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Japan’s nuclear horror relived as people return to Fukushima’s ghost towns

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April 29, 2019
More than 200,000 inhabitants within a 20km radius were forced to evacuate, after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was damaged by the Japan Tsunami in 2011
Wide streets still lie empty, scavenging boar and monkeys the only signs of life.
Only wild animals, and the 6ft weeds, which have rampaged through deserted homes and businesses, suffocating once-chatty barbers shops and bustling grocery stores; strangling playgrounds and their rusting rides which lie empty and eerily still.
Laundry hangs where it was pegged out to dry, clock faces are frozen in time, traffic lights flash through their colours to empty roads, meals laid out on tables in family homes, remain uneaten.
Once unextraordinary, mundane symbols of everyday lives have taken on the appearance of a horror film set in these areas closest to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station on the coast of north-east Japan, eight years after the devastating tsunami which caused a meltdown at three of the plant’s reactors, forcing tens of thousands to flee.
The earthquake on March 11, 2011, claimed 19,000 lives, and triggered the world’s largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Radiation leaking in fatal quantities forced 160,000 people to evacuate immediately, and most to this day have not returned to their toxic towns and villages.
Yet there are now areas, ever closer to the plant, beginning to show signs of awakening.
The government is keen residents return as soon as it is safe, and this month around 40% of the town of Okuma, which sits just west of the plant, was declared safe for habitation thanks to ongoing decontamination efforts carried out on an superhuman scale.
The official mandatory evacuation order was lifted, and while reports reveal just 367 residents of Okuma’s original population of 10,341 have so far made the decision to return, and most of the town remains off-limits, the Japanese government is keen this be seen as a positive start to re-building this devastated area.
“This is a major milestone for the town,” Toshitsuna Watanabe, mayor of Okuma, told Japanese news outlets, as six pensioners locally dubbed ‘The Old Man Squad’, who had taken it upon themselves to defy advice and keep their town secure, finally ceased their patrols.
“It has taken many years to get to where we are now, but I am happy that we made it.”
The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, visited to mark the milestone.
The government is particularly keen to show progress before the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Six Olympic softball games and a baseball game will be staged in Fukushima, the capital of this prefecture, which is free of radiation.
The torch relay will even begin at J Village, which was once the base for the crisis response team. Hearteningly, it is now back to its original function, a football training centre.
But the truth is, it is mainly older residents who have decided to return to their homes.
Seimei Sasaki, 93, explained his family have roots here stretching back 500 years.
His neighbourhood in Odaka district now only contains 23 of its original 230.
“I can’t imagine what this village’s future looks like,” he admitted.
Young families are few and far between – these areas are still a terrifying prospect for parents.
But the re-built schools are slowly filling a handful of classroom seats.
Namie Sosei primary and middle school, less then three miles from the plant, has seven pupils.
One teacher said: “The most frustrating thing for them is that they can’t play team sports.”
A sad irony as the Olympics approach.
And with so many residents still fearful, so the deadly clean-up operation continues.
Work to make the rest of Okuma safe is predicted to take until 2022. The area which was its centre is still a no-go zone.
In the years following the disaster, 70,000 workers removed topsoil, tree branches, grass and other contaminated material from areas near homes, schools and public buildings.
A staggering £21billion has been spent in order to make homes safe.
Millions of cubic metres of radioactive soil has been packed into bags.
By 2021 it is predicted 14million cubic metres will have been generated.
The mass scale operation uses thousands of workers. Drivers are making 1,600 return trips a day.
But residents understandably want it moved out of Fukushima for good.
As yet, no permanent location has agreed to take it, but the government has pledged it will be gone by 2045.
At Daiichi itself, the decontamination teams are battling with the build up of 1m tonnes of radioactive water.
The operator has also finally begun removing fuel from a cooling pool at one of three reactors that melted down in the 2011 disaster.
Decommissioning the plant entirely is expected to take at least four decades.
The efforts to return this area to its former glory are mammoth, and even if they ever fully succeed, it will surely take many more years until most former residents and their descendants gain enough trust to return.
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May 1, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan insists on pushing its contaminated seafood to South Korea, despite WTO ruling!

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Japan denounces WTO ruling in favor of South Korean ban on some Japanese seafood
GENEVA – Tokyo on Friday denounced a recent World Trade Organization ruling that supported a South Korean ban on imports of some Japanese fishery products introduced in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
“Japan is deeply concerned that the appellate body report dismissed the panel’s findings founded on solid scientific evidence,” Junichi Ihara, Japan’s representative in Geneva, said at a meeting of the global trade watchdog’s dispute settlement body.
The WTO’s appellate body for dispute settlement on April 11 ruled in favor of South Korea’s import ban on fishery products from Fukushima and seven other prefectures, reversing an earlier decision.
It said the initial decision “erred in its interpretation and application” of WTO rules on food safety, but did not look at details related to the amount of radioactive contaminants in Japanese food products or the level of protection South Korean consumers should have.
Calling the appellate body’s judgment “extremely regrettable,” Ihara argued that it “could have a negative impact on perceptions of the safety of Japanese foods and on those seeking to export their products to countries such as Korea.”
The ruling is final, as the appellate body is the highest authority in the WTO’s dispute-settlement mechanism.

May 1, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan needs thousands of foreign workers to decommission Fukushima plant, prompting backlash from anti-nuke campaigners and rights activists

Activists are not convinced working at the site is safe for anyone and they fear foreign workers will feel ‘pressured’ to ignore risks if jobs are at risk
Towns and villages around the plant are still out of bounds because radiation levels are dangerously high
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Workers move waste containing radiated soil, leaves and debris from the decontamination operation at a storage site in Naraha town.
26 Apr, 2019
Anti-nuclear campaigners have teamed up with human rights activists in Japan to condemn plans by the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to hire foreign workers to help decommission the facility.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) has announced it will take advantage of the government’s new working visa scheme, which was introduced on April 1 and permits thousands of foreign workers to come to Japan to meet soaring demand for labourers. The company has informed subcontractors overseas nationals will be eligible to work cleaning up the site and providing food services.
About 4,000 people work at the plant each day as experts attempt to decommission three reactors that melted down in the aftermath of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the huge tsunami it triggered. Towns and villages around the plant are still out of bounds because radiation levels are dangerously high.
TEPCO has stated foreign workers employed at the site must have Japanese language skills sufficient for them to understand instructions and the risks they face. Workers will also be required to carry dosimeters to monitor their exposure to radiation.
Activists are far from convinced working at the site is safe for anyone and they fear foreign workers will feel “pressured” to ignore the risks if their jobs are at risk.
“We are strongly opposed to the plan because we have already seen that workers at the plant are being exposed to high levels of radiation and there have been numerous breaches of labour standards regulations,” said Hajime Matsukubo, secretary general of the Tokyo-based Citizens’ Nuclear Information Centre. “Conditions for foreign workers at many companies across Japan are already bad but it will almost certainly be worse if they are required to work decontaminating a nuclear accident site.”
Companies are desperately short of labourers, in part because of the construction work connected to Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympic Games, while TEPCO is further hampered because any worker who has been exposed to 50 millisieverts of radiation in a single year or 100 millisieverts over five years is not permitted to remain at the plant. Those limits mean the company must find labourers from a shrinking pool.
In February, the Tokyo branch of Human Rights Now submitted a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva demanding action be taken to help and protect people with homes near the plant and workers at the site.
“It has been reported that vulnerable people have been illegally deceived by decontamination contractors into conducting decontamination work without their informed consent, threatening their lives, including asylum seekers under false promises and homeless people working below minimum wage,” the statement said. “Much clean-up depends on inexperienced subcontractors with little scrutiny as the government rushes decontamination for the Olympic Games.”
Cade Moseley, an official of the organisation, said there are “very clear, very definite concerns”.
“There is evidence that foreign workers in Japan have already felt under pressure to do work that is unsafe and where they do not fully understand the risks involved simply because they are worried they will lose their working visas if they refuse,” he said.
In an editorial published on Wednesday, the Mainichi newspaper also raised concerns about the use of semi-skilled foreign labourers at the site.
“There is a real risk of radiation exposure at the Daiichi plant and the terminology used on-site is highly technical, making for a difficult environment,” the paper said. “TEPCO and its partners must not treat the new foreign worker system as an employee pool that they can simply dip into.”
The paper pointed out that it may be difficult to accurately determine foreign employees’ radiation levels if they have been working in the nuclear industry before coming to Japan, while they may also confront problems in the event of an accident and they need to apply for workers’ accident compensation. TEPCO has played down the concerns.
“About 4,000 Japanese workers are already working on the decommissioning and clean-up work at Fukushima Dai-ichi,” the company said. “The amendment to the regulations on workers from overseas is a measure that creates more employment opportunities, including for foreign nationals with specific skills.
“In March, TEPCO explained the new regulations to its contractor companies involved in the clean-up work at Fukushima Dai-ichi and we have also confirmed that those companies will be in compliance with the regulations covering the safety of workers.”

May 1, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Counterterrorism requirement puts financial strain on nuclear power plant operators

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April 24, 2019
TOKYO — Nine nuclear reactors at five plants in Japan are expected to start going offline in succession from March 2020 because their operators cannot meet deadlines for implementing counterterrorism measures set by Japan’s nuclear regulator.
The five plants are operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co., Shikoku Electric Power Co., and Kansai Electric Power Co. They stand one to three years behind their respective deadlines for implementing counterterrorism measures set under a new policy of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). The situation is likely to disrupt the power companies’ plans to win customers by lowering their fees through the operation of nuclear reactors.
“If things continue like this, we’ll have to stop operating the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in about one year. From a management perspective it’s tough,” one Kyushu Electric official lamented.
According to the three companies, when one plant stops operating, fuel costs for operating thermal power plants to make up for the electricity supply increase by between 3.5 billion yen and 6.5 billion yen a month. Kansai Electric and Kyushu Electric, which have multiple reactors in operation, could see their operating costs balloon by around 100 billion yen a year as a result.
Amid intense competition with Osaka Gas and other new electricity retailers, it is not viable for the power companies to ask customers to pay more for electricity.
Shikoku Electric in western Japan has already decided to decommission the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at its Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in Ehime Prefecture, and operation of the plant’s No. 3 reactor, the sole remaining one, was viewed as a major premise for establishing stable financial management.
In light of the situation, the power companies’ sale of electricity to other firms is set to decrease, which is certain to hit power companies in the pocket — highlighting the risks of relying on nuclear power.
The nuclear regulator’s move is also likely to significantly affect Japan Atomic Power Co.’s plans to restart its Tokai No. 2 Power Station in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo. In November last year, the power plant passed screening by the NRA to enable its reactivation, and received permission to keep operating for another 20 years. However, it has not even compiled an estimate for the cost of building a facility required under the counterterrorism guidelines.
Under NRA rules, nuclear plant operators are required to build facilities at least 100 meters away from reactor buildings that are able to remotely prevent meltdowns if the units come under terrorist attacks such as planes being flown into them. The facilities must be built within five years of the NRA approving plant construction plans.
A Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry official observed, “This could be described as a birth pang in the process of boosting safety, but it’s an unfavorable wind in the short term.” Meanwhile, Tadashi Narabayashi, a specially appointed professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, commented, “Power companies were hoping that things would go easy for them, but the NRA should have made it clear from the outset that they were not going to allow any extensions beyond the 5-year limit. The responsibility for the confusion lies on both sides.”

May 1, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Safety, language measures needed for foreigners to work at Fukushima plant

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April 24, 2019
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) is preparing to bring in
foreign workers with special technical skills to join decommissioning work on the disaster-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
At present, an average of 4,000 employees of TEPCO and cooperating firms work at the facility every day. Laws and regulations stipulate that workers’ radiation exposure must be limited to 50 millisieverts in a single year, and 100 millisieverts over five years. No one is allowed to stay at the plant once they hit one of these caps, so waves of new employees must be brought in to maintain worker numbers.
Decommissioning the Daiichi plant, which suffered a triple core meltdown in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, is expected to take 30 to 40 years. Whether the companies involved can sustain sufficient staffing levels will be one factor that determines the success or failure of the project.
When it comes to tapping foreign labor to make up the required numbers, the Justice Ministry — which has jurisdiction over Japan’s immigration system — has already declined to approve sending foreign technical intern trainees to work at the plant. One of the core tenets of the foreign technical trainee program is that the job placements must provide the trainees with skills they can use in their home countries, and working to decommission a devastated nuclear plant did not fit the bill.
TEPCO is now turning its eyes to foreign workers with Category 1 work visas, one of the new residency statuses launched on April 1 and aimed at those with certain skills and experience. Technical trainees with three years’ experience in Japan can obtain this visa without a skills exam.
However, there is a real risk of radiation exposure at the Daiichi plant, and the terminology used on-site is highly technical, making for a difficult environment. TEPCO and its partners must not treat the new foreign worker system as an employee pool they can simply dip into.
The workers’ Japanese level is particularly a cause for worry. To obtain a Category 1 visa, applicants must speak Japanese at only a “daily conversational” level. However, anyone working at the Daiichi site must understand a slew of technical terms related to radiation and other facets of the decommissioning process, meaning a very high level of Japanese is absolutely indispensable. If foreign employees begin working there without having learned the necessary terminology, we believe there is a real risk they could be ordered to do jobs that exposed them to radiation.
TEPCO has said it is up to its project partners whether they employ Category 1 foreign workers. In fact, the majority of people at Fukushima Daiichi are employed by one of the firms that make up the layers upon layers of subcontractors working on the decommissioning. Nevertheless, as the company heading the project, TECPO has a responsibility to oversee the conditions of every worker, right down to the bottom of the pyramid.
Furthermore, if a foreign worker has been exposed to radiation overseas, that dose must be added to their sievert count at the plant. However, it is up to the worker to report any previous radiation exposure, which can make it difficult to properly track and manage their doses.
If a worker develops a radiation-related illness after returning to their home country, will they be able to smoothly apply for workers’ accident compensation? This is also a serious worry.
If Japan is to accept foreign workers to help decommission the Fukushima Daiichi plant, it is absolutely essential to create the appropriate environment, including measures to boost their Japanese skills and strengthen radiation exposure management.

May 1, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Japan to shut down nuclear plants if counterterror steps not taken in time

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April 24, 2019
Japan’s nuclear regulator decided Wednesday not to let power companies operate reactors if they fail to install sufficient counterterrorism measures by specified deadlines.
The decision by the Nuclear Regulation Authority came after three utilities that operate five nuclear plants in western and southwestern Japan requested that their deadlines be extended as they expect delays in completing counterterrorism steps required under stricter regulations introduced in 2013 following the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Kyushu Electric Power Co., Kansai Electric Power Co. and Shikoku Electric Power Co. had sought to postpone their five-year deadlines by one to three years, citing reasons such as the need to carry out massive construction work.
The three companies told the NRA that the measures would not be on time at 10 of their reactors, according to documents published on the regulator’s website.
But the regulator has declined their requests for extensions.
The power plant operators are required to build facilities that can keep reactors cool via remote control and prevent the massive release of radioactive materials if the units are the target of a terrorist attack, such as from planes being flown into them.
Nuclear plant operators need to set up such facilities within five years of the nuclear safety watchdog approving detailed construction plans for the plants.
But several firms have warned they will not meet these criteria. The NRA said after a meeting earlier Wednesday it would no longer push back the deadline as it has done in the past.
“There is no need to extend the deadline, and nuclear facilities have to stop operations if the operators fail to meet it,” an NRA official said.
He added that several other reactors were also at risk of being shut down.
A reactor at the Sendai power plant in Kyushu could be the first to be suspended if Kyushu Electric Power fails to finish work by the deadline next March.
Following the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai plant, the No. 2 reactor at the complex is facing a deadline in May 2020. The deadline for the No. 3 reactor at the Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture operated by Kansai Electric is August 2020.
At an NRA meeting Wednesday, one of the commissioners said, “The construction work did not fall behind schedule because of natural disaster,” expressing the view that there is no need to extend the deadlines.
“We cannot overlook the operations of nuclear facilities when they become incompatible with meeting standards,” NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa said.
Before the Fukushima disaster, Japan relied on nuclear power for roughly 30 percent of its electricity. But this declined to less than 2 percent after the crisis as reactors were suspended for emergency safety checks, with many unable to resume operations under the stricter rules. The ratio has since recovered somewhat, but it remains below 10 percent due to a protracted process of stringent safety checks by the regulator.
Shares of all three companies tumbled on the news. Kansai Electric ended down 7.8 percent, Kyushu Electric fell 5.3 percent and Shikoku Electric dropped 5 percent.
A draft by the industry ministry said nuclear should account for 20 to 22 percent of power supply in 2030 and renewables 22 to 24 percent, in line with the trade ministry’s goals set in 2015.
But many experts view the nuclear target as difficult to achieve in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima crisis, which led to a big shift in public opinion after it exposed industrial and regulatory failings and led to the shutdown of all the country’s reactors.

May 1, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment