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Contaminated soil from nuclear power plant, destination yet to be determined…

March 12, 2022

Seven years have passed since the operation of the interim storage facilities that surround TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant began. The delivery of contaminated soil from the decontamination of the nuclear accident is expected to be almost completed by the end of this month, except for that from the difficult-to-return zone. Although Fukushima Prefecture has legislated that the contaminated soil must be removed from the prefecture by 2045, the destination of the soil has yet to be decided.

After the nuclear accident, more than 17 million cubic meters of contaminated soil and waste from decontamination in Fukushima Prefecture have been generated. Because it is unrealistic to dispose of such a large amount of waste, the government hopes to reuse the contaminated soil, which has a relatively low concentration of radioactive materials, as a “resource” for public works projects and agricultural land. The target is soil with a level of 8,000 becquerels per kilogram or less, which currently accounts for three-fourths of the total. Furthermore, it is estimated that up to 97% of the material will be reusable by the year 45 due to natural attenuation and other factors.

 However, at this point, only a little less than 1 million cubic meters will be used for a demonstration project in Iitate Village, Iitate Prefecture, to demonstrate the use of agricultural land. It would be nice if it could be used for large-scale public works projects such as port reclamation, but in this day and age, there is no need,” said a Ministry of the Environment official.

Eleven years after the earthquake, there is not even a clear destination for the contaminated soil. Residents are expected to protest if attempts are made to reuse the soil, and zero governors have responded that they would be willing to accept it. In municipalities that do not have interim storage facilities, the contaminated soil is “stored on-site” and can be found in residential areas in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Survey of 46 prefectural governors: Zero governors responded that they were “willing to accept” the waste.

 It is not easy to gain the understanding of residents. In 2006, the Japanese government planned to use the contaminated soil for a demonstration project to widen an expressway in Minamisoma City. However, local residents protested one after another, saying that it was the same as final disposal and that their crops would be damaged by harmful rumors, and in March of last year, the government informed the residents of its decision to abandon the project.

 The residents of the area were not happy with the decision.

March 16, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , | Leave a comment

Man who shot famed tsunami video turned lens on Fukushima’s future

Takashi Hokoi, right, and Yuichi Harada talk amid cherry trees on March 6 in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture.

March 15, 2022

NAMIE, Fukushima — The schoolyard of an elementary school is empty of children, with only rusted playground equipment left on the barren soil. An elderly man looks wistfully around the shrine with cherry blossoms in full bloom.

“During cherry blossom season, children used to come here on field trips,” he says.

It is a scene from a 2016 documentary that chronicled the lives of people in Fukushima Prefecture affected by the March 2011 disaster in the context of the cherry blossom viewing season.

Titled “Fukushima Sakura Kiko” (Fukushima cherry blossom travel story), it was filmed in the spring of 2015 in the Odaka district of Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, by Takashi Hokoi, a former NHK news cameraman who currently is pursuing a career as an artist based in Fukushima.

The Odaka district, about 15 kilometers north of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, was still under an evacuation order at the time.

Seven years have passed since Hokoi, now 37, shot the documentary.

“I can hear the sound of a lawn mower,” Hokoi said with a slight smile when he revisited the district earlier this month.

With the evacuation order lifted, there are signs of life again, such as windows with open curtains. He knows that many people have not yet returned, but it is a welcome change.

The documentary was widely shown when it was released. However, Hokoi has a much more well-known video to his name, one that was circulated all over the world.

It was also one of the reasons that Hokoi left the world of journalism.

A foaming tsunami wave powers upstream in a river and floods the Sendai Plain. Houses and cars are instantly swallowed up by the wall of water.

The scene was broadcast live from an NHK helicopter at about 3:50 p.m. on March 11, 2011. Recording the destruction was Hokoi, who was in his first year as a cameraman.

Hokoi was working for the NHK Fukushima broadcasting station. He was at Sendai Airport on the day of the disaster. From an NHK helicopter, he was dumbstruck by the scene below and aimed his camera to the ground.

Tsunami waves crashed over main roads and swirled around, and houses were washed away or on fire. As he tried to come to grips with the reality-defying scene, one thought pervaded his mind: There must be people in those houses, in those cars.

The shocking video was given an award by the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association in September 2011. But Hokoi felt guilty receiving such praise. “All I did was escape to a safe place and film what I was told to,” he thought.

In 2013, NHK spoke to him about a transfer. But he decided to resign, and remained in Fukushima. He had a sense of guilt about leaving the disaster-hit area just two years after shooting such scenes and seeing its future as somebody else’s problem.

After leaving NHK, the idea for the documentary featuring cherry blossoms and people in Fukushima Prefecture came to him, all because of one person he had known.

Yuichi Harada was the third-generation owner of a clock shop and chairman of a local chamber of commerce and industry in the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture. In 2014, while Hokoi was planning to create a video about the disaster at the request of his university, Harada guided him around the town, which was still under evacuation orders.

Harada, now 72, had evacuated to the city of Nihonmatsu to the west, where he organized a community of displaced Namie residents and negotiated with TEPCO over compensation. All the while, he also continued tending to cherry trees along a river in Namie with other volunteers.

“If someone returns to the town and the cherry trees in bloom bring back memories, it might change how they feel,” Harada said.

That really hit home for Hokoi, that someone who had lost their beloved hometown could be so optimistic, believing that one day it would return.

Hokoi decided to depict present-day Fukushima through cherry blossoms, the symbol of spring and hope.

Since this spring, Hokoi has been working on a sequel to “Sakura Kiko.” He is motivated because, while interest in Fukushima Prefecture may be fading, the situation there is now more complicated.

Harada continues to look after the cherry trees today. As people could not return to Namie, he was never able to restart his business, and his store was torn down about six years ago.

The evacuation order for his hometown has since been lifted, but Harada has given up on ever returning to Namie. He thinks about moving to Ibaraki Prefecture, where his eldest daughter lives, but his mother, now in her 90s, wants him to stay in Nihonmatsu.

“Life is hard, isn’t it?” Harada said with a sad smile as he gazed at the cherry trees with Hokoi.

The strength of our desires does not necessarily make them come true. That is the harsh reality of disasters. “I want to continue following the lives of people in Fukushima Prefecture and try to find what reconstruction really means,” Hokoi said.

He will continue to face the disaster head-on.


■ Evacuation orders

Soon after the nuclear accident at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, the government designated an area within a 20-kilometer radius as a “warning zones” (evacuation order zones).

Areas outside that zone experiencing high levels of radiation were designated as “planned evacuation zones,” and the government demanded that residents in both zones evacuate.

The range of evacuation orders as of April 2012 extended to all or part of 11 municipalities, but that number has since decreased to the present-day seven.

Within those seven municipalities are areas designated as “difficult-to-return zones,” some of which are being developed as key reconstruction bases to provide a foothold for returning residents.

March 16, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Years without forestry education as Fukushima decontamination falls short

Mar 14, 2022

The March 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused serious damage to forests in the surrounding areas. Even now, 11 years after the accident, little has been done to decontaminate them.

In some areas, projects are underway to restore the satoyama, areas of mountain forest maintained by residents of adjacent communities, but the airborne radiation levels in those areas are still not low enough that children can safely enter, according to a local community leader.

One such area is the Yamakiya district in the town of Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture. Walking trails in the Daini Oyako no Mori forest are covered by snow, and sunny slopes are lined with zelkova trees.

Yellow and pink vinyl wrapped around the trees indicates the year they were planted by local elementary school students. At the end of March, it will be five years since the evacuation order for the Yamakiya district was lifted. But even now, the voices of children have not returned to the mountains.

In 2016, satoyama restoration projects were launched in the prefecture to improve the forest environment. Decontamination, reforestation and radiation monitoring were carried out in an integrated manner in the mountain and forest areas that had been used by residents.

The projects have been carried out based on the comprehensive forest restoration policy for Fukushima Prefecture, which was compiled jointly by the Reconstruction Agency, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and the Environment Ministry. A total of approximately 800 hectares in 14 municipalities were selected as model areas, including forest parks and walking trails, where fallen leaves and other sediment was removed and thinned.

Toshio Hirono looks at a sign noting a commemorative tree planting by Yamakiya Elementary School’s forestry club at the entrance of Daini Oyako no Mori forest in Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture.

In the past, the forestry club of Yamakiya Elementary School was active in Daini Oyako no Mori. But since the nuclear accident, the forest had not been cared for and was in a dilapidated state — with thickets growing over the planted zelkova trees.

The town and the local residents chose Daini Oyako no Mori as a site for the project in order to revive the area as a site where children could study forestry. The project was launched in December 2016, prior to the planned lifting of the evacuation order for Yamakiya district at the end of March 2017.

The project covers an area of about 2 hectares. In fiscal years 2016 and 2017, planted cedar and zelkova trees were thinned and cleared, and trees that had fallen due to snow were removed. Logs were spread on slopes as a measure to control topsoil runoff.

Decontamination work was conducted in fiscal 2018. Leaves and branches that had fallen to the ground and other accumulated organic matter were removed in areas covering 5,595 square meters of the forest, including an open square and walking trails. The zelkova trees could die if their surfaces were stripped, so the work focused on clearing the grass and thickets.

Comparing the radiation levels in September 2018, before the decontamination work, and in November the same year, after the work, the average radiation level in the open square had been reduced by 22%, to 0.69 microsievert per hour. Based on the result, the central government concluded that “the decontamination work contributed to creating an environment ready for the resumption of forest study activities.”

However, even after the decontamination process, the airborne radiation levels were far from the central government’s long-term target of 0.23 microsieverts per hour. At some monitoring points, radiation levels exceeded 1 microsievert per hour.

“The area is not ready for children to go back,” said Toshio Hirono, 71, leader of the Yamakiya Elementary School’s forestry club.

Residents are demanding that the forest, where children once enjoyed the greenery, be restored to its original state.

The forestry club, which did its main work in Daini Oyako no Mori, was known both within and outside of the prefecture for its progressive activities that took advantage of the abundant natural resources. At the entrance of the forest, a signboard notes a commemorative tree planting by the group to mark a national commendation they received.

Children belonged to the group in the fourth through sixth grade, and their activities were diverse. They processed thinned cedar trees to create a walking path in their school’s front yard, built bridges over a river and moat in nearby mountains and made a mallet by hand for pounding rice cakes. They learned about the importance of nature by collecting mushrooms and tara buds, and eating rice cakes kneaded with burdock leaves.

These activities came to a halt after the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant. Before the accident, Yamakiya Elementary School had 30 to 40 children. But the number of children decreased due to the establishment of an evacuation zone, and the school has been closed since fiscal 2019.

“If it hadn’t been for the nuclear accident, there would have been so much more I wanted to do,” said Hirono.

Hirono has been serving as the third leader of the group for about 20 years, without a chance to pass on his position to a successor due to the suspension of its activities. He feels that although Daini Oyako no Mori has been decontaminated, the level of radiation has not gone down enough.

“If there is even a slight concern, we cannot allow our children to go into the mountains,” he said with a sigh.

Even after the model project ended, Hirono continues to voluntarily clear the undergrowth along the walking trails every fall. He understands that decontaminating all the forests in the town will not be easy, but believes that unless the radiation levels in the surrounding areas of Daini Oyako no Mori are lowered, residents will not be reassured.

“It is the central government’s responsibility to decontaminate until the residents are satisfied,” he said.

March 16, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

Ukraine war triggers debate on Japan’s nuclear option

In a new and volatile strategic environment, a decades-old commitment on non-proliferation is up for discussion.

14 Mar 2022

In the wake of the Ukraine conflict, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s former prime minister and now head of the largest faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has suggested that Japan consider hosting US nuclear weapons facilities on Japanese soil, similar to some European nations, such as Germany, which have nuclear sharing arrangements with the United States.

Abe’s suggestion was made in the context of Ukraine having renounced nuclear weapons in 1994, leaving itself vulnerable today. The announcement also comes on top of deepening concerns about China’s growing military assertiveness around Japan’s maritime space and beyond, and the dangerous situation on the Korean peninsula with threats from the nuclear-capable rocket-launching North Korea.

Debates over whether Japan should host nuclear weapons or even go fully nuclear are not new. In the mid-1970s, a book-length study by John Endicott considered the nuclear option. In the early 2000s, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe (both of whom later served as prime minister) again raised this prospect. It was quickly put to rest by Japan’s security analysts. Discussion has since continued among political and scholarly communities as to whether Japan should go nuclear, opt for a nuclear sharing arrangement with the United States by hosting nuclear weapons, or maintain its current non-nuclear weapons status.

Some smaller conservative opposition parties want to include nuclear options in policy discussions while considering Japan’s strategic objectives.

This latest eruption though is in a different context. This time, chairman of the General Council of the LDP Tatsuo Fukuda, who like his father Yasuo Fukuda before him holds an influential ruling party post and is touted as a future prime minister, has suggested that “we must not shy away from any debate whatsoever”. Last year’s LDP party presidential candidate and current LDP policy chief Sanae Takaichi also favours a debate. Some smaller conservative opposition parties want to include nuclear options in policy discussions while considering Japan’s strategic objectives. The main opposition parties have, however, strongly resisted any such prospects, arguing in favour of Japan’s non-nuclear status.

Abe’s suggestion was promptly and solidly rejected by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, as well as by the leader of the Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling LDP. Even Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s younger brother, adopted into the Kishi family, also dismissed the idea of hosting nuclear weapons on Japanese shores. Kishi may have expressed this view in order to align with his boss, Prime Minister Kishida, rather than reflecting his true thinking on the matter, given his political pedigree.

ishida quickly confirmed that Japan firmly adheres to the three non-nuclear principles adopted in 1967, to not possess, produce or permit the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan’s territory. These principles remain sacrosanct, even though Japan has made substantial departures in defence and security matters in the past decade.

Abe’s comments can be understood in this context, which emanates from a rapidly evolving strategic environment, regionally as well as globally. As prime minister, Abe had introduced several policy initiatives that were unthinkable in previous decades, such as removing bans on defence-related exports, allowing Japan to work with allies and partners in collective self-defence, establishing Japan’s first National Security Council (NSC), and issuing the first-ever National Security Strategy (NSS).

Not only has the Kishida government announced an intended update to the NSS, first issued in 2013, it has also promised to revise the National Defence Program Guidelines and Mid-Term Defence Program issued in 2013 and 2018. All these updates and revisions are undertaken in view of a rapid transformation in the strategic environment.

The Kishida government is likely to go even further and consider acquiring strike capabilities to ensure Japan’s territorial integrity and the safety of its people as well as protect US military assets in Japan, including some 50,000 US defence personnel.

The long-time self-imposed constraints on Japan’s defence spending, keeping it to less than one per cent of GDP, are also likely to be breached soon. The LDP under Kishida’s leadership has promoted for the first time the idea of spending two per cent of GDP in its policy documents just before the last general election in October 2021. Although such a change seems unlikely any time soon due to Japan’s poor fiscal health and significant public opposition, defence spending will definitely increase, as it has over the past decade.

Japan, along with Germany, has often been recognised as an example of a “civilian state”. Germany currently hosts US nuclear weapons facilities and, in view of the Ukraine conflict, has announced a significant increase to its defence budget. Calls are now being made to urge Japan to follow suit.

The postwar US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security has ensured that Japan has lived happily under US extended deterrence, including the nuclear umbrella. This arrangement is unlikely to change, barring an existential threat to Japan’s territory and sovereignty. But what seemed to be taboo in terms of Japan’s strategic policy – that is, breaching one per cent of GDP on defence spending and developing strike capabilities – is now being discussed seriously. No policy in international relations is eternal, it must change as a nation’s interests change.

March 16, 2022 Posted by | Japan | | Leave a comment