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11 years after meltdown, Fukushima towns to welcome back residents

Housing complexes are being built in the town of Futaba, which will be decontaminated and reopened to residents. The Fukushima plant can be seen on the horizon.

March 11, 2022

TOKYO — Eleven years after a major earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Japan will reopen part of the surrounding area to residents starting this spring as a new hub for the region’s revival.

The government considers the five years that began in April 2021 as the “second phase” of recovery efforts in northeastern Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture. But with costs ballooning and tens of thousands still unable to return home, rebuilding communities there remains an uphill battle.

The death toll from the triple disaster, which occurred March 11, 2011, totaled 15,900 as of the beginning of this month. The search for the 2,523 missing continues to this day.

Another 3,784 deaths are associated with the disaster. A total of 38,139 evacuees had not returned to their homes as of Feb. 8, including 26,692 from Fukushima who now live outside the prefecture.

As the next step in the region’s recovery, Japan is decontaminating a 27-sq.-km area that was evacuated following the disaster, including the towns of Futaba and Okuma. Evacuation directives will be lifted in aand allowing residents will be allowed to move back there starting this spring and into 2023. The government plans to press ahead with nurturing industries to help disaster-hit areas grow on their own.

Another 310 sq. km around the Fukushima plant will remain off-limits to the public. Japan plans to eventually decontaminate residential areas as needed to give all former residents the option to return by the end of the 2020s.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings, operator of the Fukushima plant, aims to start removing nuclear debris from the damaged reactors on an experimental basis in the latter half of the year. The utility looks to complete the decommissioning of the plant by 2041 to 2051.

An interim storage facility for contaminated soil in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture. It remains unclear where the material will ultimately be disposed.

But recovery efforts in Fukushima face mounting financial and logistical hurdles.

Contaminated soil and other waste from the disaster are supposed to be stored within the prefecture for 30 years before they can be moved elsewhere. But the government has yet to secure a final disposal site, and the total cost of the process remains unclear.

In terms of decontamination, “there’s no clear guideline on how far into the mountains and woods our efforts would extend,” said an official at the Environment Ministry.

Japan estimates the total costs associated with the Fukushima disaster, including damages paid to victims, at 22 trillion yen ($190 billion). But the final tally could end up far higher, given how much of the recovery process still needs to be ironed out. One private-sector estimate places the figure beyond 35 trillion yen.

“Should costs continue to mount, our budget for other energy-related policies, like promoting renewable sources, could take a hit,” a government source said.

Though the rebuilding of infrastructure is nearly complete in neighboring Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, personal connections within communities have weakened further, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 680 people living alone have died in the three prefectures since the disaster. Japan still faces the issue of people becoming isolated, which was highlighted following the 1995 earthquake in the Kobe area.

March 13, 2022 - Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , ,

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