated.
He drives four and a half hours each week to Okuma from Chiba Prefecture, where he moved to live with his daughter’s family after the triple meltdown. He and two others work on a shift to patrol Okuma for three days, a task commissioned by the town government since the autumn of 2012.
Local officials hope to get the residence restriction designation for Osuma lifted by March 2019 by carrying out extensive decontamination operations there.
But it remains unclear whether evacuees will return even if the area’s radiation readings drop enough to allow it to be habitable again.
A survey by the town shows that only one in three former residents is willing to return. The damaged roofs of the houses in the district remain covered with plastic sheets. Rice paddies and fields are strewn with numerous traces of holes dug up by wild boars.
Construction of the TEPCO housing units in Ogawara began in October 2015. The government granted a permit to the utility as a special case, saying the company is the “essential party in leading the recovery and rebuilding efforts” in Fukushima Prefecture.
The 750 single-person units were all occupied by the end of 2016 after TEPCO workers began moving in to them last July.
The utility says in its literature that the company “expects its employees residing there to contribute to rebuilding the town and reassurance of the people.”
“In addition to our objective of grappling with the decommissioning process squarely, we wanted to make visible our determination to help the rebuilding of local communities,” said Yoshiyuki Ishizaki, head of the company’s Fukushima Revitalization Headquarters, about the housing project.
Many of the employees are shuttled by bus between the sprawling nuclear complex and their units, wearing the same uniform and eating the same food.
“It is like we are on a conveyer belt, and our houses are part of the plant,” said one of the employees living there, referring to the absence of signs of a normal life, such as children playing on the ground and parents hurrying back home from their workplace.
There were more than 10 TEPCO dorms along the coastal area of Fukushima Prefecture before the nuclear disaster, which struck 40 years after the plant’s first reactor went online.
Locals affectionately called the occupants of the dorms “Toden-san” (TEPCO-san) before the accident. TEPCO employees were active participants in local events, such as cleanup efforts on holidays, sports meets and festivals, to fit in with their host communities.
With the nuclear accident, however, that community life completely disappeared.
“I am not going to return to Ogawara to live,” Mabuchi said while taking a break from the patrol.
He had his house razed in January. But he has carried on with the patrol for his neighbors’ sake.
“I am hoping that the town will continue to exist just for the people who want to go back home,” he said.
As the sky clouded over, the only lights visible in the dark came from the lights in the TEPCO lodgings.
“This is no longer Ogawara,” he said, and slid into his car.
Okuma, is one of the two evacuated towns, with Futaba, nearest to Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
FUKUSHIMA — A prefectural town that has been entirely evacuated since the March 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdowns is aiming to have some areas reopened to residents in autumn this year, town officials have told the Mainichi Shimbun.
Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, is currently covered by three classes of evacuation order. The town’s eastern region and much of the northern region are designated as “difficult to return zones,” while the southwestern and western regions are categorized as “restricted residency” and “evacuation order cancellation preparation” zones, respectively. Okuma officials are aiming to have the latter two designations rescinded, opening the way for residents to move back in. If successful, Okuma would be the first of the two municipalities hosting the plant (the other is the town of Futaba) to allow residents back.
Okuma is also planning to designate one small area as the town’s “recovery base,” and build a new municipal office in fiscal 2019.
According to Okuma officials, they intend to allow residents back into the evacuation zones to sleep in their homes as early as August. However, the program will not be implemented in the “difficult to return zone.”
Most of the area covered by the two other evacuation order types are mountain wilderness, with just 384 registered residents — 3.6 percent of Okuma’s population — in the districts of Ogawara and Nakayashiki. Decontamination work in both districts was completed in March 2014, and basic services including water and electricity have been restored. The Okuma Municipal Government is set to discuss the exact date when residents will be allowed back with central government officials and the town assembly.
Okuma is planning to build its new town hall, a seniors’ home, and public housing for some 3,000 residents and Fukushima nuclear plant decommissioning workers, among other facilities, in its some 40-hectare “recovery base” in the town’s Ogawara district. Municipal government staff began working weekdays at a contact office there in April 2016. Meanwhile, large solar power installations as well as dormitories for Tokyo Electric Power Co. employees have already been built around the planned “recovery base” area.
The planned site for an intermediate storage facility of radiation-contaminated waste spans the towns of Futaba and Okuma and surround the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture.
The Environment Ministry on Nov. 15 started building a facility in Fukushima Prefecture that will store radiation-contaminated debris for up to 30 years, despite obtaining permission for only 11 percent of the site.
The 16-square-kilometer storage facility is expected to hold up to 22 million cubic meters of materials contaminated by radioactive fallout from the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.
“I hope that you take pride in this project and cooperate to construct the facility,” Tadahiko Ito, a vice environment minister, told workers.
The facility, which will span the towns of Futaba and Okuma, is expected to start accepting, sorting and storing the debris in autumn 2017 at the earliest, more than two-and-a-half years later than the initial schedule of January 2015.
The project has been delayed because the ministry has faced difficulties buying or borrowing land for the project.
In fact, only 445 of the 2,360 landowners of plots at the site have agreed to sell or lend their properties to the ministry for the storage facility as of the end of October.
Many of the reluctant landowners, who possess 89 percent of the land, fear the contaminated waste will remain at the facility well beyond 30 years.
The government has worked out a bill stipulating that contaminated materials kept in the intermediate storage facility will be moved out of Fukushima Prefecture in 2045. However, the government has yet to decide on the location of the final disposal site.
A huge cleanup operation after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant collected tons of radioactive soil and debris.
In March 2015, the ministry borrowed land and created a “temporary storage place” within a 16-square-km site on an experimental basis.
However, only about 70,000 cubic meters of the waste has been taken to the temporary storage site as of the end of October. The remaining waste, exceeding 10 million cubic meters, is being tentatively stored at about 150,000 locations in the prefecture.
“If the transportation of contaminated materials to the intermediate storage facility proceeds, the waste currently stored in residential areas and at company compounds will be transported there,” said an official of the Fukushima prefectural government’s section in charge of decontamination.
Work begins on Fukushima nuclear waste site
Construction work has begun in Fukushima Prefecture on intermediate storage facilities for contaminated soil and waste materials from the 2011 nuclear disaster.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in the towns of Futaba and Okuma on Tuesday.
Two facilities will be built in a 16-square-kilometer area that straddles in the towns. One will be used to sort nuclear waste by size and level of contamination, and the other will store the sorted soil.
State Minister for the Environment Tadahiko Ito encouraged workers, saying they should be proud to be working for the region’s revival.
In the first day of work on Tuesday, workers removed contaminated soil from the surface of the site. Full-fledged construction work is to begin in January.
Waste from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and soil that has been removed in decontamination operations will be stored at the intermediate storage site before it is ultimately disposed of.
The contaminated soil and waste have been kept at temporary sites throughout Fukushima Prefecture longer than the 3 years the government had initially promised local communities. This is because construction of the intermediate storage site was delayed due to a lack of progress in acquiring the land.
The Environment Ministry plans to begin operating the intermediate storage facilities in about a year. It plans to enlarge the site after acquiring more land.