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Fukushima Eight Years Later: Black Sacks and Lonely Children

As usual no mention whatsoever about the incineration of the radioactive waste by the 20 plus incinerators in activity in Fukushima Prefecture….
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Coastal towns near the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are filled more with sacks of contaminated soil than with children. There are signs that this may be changing, though, as more areas are opened to returnees and new decontamination facilities come online.
I remember how the newsreader Andō Yūko, who visited Fukushima with me in 2014, got angry every time she saw a row of the 1-meter-high black sacks that hold contaminated topsoil.
“I don’t care how many times they say that it’s safe to return. The sight of these enormous sacks in the area completely puts you off.”
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Bags of collected topsoil interrupt the serenity of the Fukushima landscape.
The sacks contain earth and other contaminated material that has been removed during a decontamination process in which topsoil is sheared off. With nowhere to go, the bags, each holding around 1 metric ton of soil, have been either left on site or piled on top of one another in temporary storage areas and covered with green tarpaulins.
Not all of Fukushima Prefecture has high levels of radiation. In fact, radiation levels across the majority of the prefecture are comparable with the rest of Japan. Nonetheless, an extensive area of Fukushima, particularly communities in the northeast, near Fukushima Daiichi, was decontaminated after the accident to allay public concerns. The process has produced an endless stream of black bags, many of which have been simply left at the decontaminated sites.
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A roadside lined with black sacks.
Many people in Fukushima who I interviewed in the past told me that they disliked the ominous bags. And with no decision having been made on how the contaminated soil should ultimately be disposed of, the removal and bagging of soil only served to further increase their number.
Eight years after the accident, however, one does get the feeling that there are fewer sacks lying around. This is partly due to the construction of a medium-term storage facility, where sacks have now begun to be transported.
A Visit to the “Dark Side”
The new facility is being constructed to safely manage and store contaminated soil while it awaits final disposal. The facility straddles the towns of Ōkuma, home to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, and Futaba, in an area of the exclusion zone designated uninhabitable due to its particularly high level of radiation.
I went to see one section of the facility under construction in Ōkuma. We drove past houses where the laundry hasn’t been taken in since 2011 and parking lots filled with rusty cars before arriving at a huge pit surrounded by damlike walls.
What used to be an area of houses and fields is now a gigantic concrete-lined containment area for contaminated soil. At the time of my visit in January 2019, a total of 60,000 cubic meters of soil had already been transported to the facility.
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Truckload after truckload of soil is dumped at the site.
This amount is scheduled to reach 4 million cubic meters in fiscal 2019 (ending in March 2020) and to climb as high as 12.5 million cubic meters in fiscal 2020— enough to fill the Tokyo Dome 10 times over.
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The medium-term storage facility stands on what was once woods and farmland. (January 2019, Ministry of the Environment)
While at first glance work appears to be going smoothly, many issues remain. As the “medium-term” in the facility’s name suggests, no decision has been made on where the collected soil will ultimately end up. Nor has any decision been made on how the area would be returned to its original owners when that ultimate solution is agreed upon. The effects are also beginning to be felt by locals, who speak of the noise and traffic jams caused by the constant stream of dump trucks.
My guide from the Ministry of the Environment said apologetically, “There’s a bright side and a dark side to Fukushima. Today, I’ll be showing you the dark side.”
After finishing our tour of the storage facility, the soles of our shoes were meticulously checked to make sure that they had not been contaminated. It was heartbreaking to think that it would be quite some time before this area saw any of Fukushima’s “bright side.”
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Visitors’ shoes are inspected for radiation before they can leave the site.
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April 8, 2019 - Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , ,

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