Decontamination work begins in Okuma, Fukushima

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Decontamination work begins in Fukushima town
March 14, 2018
Media have been allowed to watch decontamination work at a post-disaster reconstruction hub inside the no-entry zone set up after the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
 
Reporters were invited on Wednesday to a kindergarten in the town of Okuma, about 7 kilometers from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
 
Work began there last Friday to remove radioactive substances from the kindergarten’s 7,000-square-meter playground. Workers will weed grass as tall as an adult, and replace contaminated topsoil with new earth.
 
The central government has recognized an 860-hectare zone around the railway station in Okuma as a reconstruction hub based on the local administration’s plan.
 
Utilities and other infrastructure will be rebuilt and some houses will be demolished at the request of residents to provide them with a livable environment.
 
Okuma was designated as an area where residents could not return due to high radiation levels. Authorities plan to lift the evacuation order in about 4 years.
 
Okuma is the second municipality in the prefecture after the town of Futaba where decontamination work has begun at reconstruction hubs.
 
Similar projects are set to kick off in other municipalities in the fiscal year starting in April.

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7 years after 3/11 / Public servants face massive workload

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Officials of the town government of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, work past 10 p.m. on March 2.
March 10, 2018
The work of local government officials of municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture has significantly changed in the seven years since the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. This is because a large number of residents and officials in the affected municipalities were forced to evacuate.
 
The government officials have struggled with unprecedented types of duties — such as those concerning the return of residents, which has not progressed smoothly — and dealing with other accumulated tasks all at the same time. However, the future of their hometowns remains unclear.
 
In Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, later this month it will be one year since an evacuation order was lifted.
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In the central part of the town, where the evacuation order was lifted, a small number of residents have slowly trickled back. However, the number of residents as of the end of January was only 490. This is 2.3 percent of the town’s population before the nuclear accident, which numbered 21,000.
 
In addition, about 100 of the current residents are local officials who live in apartments rented by the municipal government. Many of them live alone, separated from their families, who have become accustomed to living in the places they evacuated to.
 
The officials live this way partly because they need to be able to quickly respond to emergencies, such as new natural disasters. There is also a huge volume of work, which they cannot handle if they commute to the government offices from outside the town.
 
Five industrial complexes are concurrently being developed in the town. To encourage more residents to return home, it is necessary to create a large number of jobs.
 
This project is a task the officials have never undertaken before, as Namie is a small municipality whose core industries were agriculture and fishing.
 
One of the officials said, “Even one such project would have been a huge task that we might experience only once in a decade or two, [but] we are doing this work in as many as five locations.”
 
Another official said, “This would never have happened before the nuclear plant accident.”
 
The town government officials travel around the nation for purposes such as negotiating with evacuated landowners to purchase their land plots, and asking companies to set up business bases in the town.
 
The officials are also dispatched to eliminate wild boars, the number of which has rapidly increased while residents have been absent. They also need to arrange repairs to damaged roads, public facilities and agricultural water systems.
 
At night, lights are seen only in the windows of the town government office, while most of the town is in darkness.
 
The fiscal condition of the town government is almost totally different from before the nuclear disaster. Its finances rely almost entirely on the central government’s budget.
 
As many of the town’s residents have not been able to sufficiently rebuild their daily lives, measures to reduce or exempt them from residential tax have continued. Therefore, the percentage of the town government’s municipal tax revenues against its total revenue fell drastically, from 25 percent to 1 percent.
 
Administrative work in municipalities where the number of residents continues to be zero also presents a special situation.
 
In the case of Okuma in the prefecture, where an evacuation order remains in place across the whole town, the town government relocated its offices to nearby municipalities. For example, its section in charge of reconstruction policy is in a satellite office in Aizuwakamatsu in the prefecture. Its section for welfare-related work is in a satellite office in Iwaki in the prefecture, as about 4,600 town residents live in Iwaki as evacuees.
 
Town government officials in the satellite office in Iwaki, who are usually busy assisting elderly residents who live in temporary housing units, make 300-kilometer round trips to Aizuwakamatsu every week for meetings with other officials and other work purposes.
 
There are times when officials head to the town of Okuma to observe decontamination work to remove radioactive substances. In these job reports, the officials write “Okuma” as the destination of their business trips. An official in his 50s expressed the sadness he feels when he writes such reports, saying, “I wonder which municipal government I belong to.”
 
There are municipalities where the wounds caused by the tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake have still not healed.
 
In Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, 36 town government officials, including experienced public servants working in the personnel section, died or went missing.
 
In addition, the records of government officials’ qualifications, credentials and job evaluations were lost. An official in charge of this issue lamented that “managing the organization [of the town government] became difficult, and it has been adversely affecting the morale of our workplaces.”
 
In Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, the town government lost 39 people to the disaster. They included the mayor and eight senior officials at the section chief level.
 
Though younger town government officials were promoted, they do not have experience in supervising junior staff. Currently, those who joined the town government after the Great East Japan Earthquake account for half of all officials.
 
One of the senior officials said, “If we fail in fostering human resources, it will directly result in delays in reconstruction.” Many other senior officials share the same sense of crisis.
 
Civil engineering and construction work that began in the year of the disaster, such as raising land heights, relocating residential areas to higher ground, and building coastal levees, has progressed in visible ways.
 
However, survivors and local government officials in disaster-hit areas have the feeling that these reconstruction projects are somehow frustrating and lopsided.
 
A labor union conducted a survey of employees of municipal governments that were affected by the nuclear plant accident, with spaces in which respondents were asked to freely write down their feelings.
 
The written replies included, “For the past seven years I have never once felt free from unease,” and “I don’t know when our reconstruction efforts will end.”
 

 

Former students return to school 7 years after nuclear disaster

March 4, 2018
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Yuki Kokatsu, left, smiles as she finds her Japanese dictionary in Ono Elementary School in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 2. She was a second-grader of the school at the time of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
 
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Seven years after being forced to leave her belongings behind, Yuki Kokatsu returned to her second-grade elementary school classroom here for the first time.
Yuki, now 15, spotted her melodica instrument on the floor, and said, “I found it.”
The third-year junior high school student also found 30 other items she had left when her family was forced to evacuate due to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including a Japanese dictionary and a jump rope. She put them all into her cloth bag to take home.
“I feel that I was able to recover my lost possessions. I will keep and treasure them,” said Yuki, who had evacuated to Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.
Yuki and other former Ono Elementary School students at the time of the disaster returned to their school on March 2 to retrieve their belongings.
After the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011, which was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, all the residents of Okuma town evacuated to other areas.
Ono Elementary School is located in an area that remains designated as a difficult-to-return zone. However, the radiation level around the school has been lowered due to decontamination work. Because of that, former students and related people have asked the Okuma town government to allow them to enter the school building.
According to the Okuma town government, six groups visited Ono Elementary School on March 2. A total of 39 groups are expected to do so through March 4.

Incineration, Processing and Interim Storage at Okuma-Futaba Facility

As you may see the Mainichi’s article below does mention the incineration which will take place at this facility. The Asahi ‘s article below on the other hand completely omits to talk about the incineration, lying by omission.
The radioactive debris will be first incinerated to reduce their volume to 1/50 of their initial volume, then processed and stored there. The amount of contaminated soil and other waste reaching  up to 22 million cubic meters (metric tons).
However it is important to point out that whatever the type of screening filters used during the incineration they will not retain all the radioactive nanoparticles, that some radioactive nanoparticles will still be released into the air during that incineration.
Thus “storage facility” is a misnomer, as it is actually a processing facility before to be a storage facility.
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An intermediate storage facility under construction in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, in February, with the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in the background
 

Interim storage site for Fukushima contaminated soil to begin full operations

An interim storage site in Fukushima Prefecture for soil and waste generated when areas affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis were decontaminated will be put into full-scale operation on Oct. 28, Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa said.
Contaminated soil temporarily placed on the premises of the facility, which straddles the prefectural towns of Okuma and Futaba, will be brought into an underground storage site on the property.
The storage site will be the first one in the country to be put into full-scale operation to store contaminated soil and other waste.
“There are numerous challenges that must be overcome, but the start of operations at the facility is an important step toward the final disposal of contaminated soil,” Nakagawa told a news conference on Oct. 24.
The Environment Ministry is constructing the interim storage site on an approximately 16-square-kilometer area around the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Operations at a section of the facility located in Okuma will begin on Oct. 28. After contaminated soil is measured for radiation, the soil will be stored separately at the facility depending on levels of radiation.
Waterproof work has been performed at the site to prevent stored soil from contaminating ground water.
At the site, a plant to incinerate weeds, trees and other flammable materials removed from contaminated soil and a facility to manage incinerated ash containing high levels of radioactive cesium will also be built.
The ministry estimates that the amount of soil and other waste removed from decontaminated sites in the prefecture could reach up to some 22 million cubic meters. Decontamination work is still going on in some areas affected by the nuclear disaster, which broke out in March 2011 following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Most of the soil removed from decontaminated areas was put into bags and temporarily stored at various locations in Fukushima Prefecture. Some of the bags have been brought onto the premises for the interim storage site since March 2015.
The central government intends to build a final disposal site outside the prefecture to complete the disposal of contaminated soil by 2045. However, the government has not worked out a specific plan on the final disposal site, such as its location and the timing of its construction.

 

Fukushima debris heading to intermediate storage facility

The Environment Ministry on Oct. 28 will start bringing radiation-contaminated soil to an intermediate storage site in Fukushima Prefecture, despite having acquired less than half of the land needed for the overall project.
The ministry’s announcement on Oct. 24 marks a long-delayed step toward clearing temporary sites that were set up around the prefecture to store countless bags of radioactive debris gathered after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.
The entire intermediate storage project will cover a 16-square-kilometer area spanning the towns of Futaba and Okuma around the nuclear plant. It is designed to hold up to 22 million cubic meters of contaminated debris for a maximum period of 30 years.
However, the ministry is still negotiating with landowners on buying parcels of land within the area. As of the end of September, the ministry had reached acquisition agreements for only about 40 percent of the land for the project.
The soil storage facility that will open on Oct. 28 is located on the Okuma side. It has a capacity of about 50,000 cubic meters.
Bags of contaminated soil stored in Okuma will be transferred to the facility, where the debris will be separated based on radiation dosages.
A similar storage facility is being constructed on the Futaba side.
The ministry initially planned to start full-scale operations of the entire storage facility in January 2015. However, it took longer than expected to gain a consensus from local residents and acquire land at the proposed site.
In March 2015, a portion of the contaminated soil was brought to the Okuma facility for temporary storage.

SIX YEARS AFTER: TEPCO’s ‘casino in desert’ looms in evacuated Fukushima town

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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.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201703100075.html

Evacuated Fukushima town planning for residents’ return in fall 2017

Okuma, is one of the two evacuated towns, with Futaba, nearest to Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

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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.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170107/p2a/00m/0na/008000c

Work Starts in Fukushima on Intermediate Waste Facility

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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.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201611150040.html

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.

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20161115_26/