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‘It feels like we’re in jail’: Japan spent $12 billion on seawalls after the devastating 2011 tsunami — and now locals are feeling like prisoners

Mar 12, 2018
Japan’s Fukushima disaster – a devastating string of events that included a tsunami with 42-foot high waves – left 18,000 dead in 2011.
In response, many towns along Japan’s coast have since built massive seawalls to help protect against future tsunamis.
Many locals aren’t happy with the walls, saying they feel like they’re “in jail.”
 
This month marks the seven-year anniversary of Japan’s Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
 
The catastrophic Fukushima disaster included a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, a resulting tsunami, and a power-plant accident, which left close to 18,000 people dead in total.
 
The tsunami also took 5 million tons of debris with it. While 70% of the debris sank, 1.5 million tons of it was left floating in the Pacific Ocean.
 
Since the devastation, some towns have prohibited building in flatter areas near the coast, while others have raised their land before building new structures.
 
Others are building seawalls. About 245 miles of seawall structure has been built along the coast to protect from future tsunamis. It has cost Japan about $12 billion to build these 41-foot concrete seawalls, according to Reuters, which block the view of the beaches and sea from residents – and some people aren’t happy with it.
 
“It feels like we’re in jail, even though we haven’t done anything bad,” an oyster fisherman, Atsushi Fujita, told Reuters. Others are worried about the walls discouraging tourism.
 
Ahead, a look at the resulting seawalls along Japan’s coast.
The new seawalls are 41 feet high and made of concrete.
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These newer walls replaced the old 13-foot breakwaters, which were destroyed during the Fukushima disaster on March 11, 2011.
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“It feels like we’re in jail, even though we haven’t done anything bad,” Atsushi Fujita, a 52-year-old oyster fisherman, told Reuters.
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Around 245 miles of seawalls have been built at a cost of about $12.74 billion.
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“The seawalls will halt tsunamis and prevent them from inundating the land,” Hiroyasu Kawai, a researcher at the Port and Airport Research Institute in Yokosuka, told Reuters.
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“Even if the tsunami is bigger than the wall, the wall will delay flooding and guarantee more time for evacuation,” said Kawai.
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Some locals are worried the tourism industry will be negatively effected by the seawalls.
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“About 50 years ago, we came up here with the kids and enjoyed drives along the beautiful ocean and bays. Now, there’s not even a trace of that,” Reiko Iijima, a tourist from central Japan, told Reuters.
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Others find it to be more than just an eyesore. “Everyone here has lived with the sea, through generations,” Sotaro Usui, head of a tuna supply company, told Reuters. “The wall keeps us apart — and that’s unbearable.”
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Part of the seawalls in the city of Kesennuma have window cut-outs.
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“They’re a parody,” Yuichiro Ito said of the windows. Ito lost his home and younger brother in the tsunami. “It’s just to keep us happy with something we never wanted in the first place.”
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A man looks through a window of a seawall at a port in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan.
 
Initially, many welcomed the building of the seawalls, but have become more critical of them over time.
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Some locals told Reuters that they were not consulted enough in the planning stages, and money spent on rebuilding elsewhere, such as housing, has fallen behind.
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Fishermen are also worried. Some told Reuters that the sea walls could block natural water flows from the land and impact future production.
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Here, the “Miracle Pine,” a tree which is said to symbolize hope and recovery after it survived the 2011 tsunami, stands next to a damaged building in front of the newly built seawall in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.
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Still, some locals are glad to have a wall. “I can’t say things like ‘the wall should be lower’ or ‘we don’t need it,'” Katsuhiro Hatakeyama, who has rebuilt his bed and breakfast business in the same location as before, told Reuters. “It’s thanks to the wall that I could rebuild, and now have a job.”
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March 15, 2018 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Nuclear Power Facing a Tsunami of Litigation

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March 12, 2018
Legal fallout from the March 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station continues, as dozens of lawsuits and injunctions make their way through Japan’s judicial system. The final rulings could have a profound impact on the government’s energy policy and approach to risk mitigation.
Court cases stemming from the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi can be divided broadly into two categories. In the first are efforts to assign responsibility for the accident, including one high-profile criminal case and numerous civil suits by victims seeking damages from the government and owner-operator Tokyo Electric Power Company. The second group consists of lawsuits and injunctions aimed at blocking or shutting down operations at plants other than Fukushima Daiichi (whose reactors have been decommissioned) on the grounds that they pose a grave safety threat. In the following, we briefly survey these cases and their implications.
A Foreseeable Danger?
According to lawyer Managi Izutarō, who is handling the largest class-action suit against TEPCO and the government, about 30 such cases are currently moving through courts around the nation. Most of the plaintiffs are Fukushima evacuees who filed suit in the districts to which they fled after the accident.
Meanwhile, TEPCO’s former chairman and two former vice-presidents are facing charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury in a criminal case currently before the Tokyo District Court. Tokyo prosecutors initially declined to bring charges, but in an unusual reversal, they were overruled by a prosecutorial review panel composed of ordinary citizens.
In all of these cases, the pivotal issues facing the court are (1) whether TEPCO and the state could have foreseen the danger posed to the Fukushima plant by a tsunami on the order of that triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake, and (2) whether they could realistically have prevented a serious accident through risk-mitigation measures. The “state” in this case is the defunct Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), the regulatory body formerly in charge of the inspection and licensing of nuclear power facilities.
Construction of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station began in 1967, when the government’s ambitious nuclear energy development program was shifting into high gear. Seismology and tsunami simulation have advanced considerably since those days, but at the time, the maximum height of any potential tsunami relevant to the Fukushima Daiichi site was estimated at a little more than 3 meters. When the facility was built, in other words, there was no way for TEPCO or the government to foresee that waves 10–15 meters in height could one day inundate the plant.
However, as scientists continued to collect and analyze data on earthquake and tsunami activity around Japan, their thinking evolved. In July 2002, a government panel of seismologists issued a report estimating a 20% chance that a magnitude-8 earthquake would trigger a dangerous tsunami off the coast of northeastern Japan within the next three decades. That August, NISA asked TEPCO to conduct a tsunami simulation for Fukushima Daiichi and other plants on the basis of that report, but TEPCO refused, and NISA did not press the matter.
When TEPCO finally did conduct such a simulation in 2008, it concluded that a major earthquake could trigger a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters, tall enough to flood the Fukushima Daiichi plant. However, the utility took no action to mitigate the risk (as by building up the facility’s seawalls or taking other measures to protect backup generators), and it failed to report the findings to NISA until early 2011, just weeks before the disaster.
Complacency and Opacity
In the wake of the Fukushima accident, NISA (since replaced by the Nuclear Regulation Authority) was faulted for its lack of independence. The agency was under the authority of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, which promotes the use of nuclear power, and officials maintain that its regulatory powers were limited. In addition, a closed, inbred environment encouraged unhealthy ties between NISA and the electric power industry. As a consequence, NISA had fallen into the habit of accommodating and supporting the utilities instead of overseeing them. TEPCO, for its part, had developed a deeply rooted culture of denial, habitually concealing information that might supply ammunition to anti-nuclear activists or fuel fears among the local citizenry. The company brushed off the warnings, convincing itself that the danger from a giant tsunami was purely hypothetical.
So far, district courts have reached decisions on three major class-action suits, and in each case they have agreed with the plaintiffs that the state and TEPCO could have foreseen the danger from a major tsunami once the 2002 report on earthquake risks was released. Two of the district courts, Maebashi and Fukushima, found both the state and TEPCO negligent for failing to prevent the meltdowns. The Chiba District Court, on the other hand, dismissed claims against the state on the grounds that the government was focusing on earthquake safety at the time and may not have been able to formulate effective measures in time to protect Fukushima Daiichi against the March 2011 tsunami. With the government and TEPCO girding up to appeal the lower courts’ decisions, the cases could drag on for years.
The final verdicts could have important ramifications in a country prone to natural disasters. Despite the scientific advances of the last few decades, our ability to predict major earthquakes, tsunami, and volcanic eruptions remains extremely limited. How can we ensure that the design and operation of existing nuclear power plants reflect the latest scientific assessments of long-term risks? Are the government and industry responsible for guarding against catastrophic events, however low their probability?
A Tsunami of Lawsuits
Attorney Managi Izutarō estimates that more than 10,000 plaintiffs are currently involved in class-action suits against TEPCO and the state. He represents 4,200 victims in the largest of these cases so far. Managi argues that allowing TEPCO to keep Fukushima Daiichi operating after learning of the risks from a tsunami was “like giving an airline permission to fly an unsafe jetliner.”
In its ruling on Managi’s case last October, the Fukushima District Court agreed that both TEPCO and the state were negligent and ordered damages paid to a majority of the plaintiffs. But the victims and their lawyers deemed the amount and scope of the damages inadequate and opted to appeal. TEPCO and the state have appealed the ruling as well.
The case now moves to the Sendai High Court. “Ultimately, we’re demanding that Fukushima Prefecture be restored to the way it was before the nuclear accident,” Managi explains. “At the same time, we’re fighting to end the use of nuclear power.”
Managi stresses the importance of mobilizing a large number of victims. “Unless you get together a big group of plaintiffs, their case won’t resonate with the judges,” says Managi. “The number of people involved in litigation and the intensity of public sentiment are key. I believe the real battle takes place outside the courtroom.”
In organizing victims into large class-action suits, Managi and others lawyers are following the same playbook that helped turn the tide against big industrial polluters in the 1960s and 1970s, when victims of Minamata disease (mercury poisoning) and itai-itai disease (cadmium poisoning) succesfully banded together to seak legal redress. Whether the current movement will have a comparable impact remains to be seen.
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Lawyer Managi Izutarō is representing 4,200 former Fukushima residents in a class-action suit against the state and Tokyo Electric Power Co.
 
Fighting Nuclear Power, One Plant at a Time
On a different but related front, citizens’ groups and other plaintiffs are vigorously pursuing lawsuits and injunctions aimed directly at shutting down nuclear power plants around the country.
Efforts to block nuclear energy development through legal action date all the way back to the 1970s. Prominent among these early cases was a citizens’ suit challenging the legality of the license granted to Shikoku Electric Power Co. to build and operate the Ikata Nuclear Power Station in Ehime Prefecture. In that case, lawyers called into question the fundamental safety of the facility, given its location near the Median Tectonic Line fault zone. The case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which finally ruled against the plaintiffs in 1992.
Safety concerns are at the core of the 30-odd “anti-nuclear” suits and injunctions currently before the nation’s courts (as of January 2018). Most cite the potential danger from major earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or tsunami, while others are calling for suspension of operations on the grounds of inadequate evacuation planning. While a few of these cases date back to the pre-Fukushima era, the majority were filed in the wake of the accident.
In December last year, the Hiroshima High Court issued an injunction suspending operations of the number 3 reactor at the aforementioned Ikata Nuclear Power Station. In its decision, the court cited the danger posed to the Shikoku facility from a massive eruption of Mount Aso, all the way across the sea in Kyūshū. Although an eruption on this scale has not occurred in recorded history, the court opined that the risk was sufficient to make the site unsuitable for a nuclear power plant. The decision did not go down well with the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which had cleared the plant for resumption of operations under new, post-Fukushima safety standards.
At present, almost all of Japan’s operable nuclear power plants are in the midst of some kind of litigation. In one case, the plaintiff is a local government: The city of Hakodate in Hokkaidō has filed a lawsuit to block the construction and operation of the Ōma Nuclear Power Station across the Tsugaru Strait in Aomori Prefecture.
Status of Japan’s Operable Nuclear Reactors
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Note: All six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station were decommissioned between 2011 and 2014.
Lawyers on a Mission
Lawyers Kawai Hiroyuki and Kaido Yūichi have been key figures in the fight against nuclear power since before the Fukushima accident. In the wake of the disaster, they founded the National Network of Counsels in Cases against Nuclear Power Plants, a group that has been pursuing legal action against nuclear facilities on behalf of citizens and other plaintiffs nationwide.
 
Kawai and Kaido are also representing the shareholders of TEPCO, who are suing the company’s former executives for an unprecedented ¥5.5 trillion. In addition, as lawyers for the Complainants for the Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, the two attorneys are working alongside the prosecuting team in the criminal case against three TEPCO executives, which parallels the civil suit in terms of arguments, evidence, and testimony.
 
Even so, the trial—which officially opened last June and is expected to continue at least through the coming summer—is expected to attract intense media coverage as witness examinations begin this spring. More than 20 witnesses are scheduled to testify. The case also involves a massive volume of documentary evidence, including records of interviews conducted by the government’s Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station, along with countless pages of emails, internal memos, meeting minutes, and reports. Will all this information shed new light on the human factors behind the Fukushima accident? The nation will be watching closely.

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Seven years after meltdown, Fukushima’s recovery still decades away

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March 12, 2018
by Charles Digges
 
Seven years ago, on the afternoon of March 11, 2011, one of the biggest earthquakes ever measured sent a wall of water rolling toward Japan’s northeastern coastline and into the six reactors of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
 
In the seven years since, the name of the plant has become synonymous with Chernobyl for connoting disaster, radioactive contamination, massive human migration and other calamities of biblical proportion – a name that requires no further description to understand the scale of the disaster it connotes.
 
It’s become another point on the compass at which the world can contemplate its own end – a catastrophe that still casts more shadows than light, continues to beg confounding questions, and which will continue to press the limits of understanding for decades to come.
 
On Sunday, Japan marked the anniversary with a nationwide moment of silence at 2:46 pm, the moment when, on that Friday in 2011, the waters breached the Fukushima plant and triggered a triple nuclear meltdown.
 
In the days that followed the quake, uranium fuel melted down inside three of the six reactors. Hydrogen explosions burst through the roofs of three of the reactor buildings, sending radioactive iodine, cesium and other fission by-products belching into the environment. Millions of liters of water were pumped from the ocean to cool the overheating reactors, cascading contamination into the sea.
 
The meltdowns forced the evacuation of 160,000 people from the rural and agrarian prefecture, 73,000 of whom have yet to come anywhere near home again. Food and livestock were poisoned. In the aftermath, Japan shut down its 42 remaining nuclear reactors, only three of which have come back online under the country’s stringent new safety codes, which were rewritten nearly from scratch in the disaster’s aftermath, severing a source of 30 percent of Japan’s power.
 
Seven years on, troubling questions about the plant’s condition remain, and addressing them will mean decontaminating an area almost as big as Hawaii without unleashing yet more radiation into the environment.
 
As this year’s anniversary approached, Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco, which owns the plant, reported that that the reactors at Fukushima are now stable, but many are having trouble believing that. Since the beginning of the disaster, Tepco delayed and obfuscated reports on the state the plant, costing critical evacuation days, and the company is now struggling to overcome a lack of public trust as it forges forth in the cleanup.
 
The sheer vastness of the cleanup operation seems nearly impossible to bring to heel. At the plant alone, it’s estimated to take another 50 years before decontamination and clean up is complete. Tepco, estimates it will finish the job by 2050. Others in the government admit the cleanup could go on far beyond that.
 
Meanwhile the extent of the toll on human health remains unknown. Of the 20,000 workers who were exposed to radiation in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, only about 7,000 have received any sort of ongoing health testing and observation.
 
And people are reluctant to return to homes that fell within the evacuation zone. Japanese broadcasters report that some 70,000 continue to live in government supported evacuation housing, leery of retiring to areas where radiation levels are only debatably safe.
 
While the Japanese government said last year that decontamination costs would reach $75.7 billion, think tanks in Japan have said the final bill could be more than eight times that – closer to $470 billion to $660 billion, according to Japan’s Center for Economic Research,
 
Whatever the amount, Japan is paying for daring engineering to handle thousands of damaged and melted nuclear fuel rods and tons of mangled reactor debris.
 
One of the main problems is what to do with millions of tons of water, which is coursing through the reactors to keep them cool. This water, once contaminated, collects in tanks Tepco has built at the site to hold it. There are 1,000 of these tanks, but the volume of irradiated water they have to handle grows by 100 tons daily.
 
What will become of that water, Tepco has not yet decided, and efforts to clean it of radioactive isotopes have been only partially successful. While Tepco says it can scrub it of cesium, strontium and 50 other radionuclides, it can’t remove its tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
 
Other issues are posed by rain water seeping into the ground at the stricken plant. It is feared this water could drain contamination into the sea, and Tepco last year built a wall of frozen soil to contain it. But this year they reported it wasn’t working as hoped, and that because of this failure, some 500 tons of water is being contaminated daily at the site.
 
Yet the biggest challenges remain with the stricken reactors themselves.
During the disaster, uranium fuel overheated and dripped through the bottoms of the No 1, 2 and 3 reactors, forming molten pockets beneath them. Radiation levels inside the reactors are searing. Inside reactor No 2, for instance, levels still reach reach 7 to 42 sieverts per hour – enough to kill humans after just a short period of exposure. Only robots can reach the fuel.
 
The robots are trying to map the location of the melted fuel, sending out 3-D imaging allowing workers to discern the location of pebbly deposits thought to be molten uranium. Yet even when the fuel is found, operations to remove it won’t come before 2021 – when engineers will devise a way to get out.
 
When that begins, it will add to the 200,000 tons of nuclear waste that is in in storage at the disaster site. Japan has not yet agreed on where all of this will finally be buried, and popular resistance to hosting the waste fuels that uncertainty.
 
While Tepco did manage to remove all 1,533 fuel bundles from the plant’s unit No. 4 reactor before December 2014, it still has to do the same for the hundreds of rods stored at the other three units.
 
This will mean clearing rubble, installing shields, dismantling the building roofs, and setting up platforms equipment to remove the rods. In February a 55-ton dome roof was installed on unit No. 3 to facilitate the safe removal of the 533 fuel bundles that remain in a storage pool there. And while removal of fuel at reactor No 3 may being before April of 2019, the fuel at units No. 1 and 2 will not be ready for transfer before 2023.
 
What Fukushima may look like decades from now, Tepco will not venture to guess. In some reports, the company is quick to say it won’t go the same route as Chernobyl, where an enormous containment structure now covers the remains of its exploded No. 4 reactor. But the road to totally rehabilitating Fukushima, and making it inhabitable again, still appears to be longer than anyone might have guessed.
 

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

7 Years On, 40 Pct of Fukushima Evacuees to Niigata Have No Plans to Return

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March 12, 2018
Niigata (Jiji Press)–Nearly 40 pct of evacuees from nuclear accident-hit Fukushima Prefecture to Niigata Prefecture have no plans to return to Fukushima, a Niigata government survey has shown.
 
According to the survey, 39.7 pct of respondents, including those who initially came to Niigata but moved out of the central Japan prefecture later, do not plan to return to Fukushima, home to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
 
Including respondents unable to decide as yet whether or not to return, the proportion of evacuees who are not eager to go back home reached some 70 pct.
 
As reasons, worries about residual radiation’s health effects were cited by 60.6 pct, followed by concerns about children’s future and difficulties in finding jobs.
 
The survey results illustrate how it is difficult to rebuild people’s lives in nuclear disaster-hit areas, pundits said.
 

 

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

Remembering Hitoshi Yoshioka, who fought gov’t nuclear policy from inside

March 12, 2018
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“I feel sorry for the next generation that they must take on the burden of Fukushima. What we have been doing is something we must feel embarrassed about,” said Hitoshi Yoshioka at a symposium following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Those words still linger in me.
 
Yoshioka was a strong opponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policy. At 43 years old he took a spot on the committee that decided the government’s nuclear policy. He was a unique presence in that he continued to criticize the government from the inside, raising questions over Japan’s policy of forging ahead with nuclear power. Perhaps his regret that he was unable to prevent the Fukushima disaster before it unfolded was behind his statement above.
 
Yoshioka passed away on Jan. 14, 2018, of a hepatic neuroendocrine tumor. He was 64. He studied physics at the University of Tokyo, but upon meeting Tetsu Hiroshige, a history of science expert known for his criticism of the sciences, Yoshioka shifted his focus to the history of science as well.
 
From the late 1980s, Yoshioka devoted himself to research on nuclear energy. He continued raining down scalding criticism of the civilian use of nuclear energy as a power source, saying that Japan’s system was “second-class at best and undeveloped” and that “what the government really wants (with nuclear power) is to maintain the structure of vested interests and the potential capabilities for nuclear weapons.” Yoshioka’s book “Genshiryoku no Shakaishi” (The social history of nuclear energy) remains as a sort of bible to those related to the industry.
 
“Public policies (like nuclear power) do not belong solely to politicians and bureaucrats,” Yoshioka would expound. “I would like everyone to do their own investigative research and participate in policy formation.” He hoped for the effort of every single citizen to reform government policies. Even when I, someone he barely knew, came to him asking for advice about wanting to summarize my experiences covering the Fukushima nuclear disaster into a dissertation three years ago, he readily provided me with guidance.
 
As the chairman of the Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy, Yoshioka fought for the reconstruction of the lives of those in Fukushima affected by the disaster as the nation’s top priority. Also concerned about the global unrest surrounding nuclear weapons, Yoshioka said that nuclear power was just the outer moat, and the total elimination of nuclear arms was the castle keep.
 
Aiming for a future coexisting with science that could create a “fair society,” Yoshioka fought to the very end as an opponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policies.
(By Shinji Kanto, Saga Bureau)
 

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

‘You’re Contaminated’: The Stigma Against Japan’s Fukushima Survivors

Mar 12 2018
A 2011 quake and tsunami led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, killing thousands and displacing more. Two ‘nuclear refugees’ explain why returning home is more complicated than it seems.
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Akiko Kamata and Keiko Owada.
 
This month marks the seventh anniversary of the triple disaster that hit the east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, when a 9.1 magnitude quake and tsunami led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Almost 16,000 people were declared dead.
 
While the nuclear disaster is becoming a distant memory for most Japanese, for some others it is their everyday reality. Nuclear refugees and evacuees face discrimination, separation from loved ones, and in some cases, they are even forced to return to the former evacuation zone.
 
The government, worried about people getting exposed to radiation, declared a 20-km evacuation zone around the plant and uprooted close to 165,000 people. As of today, there are still 50,000 people who haven’t returned to Fukushima.
 
Keiko Owada, 66, is one of them. When I meet her in Tokyo, she refers to the Japanese capital as her home for the past seven years. That will soon change due to the government’s decision to withdraw her free housing subsidies.
 
Because decontamination work has made progress and food declared safe from radiation, it has been deemed safe to return to most villages within the evacuation zone. The same goes for Owada’s village Naraha, where the evacuation order was lifted two years ago.
 
Owada is not excited about the prospect of returning to Naraha. “Would I continue to get financial support for my apartment here in Tokyo, I would have stayed here, yes. I’ll tell you why: there is no hospital in Naraha, only a small hospital for first aid. There is no supermarket, only a small convenience store. And the reason is simple: only a few people have returned.”
 
Life as an evacuee hasn’t always been easy, Owada explains. “It wasn’t like people were treating me any different, but my neighbors never greeted me. I think it’s because of the compensation I received and the free housing. They knew I was from Fukushima, that’s why.”
 
According to Owada, some of the other evacuees in Tokyo she knows have faced harsher treatment. “I know of others whose cars were damaged on purpose because they had a Fukushima license plate. That’s why I never parked my car in the middle of the parking lot, but always in a corner, so no one could see it.”
 
If anything, Owada’s story illustrates how many evacuees continued to live in fear. Displaced from their homes, dropped in a new community—the disaster is anything but over for them.
 
As an evacuee in Tokyo, Owada went back to Fukushima on numerous occasions. She can still recall her first time back in June 2011. The town of Naraha was still a no-go-area, and she and her family only had one hour to visit. “We wore protective clothes against radiation, with only a small plastic bag for gathering some personal belongings. We had too little time, and the bag was too little for our entire family. But I can remember the smell—[there were] rats everywhere and small animals’ feces.”
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Keiko Owada.
Of course, there are things she misses about her old town, like growing vegetables and fruits on her land. But it doesn’t take away the concerns she has about the dangers of radiation exposure, despite the government’s reassurance that it is safe to live there.
 
“Even though the streets and houses are decontaminated, they didn’t even touch with mountains and forests. Radiation hasn’t been cleaned everywhere. My house is right next to the mountains, so my house might get contaminated.”
 
Akiko Kamata, 66, still remembers how she was surprised by the alarm warning for a tsunami in her village of Odaka. When I meet her at a Tokyo café, she recalls how she sheltered in Fukushima the first few weeks after the disaster. “I still remember taking my first bath after 10 days, it felt so good.”
 
When Kamata got in touch with relatives living in other parts of Japan, she was shocked to hear one sister-in-law’s initial response. “After the disaster, I wanted to flee to Chiba [a prefecture next to Tokyo], my sister-in-law picked up the telephone and told me I didn’t have to come to their house. ‘You’re contaminated,’ she told me.”
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An aerial view of damage to Sukuiso, Japan, a week after the earthquake and tsunami devastated the area.
Eventually she did manage to find a place in Chiba, the region she grew up in as a child. “People were nice to us in Chiba. But still I noticed some skepticism. After I asked the regional authorities for financial support their answer was, ‘No, people in Chiba are victims of the earthquake as well.’”
 
Kamata did receive a one-off compensation payment from TEPCO: 7 million yen per person, or just over $65,600. Her husband received a similar amount.
 
Although Kamata is thankful for the financial support, they have not been compensated for the loss of income from their family business in Odaka. “I’m thinking about calling in the help of an organization that specializes evacuees with these type of claims,” she says.
 
Kamata has decided not to return to Odaka. Her husband’s illness (he suffers from a nerve disease that makes him reliant on Kamata’s support) got worse during the evacuation. She fears that it might worsen if they move back to Fukushima.
 
As Kamata remembers what life was like back in Fukushima, she uses a handkerchief to wipe a tear from her cheek. She barely speaks to her friends anymore.
 
“The disaster divided our communities, both physically as well as mentally. People got separated. One friend of mine in Chiba is thinking about divorcing her husband. He wants her to come back to Fukushima, but she doesn’t want this. One reason is exposure to radiation, but there are more reasons, such as her child’s school and the fact that they’ve gotten used to life in Tokyo.”
 
There is one more story she would like to share, Kamata says while crying. “One friend of mine is a farmer in Odaka. She had 10 cows. They evacuated to Chiba just like me and couldn’t go back to Fukushima to feed the cows. Once they could return for the first time to check on the animals, only three of them were still alive. The others died from starvation, and they were all looking at the same direction—the road the farmers would come from to feed them.”
 

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

Fukushima’s forgotten souls

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Photo taken on Feb. 22, 2017 shows a warning sign at Okuma near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan
March 11, 2018
by Jon Day
 
TOKYO, March 11 (Xinhua) — “Everyone used to call her ‘Grandma.’ She was one of the sweetest, kindest and most generous people you could ever hope to meet, especially under such appalling circumstances in Fukushima,” Kana Fujimoto, a Tokyo-based volunteer recalled, sadly.
 
The 31-year-old volunteer for the Save Minimisoma Project referred to a senior widow, who she came across, in the project hosting the victims of the massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami and nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011.
 
However, “Grandma” has already passed away.
 
“She had a toothy smile that could warm you from the inside out, words of wisdom that would provide pause for thought in such a time of sheer turbulence and, there was always a handful of candy available to kids, whose lives had also been uprooted and turned upside down,” Fujimoto told Xinhua.
 
The project has run its course providing emergency relief supplies to the thousands who were somewhat unceremoniously dumped into small “temporary shelters” in Fukushima Prefecture comprising rows of camp-like wooden huts, since the disasters took place seven years ago.
 
A contingent of Tokyo-based volunteers like Fujimoto, joined with local outreach groups and continued their work since then.
 
In recent times, essentials such as food, fresh water and vegetables were no longer the priority and the majority of those placed in shelters had been moved into regular subsidized accommodation.
 
For the elderly victims of the disasters, however, the real crisis for them was still unfolding on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, with the ultimate conclusion being the very bleakest imaginable.
 
Many individuals and families from the hardest hit areas like Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima, even if they had to do a stint in temporary accommodation, through family and work connections had managed to restart their lives in other parts of the country.
 
“And while the disasters for many will forever haunt their memories, they’re safe in the knowledge that now, life is as normal as it can be and they are fully-functioning members of society,” anthropologist and sessional lecturer, Keiko Gono, told Xinhua recently.
 
“But for the elderly people who did not have the resources or the will, for that matter, to fully leave their hometowns and for some even on a psychological level, it meant they have been permanently displaced albeit physically and/or mentally,” Gono explained.
 
While it is hard to quantify because there is no pathology for “death by isolation,” “or death by loneliness,” she firmly believes that a staggering number of seniors passed away before their time simply due to a lack of social care, connection and sense of community.
 
For an 87-year old like “Grandma,” for example, to be told that she had no choice but to leave the home she built with her husband, the family farming business, the neighbors and broader community she so fondly associated with, and suddenly find herself in an emergency shelter resembling an internment camp, the psychological effects would be damaging beyond belief.
 
According to the latest statistics conducted between December and February this year, in the seven years after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, only 4 percent said they had recovered their community bonds, while just 15 percent from the hardest-hit areas said they had regained their communities, but only to some extent.
 
Gono explained that these numbers were probably just the tip of the iceberg, as typically speaking and as per Japanese culture and norms, Japanese seniors would be far less likely to complain about their situation if it meant a trouble to others.
 
This area has been one of the government’s biggest failings, and the phenomena of senior social isolation and death from loneliness have been allowed to slip through the cracks, said the anthropologist.
 
The fact that professional counseling and mental health services are woefully lacking for these seniors who have lost spouses, seen families relocate and barely visit, and, bluntly speaking, are utterly isolated with all dreams of ever returning to their homes dashed, is nothing less than shameful for the government here.
 
“Without serious intervention, these dear old people, through no fault of their own, will literally die alone,” Gono said.
 
The statistics underscore this seemingly forgotten social injustice.
 
The numbers of people who lost everything in the disasters and died alone after being placed in temporary housing hit a record-high just last year.
 
According to official accounts, 63 people living unattended lost their lives in temporary accommodation. Of those 52 were in Miyagi and 11 of the isolated deaths were in Iwate prefecture.
 
The number of unattended deaths, unfathomably, rose by 27 cases when compared to the previous year, according to the statistics.
 
Since the disasters in 2011, officials figures showed that 235 people died in complete isolation and more than 80 percent of these possibly preventable deaths happened to people aged over 60.
 
“Grandma did everything she could to help others. For a while she could do her own shopping and when her shopping arrived there was always an extra radish or some tangerines for her neighbors, snacks for the kids, and, perhaps, most importantly, a smile for everyone that seemed to say ‘you’ll be ok. We’ll be ok. We’re in this together’,” said Fujimoto.
 
“But the cruel irony of the situation was the older and more immobile Grandma became, the less people would see her. She was placed a long way from her friends, and if she didn’t have the energy to go to the local store, she could go weeks without any human interaction,” she explained.
 
Fujimoto added that there were a lot of good charities and outreach groups doing the very best they could to create inclusive environments, particularly for the youngest and the oldest who needed it most. But, funds were always short, and not all the volunteers lived in the area.
 
Fujimoto herself was commuting from Tokyo once or twice a week soon after the disaster, but had to scale back her volunteering due to the expense of traveling and her own family needs.
 
More recently, she managed to get there every other week as something was “different” about Grandma.
 
“She’d started saying things like she was lonely and wanted to be with her friends and that her husband had told her that she didn’t need to live like this and that he was waiting for her with a smile,” said Fujimoto.
 
“The last time I saw her, I could sense she could no longer battle the loneliness. From being such a vibrant community member to a forgotten soul was just not livable for her and heartbreaking for me,” she said.
 
A few minutes passed as Fujimoto wept silently for the loss of a life that had meant so much to her and many other people.
 
There should have been more care available. Similar-aged people could be housed together with carers helping them interact, she said.
 
“This country should have done better,” she said.
 

Feb. 22, 2017 shows a warning sign at Okuma near the Fukushima Daiichi.jpg

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Stark health findings for Fukushima monkeys

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March 11, 2018
By Cindy Folkers
 
Seven years after the Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster began, forcing evacuations of at least 160,000 people, research has uncovered significant health impacts affecting monkeys living in the area and exposed to the radiological contamination of their habitat.
 
Shin-ichi Hayama, a wild animal veterinarian, has been studying the Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata), or snow monkey, since before the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Now, his research has shown that monkeys in Fukushima have significantly low white and red blood cell counts as well as a reduced growth rate for body weight and smaller head sizes.
 
Hayama, who began his macaque research in 2008, had access to monkeys culled by Fukushima City as a crop protection measure. He continued his work after the Fukushima nuclear explosions. As a result, he is uniquely positioned to discover how low, chronic radiation exposure can affect generations of monkeys.
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Japanese Macaque monkeys share close DNA with humans
The macaque is an old world monkey native to Japan, living in the coldest climates of all of the non-human primates. Like humans, macaques enjoy a good soak in the mountain hot springs in the region. It is even said that they have developed a “hot tub culture” and enjoy time at the pools to get warm during winter.
 
However, snow monkeys and humans share more than a love of hot springs. Human DNA differs from rhesus monkeys, a relative of the snow monkey, by just 7%. While that 7% can mean the difference between building vast cities to living unsheltered and outdoors, for basic processes like reproduction, these differences begin to fade. Consequently, what is happening to the macaques in Fukushima should send a warning about the implications for human health as well, and especially for evacuees now returning to a region that has been far from “cleaned up” to any satisfactory level.
 
Hayama’s research group has published two studies, each comparing data before and after the nuclear catastrophe began, and also between exposed and unexposed monkey populations. In a 2014 study, researchers compared monkeys from two regions of Japan, one group of monkeys from the Shimokita region, 400 Km north of Fukushima, and a second group of monkeys from contaminated land in Fukushima.
 
The monkeys in Fukushima had significantly low white and red blood cell counts. Other blood components were also reduced. The more a radioactive isotope called cesium was present in their muscles, the lower the white blood cell count, suggesting that the exposure to radioactive material contributed to the damaging blood changes. These blood levels have not recovered, even through 2017, meaning that this has become a chronic health issue.
 
Changes in blood are also found in people inhabiting contaminated areas around Chernobyl. Having a diminished number of white blood cells, which fight disease, can lead to a compromised immune system in monkeys as well as people, making both species unable to fight off all manner of disease.
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Some macaque babies in the Fukushima zone have smaller brains post nuclear disaster
Hayama followed up his 2014 study with another in 2017 examining the differences in monkey fetus growth before and after the disaster. The researchers measured fetuses collected between 2008 and 2016 from Fukushima City, approximately 70 km from the ruined reactors. Comparing the relative growth of 31 fetuses conceived prior to the disaster and 31 fetuses conceived after the disaster revealed that body weight growth rate and head size were significantly lower in fetuses conceived after the disaster. Yet, there was no significant difference in maternal nutrition, meaning that radiation could be responsible.
 
Smaller head size indicates that the fetal brain was developmentally retarded although researchers could not identify which part was affected. The mothers’ muscles still contained radioactive cesium as in the 2014 study, although the levels had decreased. These mothers had conceived after the initial disaster began, meaning that their fetuses’ health reflects a continuing exposure from environmental contamination. This study mirrors human studies around Chernobyl that show similar impacts as well as research from atomic bomb survivors. Studies of birds in Chernobyl contaminated areas show that they have smaller brains.
 
Although Hayama has approached radiation experts to aid with his research, he claims they have rejected it, saying they don’t have resources or time, preferring to focus on humans. But humans can remove themselves from contaminated areas, and many have chosen to stay away despite government policies encouraging return. Tragically, monkeys don’t know to leave, and relocating them is not under discussion, making study of radiation’s impact on their health vital to inform radiation research on humans, the environment, and any resettlement plans the government of Japan may have.
 
Hayama presented his work most recently as part of the University of Chicago’s commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the first man-made controlled nuclear chain reaction. His work follows a long, important, and growing line of research demonstrating that radiation can not only damage in the obvious ways we have been told, but in subtle, yet destructive ways that were unexpected before. The implications for humans, other animals, and the environment, are stark.
 
Cindy Folkers is the radiation and health specialist at Beyond Nuclear.
 

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

This woman is winning the fight for justice after Fukushima

11 March 2018
by Kazue Suzuki and Shaun Burnie
 
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Evacuee and Fukushima survivor, Mrs. Kanno, returns to her abandoned house nearly seven years after the nuclear accident.
 
On the seventh anniversary of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear accident, our thoughts and deepest sympathies continue to be with the people of Japan.
 
Every one of the tens of thousands evacuees from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi triple reactor meltdown has a story to tell.
 
In our latest radiation survey we had the privilege to hear the experience of Mrs Mizue Kanno. As we entered the exclusion zone of Namie, Ms Kanno told us of the events seven years ago that were to change her life, her family and those of thousands of others.
 
Mrs Kanno was a social worker in Futaba less than 10 km from the nuclear plant. Eventually she made her way home after the devastating earthquake, and over the next few days thousands of people were evacuated to her home district of Tsushima. Families moved into her home. But soon they were warned by men in gas masks and protective clothing to get out immediately. The radioactive fallout from the nuclear plant, about 32 km away, had deposited high levels of contamination in this mountainous area of Namie.
 
Radiation Survey of Mrs. Kanno's House in Shimo-Tsushima
Evacuee and Fukushima survivor, Mrs. Kanno, watches Greenpeace radiation specialists Mai Suzuki and Laurence Bergot measure for contamination around her home located in the exclusion zone of Namie, Fukushima prefecture.
 
Mrs Kanno now lives in western Japan, many hundreds of kilometres from her home in Fukushima. While she is a victim of nuclear power, she isn’t passive observer – instead she’s a female activist determined to tell her story. She campaigns across the Kansai region against nuclear power and for renewable energy.
 
Like thousands of other evacuees, she has joined lawsuits filed against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), and the Japanese government. Already found guilty in multiple court proceedings of being criminally negligent in failing to take measures to prevent the meltdown, TEPCO and the government can expect many more rulings against them.
 
Because of the support of Mrs Kanno and her friends and neighbours, Greenpeace has been able to conduct a wide ranging survey inside the exclusion zone of Namie, published in our report, Reflecting in Fukushima.
 
While our survey report is filled with microsieverts and millisieverts, it’s far more about the lives and the land of Mrs Kanno her family, friends and neighbours. http://www.greenpeace.org/japan/Global/japan/pdf/RefFksm_EN.pdf
 
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Closed entrance to Shimo-Tsushima school in the exclusion zone of Namie, Fukushima prefecture, Japan.
 
Measuring thousands of points around homes, forests and farmland, it’s clear that this is an area that should not be opened to the public for many decades. Yet the government opened a main artery, route 114, while we were working in Namie.
 
One consequence is that people are stopping off and visiting areas high in radiation. At one house, radiation hot spots were over 11 microsieverts per hour (μSv/h) at one meter, and 137μSv/hat 10 centimetres. These levels are thousands of times the background level before the nuclear accident, and mean you’d reach your recommended maximum annual exposure in six days.
 
Yet, two people were working 10 meters away from the hot spot with no dosimeters or protective clothing. Mrs Kanno and our radiation specialists explained the levels of contamination and why it was necessary to take precautions.
 
In one zone in Obori, we measured radiation that would expose a decontamination worker to the 1 mSv/y limit in just 10 working days. The whole area is contaminated to varying high levels that will remain a threat into next century. How could the government be thinking of opening this area as early as 2023? More importantly, why?
 
It’s actually simple and wholly cynical. The Japanese government is desperate to restart nuclear reactors. Today only three are operating. Having areas of Japan closed to human habitation because of radioactive contamination is a very major obstacle to the government’s ambitions to operate 30-35 nuclear reactors. It’s a constant reminder to the people of Japan of the risks and consequences of nuclear power.
 
Yet, there are signs of positive change. Last month a panel of experts established by the Foreign Minister called for a mass scaling up of renewables, and warned of the risks from depending on coal plants and nuclear power. The voices of Mrs Kanno, the other thousands of Fukushima evacuees and the majority of people in Japan, and their demand for a different energy future, will be heard.
 
Radiation Survey in Obori
Greenpeace radiation specialist Laurence Bergot in Obori, Namie Town inside the highly contaminated exclusion zone in Namie, Fukushima prefecture, Japan
 
Throughout our time in Namie, as we visited the highly contaminated area of Obori and Tsushima – quiet, remote areas of natural beauty – Mrs Kanno told us about the life and traditions of families who for generations had supported themselves by farming. Now all of them are displaced and scattered across Japan. Yet the government is failing to even acknowledge their rights under domestic and international human rights law.
 
This week, we will be traveling to Geneva with mothers who are evacuees from Fukushima to the United Nations Human Rights Council session on Japan. The Japanese government has been under pressure to stop its violations of the human rights of Fukushima evacuees. Last week it accepted all recommendations at the UN to respect the human rights of Fukushima citizens. This included the German government recommendation to restore to a maximum annual public exposure of 1 mSv. This global safety standard has been abandoned by the Abe government.
 
The government’s decision is important, but now they need to be implemented if they are genuine in their commitments to the United Nations. On the 16 March this year, Mrs Kanno and other evacuees and their lawyers will attend the Tokyo high court for a ruling on Fukushima against TEPCO and the Government. One of the evacuee mothers, Akiko Morimatsu, together with Greenpeace, on the same day will speak at the United Nations to challenge the Japanese government to now fully apply the UN recommendations.
 
While we will be thousands of kilometers apart, we will be with Mrs Kanno on her day in court in Tokyo and she will be with us in Geneva. The Fukushima nuclear disaster has shattered lives but it has also brought us together determined to prevent such a terrible event from ever happening again and to transition Japan to a secure and safe energy future based on renewables.
 
Kazue Suzuki is an Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Japan and Shaun Burnie is a Senior Nuclear Specialist at Greenpeace Germany
 

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Japan marks seventh anniversary of 3/11 with moment of silence

Seven years after Fukushima nuclear disaster, more than 70,000 Japanese cannot return home. Many more are living in areas deemed at “acceptable” levels of radioactive contamination.
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An unidentified man offers prayers and a bouquet on Arahama Beach in Sendai’s Wakabayashi Ward early Sunday morning as Japan observed the seventh anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Mar 11, 2018
At 2:46 p.m. on Sunday, Japan observed a moment of silence to mark the seventh anniversary of the mega-quake and tsunami that left about 18,000 people dead or missing while triggering the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The anniversary of the calamity on March 11, 2011, arrived as about 73,000 people from the disaster-hit areas have yet to return to their hometowns.
They include about 34,000 people from Fukushima Prefecture, who have no choice but to live outside the prefecture due to the radioactive contamination caused by the three reactor core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power station.
The death toll from the magnitude 9 Great East Japan Earthquake, subsequent tsunami and prolonged aftershocks had reached 15,895 as of Friday, the National Police Agency said, adding that 2,539 officially remain unaccounted for.
As of Feb. 13, over 53,000 of the 73,000 evacuees were living in government-funded temporary housing or public or private rental housing across the country, while nearly 20,000 were living with relatives or acquaintances, according to the Reconstruction Agency. The remaining 271 are hospital patients.
On Sunday a Tokyo memorial ceremony organized by the government was attended by Prince Akishino and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, along with representatives of the survivors in the hardest-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, and other guests.
“Is it already seven years? Or, is it only seven years? I don’t know. Even though I think about it often, there are no answers in my heart,” Hideko Igarashi, a 70-year-old survivor from Fukushima Prefecture, said in her speech at the ceremony.
“We should not forget what we have learned from the disaster,” the woman from Soma said. “I sincerely pray for the peace and comfort of the victims and offer my most profound condolences.”
Abe said he believes the reconstruction projects in the Tohoku region are steadily making progress.
“More than 70,000 people are still living as evacuees, and many people continue to endure troubled uncomfortable lives seven years later,” Abe said. “When I think of the despair of those who lost beloved members of their families and friends in the disaster, I am overwhelmed even now with deep sorrow.”
“In areas that were affected by the earthquake and tsunami, the restoration of infrastructure closely related to everyday life is nearly complete, while 90 percent of the new homes required after the disaster are expected to be completed by this spring,” he added. Many of the tsunami-hit areas have been cleared of debris, and some areas are preparing raised areas for new homes to mitigate the risk of future tsunami damage. But despite the progress in these large, long-term construction projects, many evacuees have run out of patience and given up any hope of returning to their hometowns, opting to settle inland.
Abe also noted that evacuation orders are gradually being lifted in areas tainted by the triple core meltdown triggered by the tsunami-linked blackout at Fukushima No. 1, which is managed by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings.
Reconstruction Minister Masayoshi Yoshino said during a press briefing Wednesday in Tokyo that more than 80 percent of the farmland in the area is available for planting again, and that over 90 percent of the fish-processing facilities affected have reopened. While echoing Abe’s remarks about steady progress, Prince Akishino expressed his feelings about those still struggling under difficult conditions.
“The government, local authorities nationwide and large numbers of people, both in Japan and abroad, have offered support in many ways,” he said.
“As a result, we have made progress in various areas such as construction and relocation of housing to higher ground, the resumption of industrial operations, improvement in living conditions, and the provision of new disaster prevention facilities,” the prince said.
“It is important that the hearts of the people remain with the afflicted for many years to come in order to ensure that each and every one of those who are in difficult situations will not be left behind and will be able to live in peace and good health, and that reconstruction will continue to make steady progress,” he said.

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | | Leave a comment

Seven years on, no end in sight for Fukushima’s long recovery

March 11, 2018
Japan faces myriad challenges to decommissioning and decontamination
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Removing nuclear fuel from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant will take 30 to 40 years, ‘Tepco says’.
 
TOKYO — After helping shape nuclear policy in post-Fukushima Japan, Shunichi Tanaka, a former chief of the country’s nuclear watchdog, took on another tough assignment — moving to a village still struggling from the 2011 nuclear disaster to help with its recovery effort.
 
In February, Tanaka, who chaired the Nuclear Regulation Authority until last September, became a reconstruction adviser in the tiny village of Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture. Like many in surrounding localities, Iitate residents were ordered to evacuate after a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, led to meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings’ Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. To date, only around 10% of residents have returned.
 
“It won’t be easy to make life like it was before the disaster,” Tanaka said. Nonetheless he will help the village move forward by offering advice on nuclear decontamination and the ongoing dangers of radiation. He also acts as a go-between for the village and the national government.
 
“I’m a jack of all trades,” he says.
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Shunichi Tanaka, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
In his former role at the NRA, Tanaka spearheaded an overhaul of Japan’s nuclear regulatory scheme, setting tough new standards for nuclear power operations intended to prevent another Fukushima-like accident. To date, 12 reactors have cleared the new standards. And yet the public remains largely distrustful of nuclear power — a problem Tanaka believes he can address by building up trust in the areas directly affected by the Fukushima disaster.
 
Challenges in that region, however, remain immense, none more so than decommissioning the damaged power plant. This involves the unprecedented feat of removing and safely storing the plant’s nuclear fuel, part of which has melted and escaped from the reactors it originally powered.
 
Back in September, Tepco and the national government reaffirmed their previous timeline for the cleanup, estimating the decommissioning process would take 30 to 40 years to complete. But the herculean nature of this task is becoming increasingly apparent. Nuclear fuel is too radioactive for humans to approach even when wearing protective gear, and must be handled by remotely controlled robots. But precision machinery is sensitive to radiation, and developing technology able to withstand conditions at the Fukushima site has proved intensely challenging.
 
“I truly cannot say” whether decommissioning can be wrapped up on a 30- to 40-year timeline, and “it is important to be honest,” said Hajimu Yamana, head of the government-backed Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation.
 
The process is also extremely costly. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 2016 pegged costs such as decommissioning and victims’ compensation related to the disaster at 21.5 trillion yen ($202 billion at current rates), nearly double its initial estimate of 11 trillion yen.
 
Work to remove and store melted fuel, set to begin as soon as 2021, and assorted other decontamination tasks could pile on additional expenses, depending on how they progress. The Japan Center for Economic Research believes the real cost could be as high as 70 trillion yen. Much of this would be borne by taxpayers, who require a convincing explanation of why costs are so high.
 
Decontaminating the soil poses another thorny problem. Roughly 640,000 cu. meters of contaminated soil, divided into 1-cu.-meter packages, has been delivered to an interim government storage facility between October and January. Yet up to 22 million cu. meters of contaminated earth remains to be treated in Fukushima Prefecture alone, a far larger amount than can be adequately handled at the current pace of work.
 
The government has not even locked down the roughly 1,600 hectares of land needed to complete the facility, which is itself only a temporary solution. Tokyo has pledged that Fukushima Prefecture will not be the final resting place for any of this soil, and looks to move it to a more permanent home elsewhere within 30 years. But even initial steps toward choosing such a site remain to be taken.
 
“It would be difficult and unrealistic to ask other prefectures to shoulder the burden,” Tanaka said. He has proposed decontaminating the soil and using it to fill in wetlands, turning them into farmland or meadowland that would provide a living for residents returning to evacuated areas. An influx of foreign engineers working on decommissioning the Fukushima plant could also give rise to new industry. But whatever plans emerge, the highest and most important hurdle could be simply getting started.
 

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

‘Citizen scientists’ track radiation seven years after Fukushima

11th March 2018
Safecast now has around 3,000 devices worldwide and data from 90 countries
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Japanese priest Sadamaru Okano is one of the ‘citizen scientists’ collecting radiation readings in the Fukushima region.
 
JAPAN – Beneath the elegant curves of the roof on the Seirinji Buddhist temple in Japan’s Fukushima region hangs an unlikely adornment: a Geiger counter collecting real-time radiation readings.
 
The machine is sending data to Safecast, an NGO born after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster that says it has now built the world’s largest radiation dataset, thanks to the efforts of citizen scientists like Seirinji’s priest Sadamaru Okano.
 
Like many Japanese, Okano lost faith in the government after the nuclear meltdown seven years ago.
 
“The government did not tell us the truth, they did not tell us the true measures,” he told AFP, seated inside the 150-year-old temple.
 
Okano was in a better position than most to doubt the government line, having developed an amateur interest in nuclear technology two decades earlier after learning about the Chernobyl disaster.
 
To the bemusement of friends and family, he started measuring local radiation levels in 2007, so when the disaster happened, he had baseline data.
 
“The readings were so high… 50 times higher than natural radiation,” he said of the post-disaster data.
 
“I was amazed… the news was telling us there was nothing, the administration was telling us there was nothing to worry about.”
 
That dearth of trustworthy information was the genesis of Safecast, said co-founder Pieter Franken, who was in Tokyo with his family when the disaster hit.
 
Franken and several friends had the idea of gathering data by attaching Geiger counters to cars and driving around.
 
“Like how Google does Street View, we could do something for radiation in the same way,” he said.
 
“The only problem was that the system to do that did not exist and the only way to solve that problem was to go and build it ourselves. So that is what we did.”
 
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A geiger counter operated by the Safecast group is attached to a fence near the stricken Dai-ichi power plant
 
 
Making informed choices
 
Within a week, the group had a prototype and began getting readings that suggested the 20 kilometre (12 mile) exclusion zone declared around the Fukushima plant had no basis in the data, Franken said.
 
“Evacuees were sent from areas with lower radiation to areas with higher radiation” in some cases, he said.
 
The zone was eventually redrawn, but for many local residents, it was too late to restore trust in the government.
 
Okano evacuated his mother, wife and son while he stayed with his flock.
 
But a year later, based on his own readings and after decontamination efforts, he brought them back.
 
He learned about Safecast’s efforts and in 2013 installed one of their static counters on his temple, in part to help reassure worshippers.
 
“I told them: we are measuring the radiation on a daily basis… so if you access the (Safecast) website you can choose (if you think) it’s safe or not.”
 
Forty kilometres away, in the town of Koriyama, Norio Watanabe was supervising patiently as his giggling teenage pupils attempted to build basic versions of Safecast’s Geiger counter.
 
Dressed in blazers and tartan skirts, the girls pored over instructions on where to place diodes and wires.
 
Watanabe has been a Safecast volunteer since 2011, and has a mobile Geiger counter in his car.
 
In the days after the disaster evacuees flocked to Koriyama, which was outside the evacuation zone, and he assumed his town was safe.
 
“But after I started to do the measurements, I realised there was a high level of risk here as well,” he said.
 
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Japanese teacher Norio Watanabe works with Safecast to teach his pupils how to measure radiation
 
 
‘You can’t ignore it’
 
He sent his children away, but stayed behind to look after his mother, a decision he believes may have contributed to his 2015 diagnosis with thyroid cancer.
 
“As a scientist, I think the chance that it was caused by the Fukushima accident might be 50-50, but in my heart, I think it was likely the cause,” he said.
 
His thyroid was removed and he is now healthy, but Watanabe worries about his students, who he fears “will carry risk with them for the rest of their lives.”
 
“If there are no people like me who continue to monitor the levels, it will be forgotten.”
 
Safecast now has around 3,000 devices worldwide and data from 90 countries. Its counters come as a kit that volunteers can buy through third parties and assemble at home.
 
Because volunteers choose where they want to measure at random and often overlap, “they validate unknowingly each other’s measurements,” said Franken, and anomalies or exceptions are checked by Safecast staff.
 
The NGO is now expanding into measuring air pollution, initially mostly in the US city of Los Angeles during a test phase.
 
Its radiation data is all open source, and has been used to study everything from the effects of fallout on wildlife to how people move around cities, said Franken.
 
He says Safecast’s data mostly corroborates official measurements, but provides readings that are more relevant to people’s lives.
 
“Our volunteers decide to measure where their schools are, where their workplaces are, where their houses are.”
 
And he believes Safecast has helped push Japan’s government to realise that “transparency and being open are very important to create trust.”
 
“The power of citizen science means that you can’t stop it and also that you can’t ignore it.”
 

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima ice wall yields limited benefit for its cost

March 11, 2018
$322m barrier is less effective than lower-tech measures in fighting contamination
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Tepco has surrounded the reactors at its Fukushima Daiichi plant with a wall of frozen earth.
TOKYO — Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings faces the question of whether the so-called frozen soil wall built to contain contamination at its damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant justifies its high cost.
The 1.5km barrier of frozen earth, which cost 34.5 billion yen ($322 million) to build using taxpayer money, is supposed to keep groundwater out of the plant’s four reactor buildings. Multiple reactors suffered core meltdowns following the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Any water that enters must undergo decontamination, though it is not possible to remove all the radioactive material the water takes up.
Tepco, as the utility is widely known, has said that the barrier has reduced the amount of new contaminated groundwater by 95 tons a day. This suggests that the wall accounts for just one-quarter of recent reductions: Around 110 tons of groundwater were contaminated daily in the three months through February, compared to roughly 490 tons daily before the frozen barrier was created. Freezing of earth around the buildings began in March 2016, and was nearly complete last November.
The utility has said a variety of external factors make those numbers difficult to compare directly, and it plans to release a more detailed analysis as soon as next week. “The frozen soil wall is working,” said Naohiro Masuda, chief decommissioning officer for the Fukushima plant. Some of the tanks to store contaminated water are rendered unnecessary, and “this is huge in monetary terms,” he said.
Others beg to differ. “It is hard to believe” the barrier is “contributing as much as it cost to build,” said Masashi Kamon, professor emeritus at Kyoto University. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has also raised questions about the barrier’s effectiveness relative to its cost.
Lower-tech measures also in place to prevent contamination, such as wells that pump water out of the ground surrounding the plant, have proven more effective than the frozen barrier. But Tepco plans to keep the wall in place, at an annual cost of more than 1 billion yen, until the groundwater contamination problem is resolved.

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

Decommissioning Fukushima reactors will take time but progress continues

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In this July 27, 2017 file photo, contaminated water storage tanks are seen on the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant grounds, in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture
 
March 11, 2018
Over the past year, clumps appearing to be melted fuel debris have been found inside three reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant — which will soon mark seven years since being struck by disaster, on March 11.
 
However, the specific properties of the fuel debris remain unclear, and the decision on how to go about extracting the material has been delayed. The mammoth task of decommissioning the nuclear power plant, which is expected to take 40 years, is moving at a sluggish pace.
 
Removing the debris is the most difficult part of the decommissioning process. During an internal probe of nuclear containment vessels at the site, which involved robots, debris-like clumps were discovered in the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors, and sand-like sediment was found spread across the bottom of the No. 1 reactor. However, the specific properties and distribution of the debris has not yet been ascertained.
 
In September 2017, the government and TEPCO re-examined its decommissioning operation schedule. Initially, it was planned that the reactor which would undergo decommissioning first, as well as the method, would be decided by the end of the first half of fiscal 2018. However, the decision was delayed until the end of fiscal 2019 due to a lack of information concerning the situation inside the reactors, as well as the debris.
 
Meanwhile, as part of countermeasures against contaminated water, an ice wall designed to block the flow of underground water has almost been completed. In addition, a sub-drain well that pumps away subterranean water has been reinforced. As a result, the volume of underground water flowing into the buildings housing the reactors has been reduced from roughly 400 metric tons per day, which was the figure immediately after the outbreak of the disaster, to about 80 tons per day — indicating that there has been some progress regarding the “entrance” policy designed to reduce the volume of contaminated water generated at the site.
 
However, the “exit” policy, designed to dispose of treated water after most of the radioactive materials have been removed from the contaminated water, is still up in the air. The major issue concerning this policy is that the radioactive material tritium (tritiated hydrogen) cannot be removed, in principle, from treated water.
 
Tritium is something that appears in the natural world. Based on the fact that it has been flowing out into the sea from nuclear facilities across the globe, the Nuclear Regulation Authority stresses that Fukushima’s treated water containing tritium should be diluted and flushed out into the sea. However, due to fears that this could damage the reputation of the local fishing industry, the government and TEPCO continue to keep the treated water stored in tanks.
 
As a result, the amount of radioactive water stored at the site, including the treated water, has risen to about 1.05 million tons, and the number of tanks has increased to roughly 850. The government has set up a committee looking into how to dispose of the treated water, but consensus has not yet been reached.
 
Meanwhile, with regard to the extraction of fuel from pools of spent nuclear fuel, removal is planned from the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors in fiscal 2023, three years later than initially scheduled, and from the No. 3 reactor sometime around mid-FY2018. Special cranes are being installed to prepare for the job.
 

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

7 years after 3/11 / Fukushima towns face uncertainty

11 mars 2018.jpg
March 11, 2018
The reconstruction effort in Fukushima Prefecture, where an accident took place seven years ago at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, is entering a crucial time as municipalities where evacuation orders have been lifted ramp up efforts to encourage residents to return.
 
Yet the essentials of life such as employment, infrastructure and welfare are intertwined in complex ways. Restoring residents’ everyday lives, which were upended by the disaster, requires resolving multiple problems simultaneously.
 
Uncertain new industries
 
The national government is undertaking a project called the Fukushima innovation coast plan, which seeks to concentrate new industries like renewable energy in the prefecture’s coastal areas.
 
One important part of this is the Fukushima Robot Test Field being built in Minamisoma and Namie. The facility aims to develop unmanned vehicles and heavy machinery robots for use in practical situations such as disaster areas, and a part of it is set to open next fiscal year. Total construction costs are estimated at ¥15.5 billion.
 
Numerous large-scale projects aimed at rebuilding industries and creating jobs are under way in the prefecture. However, not everything is going as planned.
 
The Fukushima Medical Device Development Support Center, built with ¥13.4 billion in state funds, opened in Koriyama in November 2016. The center is equipped to handle everything from research and development to safety testing, and to provide support for personnel training and expanding markets.
 
Major makers have had production bases in the prefecture since before the nuclear disaster, so the prefectural government wanted the center to serve as a symbol of recovery.
 
However, in fiscal 2017, the center was only used for 50 projects, less than one-third of what was anticipated. These generated ¥39 million in income, also much less than the ¥300 million that was expected. The center is now ¥600 million in the red, twice what was anticipated.
 
“We want to support it, but honestly, our own facilities are enough,” a representative of a major manufacturer said.
 
An official at the prefecture’s section in charge of industrial creation said, “Maybe we worried too much about drawing up policies that stood out, and were too optimistic in our income and expenditure projections.” Right from the start, the center is having to reexamine its operations.
 
Almost all the industries that are being promoted to aid Fukushima’s recovery are in the field of cutting-edge technology. Coastal residents who made their living farming and fishing remain uncertain whether they could find work if they returned to their hometowns. People need to be shown the benefits of returning.
 
The evacuation orders that were issued in 11 municipalities were lifted in nine municipalities by last spring, apart from sections where returning is considered difficult. As of March 1, the population of the areas where evacuation orders were lifted was about 11,000 people, only 15 percent of the number before the nuclear disaster. Maintaining public services could become untenable.
 
Five towns of eight municipalities that surround the nuclear plant — Hirono, Naraha, Tomioka, Okuma, and Futaba — have formed a water company association. Income from water charges in fiscal 2016 was one-fourth of pre-disaster levels. Compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings was used to make up for the shortfall.
 
“If the compensation payments are cut off, we’ll be forced to raise rates five years later. Will residents accept that?” A person in charge of the matter said.
 
The pace of recovery differs depending on the town.
 
Of these five towns, only Hirono was not issued evacuation orders. “So far, we’ve been right there alongside them. It’s tough to say, ‘That will harm us, so count us out,’” a senior Hirono official said.
 
However, if the five towns’ interests conflict in a serious way, there may be no way to avoid talks on breaking up or reorganizing the water company association.
 

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment