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Decade after Fukushima disaster, decontamination work remains incomplete in 85% of regions

Greenpeace says Japan should suspend returning residents to the afflicted region

Mar.5,2021

Decontamination work remains incomplete in 85% of regions where the Japanese government claims to have removed radioactive contaminants from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster, an international environment group’s analysis shows.

In a report titled “Fukushima Daiichi 2011-2021,” published on Thursday ahead of the 10th anniversary of the disaster on March 11, Greenpeace urged the Japanese government to discontinue its policy of returning residents to the afflicted region without regard for science-based analysis.

Two weeks after the disaster struck in March 2011, the group sent a team of radioactivity exports to the scene in the first of 32 total visits through November 2020 to survey the radiation impacts in the Fukushima region. The recent report was based on its findings to date.

The Japanese government has announced the completion of most decontamination work for a Special Decontamination Area (SDA), which does not include a region close to the plant with particularly high levels of contamination that prevent residents from returning. Carried out through March 2019, the effort involved a commitment of 30 million person-hours and cost US$28 billion.

But an analysis of government data by Greenpeace showed that of the 840 square kilometers in the SDA, actual decontamination work had only been completed on 120 square kilometers, or 15 %.

In the case of Iitate — the largest of the seven administrative districts located entirely inside the SDA — decontamination had yet to be completed for 18,183 hectares, or 79% of its area. In the second-largest district of Namie, just 2,140 hectares, or 10%, had undergone even some decontamination.

Resident evacuation orders for the two regions were lifted in March 2017 — but according to Greenpeace, radiation levels make them still too dangerous for human habitation.

According to a Greenpeace study last November, the average amount of radiation in five out of 11 sites surrounding one home in Iitate was 0.5 microsieverts per hour (μSv/h), exceeding the government’s target of 0.23μSv/h.

The area immediately outside of one Namie school was found to be open to the general public despite 93% of measured sites showing radiation above the government’s targets.

“The fact that 85% of the contaminated surface area of the seven Fukushima districts inside the SDA has not been subject to decontamination is directly related to the radiological hazards posed by the mountainous forested areas,” the report explained.

“These remain a long-term source of contamination, including recontamination,” it warned.

Shaun Burnie, the Greenpeace senior nuclear specialist responsible for writing the report, urged the Japanese government to immediately suspend its return policy and decontamination program in order to protect residents of the Fukushima region, arguing that they ignore science-based analysis.

The same day, Greenpeace also published a technical report analyzing the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor. In it, Greenpeace proposed that the Japanese government adopt an alternative to its current decommissioning plan, which increases the amount of water contaminated with high-level radioactive material.

As an alternative approach, it suggested replacing water with air as a means of cooling reactor core fuel, while reducing the amount of contaminated water by installing moats to prevent seawater and underground water infiltration around the plant.

Chang Ma-ri, a climate energy campaigner for Greenpeace, said, “The ravages of radioactive contamination caused by the Fukushima disaster will pose a burden on humankind that will not be resolved for the next century or more.”

“The Japanese government needs to start by withdrawing its imminent plans for the release of contaminated water [into the ocean],” she urged.

By Kim Jeong-su, senior staff writer

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_international/985626.html

March 6, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

85% of Special Decontamination Area remained contaminated Fukushima Daiichi decommissioning road map unachievable – a new plan is inevitable

2021-03-04

Mar 4, 2021 (Greenpeace Japan) – Nearly a decade after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, Greenpeace released two reports today that highlighted the complex legacy of the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. 

The first report Fukushima 2011-2020 detailed radiation levels in Iitate and Namie in Fukushima prefecture. Our original findings showed that decontamination efforts have been limited and that 85% of the Special Decontamination Area has undergone no decontamination. 

The second report Decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station From Plan-A to Plan-B Now, from Plan-B to Plan-C critiqued the current official decommission plan within 30-40 years of having no prospects of success and is delusional. 

“Successive governments during the last ten years, and largely under prime minister Shinzo Abe, have attempted to perpetrate a myth about the nuclear disaster. They have sought to deceive the Japanese people by misrepresenting the effectiveness of the decontamination program and ignoring radiological risks,” said Shaun Burnie, Senior Nuclear Specialist at Greenpeace East Asia. 

“At the same time, they continue to claim that the Fukushima Daiichi site can be returned to ‘greenfield’ status by mid-century. The decade of deception and delusion on the part of the government and TEPCO must end. A new decommissioning plan is inevitable so why waste any more time with the current fantasy?” Burnie added.

The first Greenpeace radiation expert team arrived in Fukushima prefecture on 26 March 2011, and have conducted 32 investigations into the radiological consequences of the disaster over the last decade, the most recent in November 2020. The key findings of the radiation report Fukushima 2011-2020 are:

  • Greenpeace has consistently found that most of the 840 square kilometers Special Decontamination Area(SDA), where the government is responsible for decontamination, remains contaminated with radioactive cesium. 
  • Analysis of the government’s own data shows that in the SDA an overall average of only 15% has been decontaminated.
  • No time frame for when the Japanese government’s long-term decontamination target level of 0.23 microsieverts per hour (μSv/h) will be achieved in many areas. Citizens will be subjected for decades of radiation exposure in excess of 1mSv/y recommended maximum.
  • In the areas where evacuation orders were lifted in 2017, specifically, Namie and Iitate, radiation levels remain above safe limits, potentially exposing the population to increased cancer risk. Plans to continue to lift evacuation orders are unacceptable from a public health perspective.
  • Up till 2018, tens of thousands of decontamination workers had been employed in decontamination in the SDA. As documented by Greenpeace[1], the workers, most of whom are poorly paid subcontractors, have been exposed to unjustified radiation risks for a limited and ineffective decontamination program. 

The key findings of The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station decommissioning report[2] are:

  • There are no credible plans for retrieval of the hundreds of tons of nuclear fuel debris remaining inside and under the three Reactor Pressure vessels – it requires a fundamental review. 
  • Water used in reactor cooling and groundwater contamination, and therefore accumulating in tanks, will keep growing into the future unless a new approach is adopted.
  • All nuclear contaminated material should remain on the site indefinitely. If the nuclear fuel debris is ever retrieved, it also should remain on site. Fukushima Daiichi is already and should remain a nuclear waste storage site for the long term. 
  • The current plan is unachievable in the timeframe of 30-40 years in the current road map and impossible to achieve in terms of returning the site to greenfield.

It is recommended that a fundamental rethink in approach and a new plan for the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi, including a delay in molten fuel removal for 50-100 years or longer is needed with the construction of secure containment buildings for the long term. The Primary Containment vessel, with reinforcement, should be used as an incomplete primary boundary and the reactor building as the secondary boundary for the medium-to-long term, while developing robotic technology that can perform tasks without high radiation risks to human workers. 

Finally, to prevent the further increase of radioactive contaminated water, cooling of nuclear fuel debris should be switched from water to air cooling, and the Fukushima Daiichi site should be made into a ‘dry island’ isolated from groundwater with the construction of a deep moat. 

ENDS

Links to full reports: 

Notes:

[1] Greenpeace Japan, “On the Frontline of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident: Workers and Children Radiation risks and human rights violations”, March 2019

[2] Report commissioned by Greenpeace from a consulting nuclear engineer, formerly with General Electric including at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, Mr. Satoshi Sato.

March 6, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima residents demand stricter decontamination to enable safe return

Residents of the Yonomori district in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, march with a portable shrine in April 2007.

January 22, 2021

“Will Tomioka go back to how it was before?” Looking at the results of a survey, Kazuyoshi Kamata, vice head of the Yonomori Station northern administrative district in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, reflects on his hometown and its reconstruction following the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triple meltdown in 2011.

In the surveys conducted by the Reconstruction Agency last fall, Tomioka residents listed important conditions in deciding whether they would return to their hometown or not, such as the reopening and construction of new medical, welfare and elder care facilities as well as the resumption and improvement of shopping complexes.

One condition that stands out among the list, though, is a further reduction in the amount of radiation, which 1 in 3 residents raised as an important issue. The government has been decontaminating specially designated areas, where it was once thought that settlement was limited for good but which can be reopened for residents. It has set the annual radiation exposure limit to be lower than 20 millisieverts as one of the standards to lift the evacuation orders.

Now that nearly 10 years have passed since the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, Kamata stressed the need for the government to decontaminate the area under stricter standards so that residents will feel safer returning to their hometown.

“In order to maintain people’s feelings for their hometowns, I want (the government) to stick to the stance of rebuilding our Tomioka in the form that we all want, including restoring the (basic living) environment.”

Tomioka’s Yonomori district used to be bustling with an increasing population, said Kamata, adding that younger generations supported the local community by planning events utilizing a famous row of cherry blossom trees and developing agriculture centered around rice crops.

“The district was a place full of energy where everyone, regardless of generation, was involved in making the local community,” said Kamata.

At the Yonomori cherry blossom festival held in spring, for example, smiles spread among residents as children strolled around, and the event also featured a mikoshi, or Shinto palanquin, from Otoshi Shrine.

The government is also doing its part in reconstructing the specially designated area in Tomioka by establishing zones focused on revitalizing businesses and agriculture. With creating agricultural corporations and making use of tourism resources such as roadside cherry blossom trees as the two main pillars, the government is working to attract about 1,600 people to live there, which is 40% of the population before the accident.

In the meantime, residents have been raising concerns about the 20 millisieverts condition, demanding a higher standard and more decontamination. In places that have recorded higher radiation levels, it is expected there will be damage from harmful rumors about things including tourism and agriculture.

“Without people, reconstruction would not begin. Creating conditions to invite more people without concerns is of utmost importance,” said Kamata, arguing that alongside other areas, restoring the living environment, including decontamination with the aim of lowering the annual radiation exposure to 1 millisevert or less, will be needed for future generations to live in Yonomori.

“Once the evacuation order is lifted, I want the local community to regain its connections within (the district),” said Kamata, hoping to take on a role of handing down the district’s traditions and way of life, as well as traditional scenery, to younger generations once he returns. As a vice-head of the administrative district, though, Kamata also intends to communicate crucial issues to the local government while residing in the area.

The lifting of the evacuation order in the specially designated area is expected in the spring of 2023, 12 years after the order was first issued.

“Without tackling issues such as restoring the living environment and infrastructure, as well as decommissioning of the Fukushima No.1 plant in a diligent manner, people won’t come back,” said Kamata. Now he hopes the government will share his passion for the hometown’s rebuilding.

This section features topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original article was published Jan. 12.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/01/22/national/fukushima-decontaminating-town/

January 25, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima ‘blank spaces’ in limbo, left out of decontamination plan

A September 2009 photo shows the home of Takashi Asano in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture. The house is now a wreck with a damaged roof and is accessible to wild animals.

Oct 16, 2020

It was back in the autumn of 2011. Wind blowing from the Pacific Ocean was cutting through the golden rice fields.

Takashi Asano, 67, who had evacuated from the town of Okuma in Fukushima Prefecture following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster, had returned temporarily to his home.

When Asano was gazing at the paddy fields behind his former home from afar, it looked like the field was full of rice ready to be harvested.

“Why would that be when I haven’t planted rice,” wondered Asano, who had evacuated to Aizuwakamatsu in the prefecture after the disaster.

When he went closer, he noticed the plants had yellow tips belonging to Canadian goldenrods, an invasive foreign plant. In his absence, the plants had already begun to take over the fields.

The area where his home is located had been designated a no-go zone. It was excluded from the area designated by the government where it plans to decontaminate and either rebuild it for future use or make it a storage facility for radioactive waste such as soil by the spring of 2023.

Therefore, local residents call the area the “blank-space district,” in reference to the uncolored space on the government map for reconstruction. With no decontamination projects in the pipeline, locals can’t make any plans for the future.

At Asano’s home, rain has seeped through damaged roof, and there are signs that wild boars have found their way inside. He returns once a year to pay respects at family graves but each time it is difficult to see what remains of his home.

“I don’t want to see it. When I leave, I tell myself not to look back,” he said.

Nearly 10 years have elapsed since Asano was forced to evacuate. Nothing seems to represent the passage of time more than the deteriorating fields and homes.

Before the disaster, Asano had been growing rice and vegetables while working at a chemical factory. He had his two-story home constructed in 1986, with a garage and a shed for farming tools.

Construction fees had been paid off and retirement was just around the corner. After he retired, Asano intended to continue as a contract worker, but plans of a comfortable retirement were shattered by the disaster in 2011.

Two years ago, he considered tearing his house down. When he contacted the municipal government, they referred him to a contractor for the work, only to be turned down.

“We can’t work on projects in the blank-space district,” the contractor said.

Demolition and decontamination efforts were underway in other parts of the town the government has designated areas for reconstruction. However, in the blank-space district contractors are turning down requests for demolition since the government’s plans are still unclear.

“The house is no longer livable,” Asano said. “Buildings are being torn down in other parts of the town, so I don’t understand why I can’t have mine torn down, too.”

The central government announced it would secure about ¥1.6 trillion for a five-year recovery plan from fiscal 2021. About ¥1.1 trillion of that will be allocated for Fukushima Prefecture, separately from which ¥100 billion will be funneled into efforts targeting no-go zones located outside of the designated recovery zones. But specific details on what to do with those places have yet to be mapped out.

Entry restrictions have been loosened in parts of the recovery zones in Okuma, allowing some residents to begin rebuilding their homes.

In those areas, residents have the right to decide whether to return or live elsewhere. But Asano and others living in the surrounding area don’t yet have the freedom to choose their future.

“The government hasn’t made it clear what it plans to do over the next 20 or 30 years,” Asano said. “People who want to return and people who have given up — everybody is stuck.”

The disjointed dismantling of restrictions within and near recovery zones continues to invite frustration.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/10/16/national/fukushima-blank-spaces-decontamination-limbo/

October 18, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Recovery That Wasn’t

September 11, 2020

Outside of the photo friendly new train stations and town halls, the region has not seen the miracle recovery promised by Tokyo that would prove the disaster was a mere bump in the road.

Areas that were part of the worst of the fallout zone have been reopened, in many cases being used to compel evacuees to return home.

Japan’s nuclear regulator has approved reopening residential areas in the difficult to return zone without prior decontamination work.

The disaster recovery base allows a section of a town to be decontaminated and some basic services built in that location.

While communities try to reopen and recover business activity, the region near the disaster site has been designated as a storage site for contaminated soil bags from all over Japan.

This is done with the assumption that residents will eventually return and need some basic town functions in order to do so.

In order for residents to live there, they will need to wear a dosimeter, have annual exposures below 20 mSv/year and decontamination work may need to take place.

In some towns, common areas were decontaminated down to desired levels while other parts of the town remained highly contaminated.

In Iitate, part of the “difficult to return zone”, a section of the town was listed as a “disaster recovery base“.

In Futaba, one of the two towns that host the Fukushima Daiichi disaster site, trial cultivation of vegetables is taking place.

Many communities in the region remain abandoned, damaged and degrading, even as the government moves to declare them reopened.

Naraha, one of the early towns to reopen, has seen about 60% of residents return in the last five years.

Reopening metrics have been problematic in other areas already reopened.

With almost 70% of the land based fallout from the disaster deposited in forest areas, the potential for re-contamination remains high.

Decontamination work would result in re-contamination as dusts and soils migrate back in from areas not decontaminated.

The city now wants to do the decontamination work on residential properties themselves to accelerate making the area available for residency.

Futaba plans to have residents to return by 2022.

Farmland, houses and forest areas near homes would need to be decontaminated at least once to pass review.

Futaba was part of the highest radiation fallout levels after the initial disaster.

The government still holds an annual exposure level of 20 mSv/year as the threshold for reopening an area.

The local police officer for Futaba mentioned to reporters that the area may be reopened but no one can live there.

Few have returned to decontaminate residential properties, something key to having residents return.

Futaba plans to reopen the entire town by 2022.

Further north in Minamisoma residents who remain deal with wild monkeys who have moved in due to the lack of people.

In Tomioka, the eastern half of the town has been reopened since 2017.

September 24, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Soil from decontamination work kept in communities

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March 8, 2020

Nine years after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, more than half of the waste created by decontamination work is still kept near residents’ homes.

About 14 million cubic meters of soil and vegetation has been collected in clean-up operations in areas affected by the nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture, except for heavily contaminated off-limit areas.

The environment ministry plans to transfer all such waste to intermediate storage facilities near the crippled nuclear power plant by March 2022.

As of the end of February, only about 6.3 million cubic meters, or around 45 percent of the total waste, had been transferred to the facilities.

The rest was stored at school compounds, parks, and temporary storage sites.

Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi told reporters on Friday that the waste needs to be removed from the locations as quickly as possible so that local residents can feel secure.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20200308_02/

March 11, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | 1 Comment

Slow burn: Dirt, Radiation, and Power in Fukushima

Peter Wynn Kirby

October 1, 2019

Abstract

Amid the radioactive fallout of the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and across what would come to be known as the Exclusion Zone, Japanese members of the nuclear lobby laboured to contain the political fallout of the Fukushima disaster. This article scrutinizes the profuse rhetoric over recycling as mobilized by nuclear boosters and the wider operations of circularity in waste management in Japan. Japanese leant heavily on the notion of recycling to attempt to frame the clean-up in Fukushima in more ideologically convenient terms. This led, for example, to officials trumpeting plans to ‘recycle’ over 16 million cubic metres of radioactive topsoil scraped from hundreds of square kilometres of Fukushima Prefecture, as well as efforts to achieve ‘thermal recycling’ by generating electricity from the incineration of collected irradiated vegetal matter and the large amounts of protective clothing and other material used in the ‘decontamination’ campaign. By scrutinizing this appropriation of recycling rhetoric and its leveraging across Japan’s nuclear waste management apparatus, the article exposes contradictions and distortions in contemporary Japanese policy that have considerable socio-political ramifications. 

Keywords: Nuclear waste, radiation, decontamination, ethnography, Fukushima

1Decontamination work, Nihonmatsu, Fukushima. Image credit: Peter Wynn Kirby.

2Radioactive soil depot, Iitate, Fukushima. Image credit: Peter Wynn Kirby.

Introduction

The record earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on 11 March 2011 ushered in a highly mediated disaster as Japanese grappled with the triple-meltdowns and radiation crisis at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Largely out of sight of international camera crews and probing journalists, the Japanese state and multiple municipalities embarked on the largest radiation response effort in history in an effort to restore hundreds of square kilometres1 covered in radioactive debris. This campaign saw about 70,000 Japanese workers remove over 16 million cubic metres of irradiated dirt2—scraping topsoil off roadsides, meadows, wooded areas, agricultural fields, school grounds, residential zones, shrine compounds, and parklands. Crews swept up radioactive twigs and pine cones, whittled exterior bark from tree stumps, and clipped low-lying branches in an attempt to bring radiation levels down to allow resettlement of tens of thousands of evacuees. Workers garbed in protective gear, joined by volunteers, scrubbed and hosed down streets, pavements, stairways, kerb stones, and storm drains in urban and suburban areas. They also wiped down the exterior of houses, apartments buildings, shops, schools, and other public facilities, using specially treated wipes to clean roof tiles, gutters, window sills, panes, mullions, wall cladding, and doorsteps. Wipes and protective clothing were collected for separate incineration. This campaign allowed state, prefectural, and municipal representatives to record ‘safe’ radiation measurements in areas of Fukushima’s disaster zone—a major Japanese policy priority, particularly with the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games on the horizon.

 

3Source: Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan; (accessed September 2019).

 

In parallel with these massive efforts to collect, or disperse, the radioactive fallout of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, the pro-nuclear Japanese state engaged in aggressive PR-management to contain Fukushima’s political fallout, working with the nuclear lobby to frame the Fukushima campaign in favourable ideological terms. The scrubbing and scraping of a huge portion of Fukushima’s land area became branded as ‘decontamination’ (josen), despite clear contradictions described below. More telling still was the appropriation of the conceit of recycling to imbue the effort to remove radioactive dirt and other abominated debris with flattering hues of eco-responsibility and resource efficiency. This article3 scrutinizes the decontamination campaign in order to highlight the numerous ways in which the nuclear lobby has leveraged recycling in Fukushima to sanitize and promote nuclear energy throughout its mobilization on the archipelago, with implications for other nuclear purlieux.

 

Chimerical recycling

After spending decades as a perennial environmental villain through the turn of the millennium,4 Japan has transformed into a country where waste issues and recycling are taken very seriously. Japanese municipalities and industries recycle the usual stacks of paper and bins of plastic bottles and glass as well as breaking down and converting about a million tonnes of large consumer appliances (e.g., refrigerators, washers, air-conditioners) a year in highly automated facilities,5 part of what has been called ‘the shredder economy’.6 Every industrial sector complies with Japan’s strict recycling regulations, meaning that all manner of e-waste, from vending machines to pachinko machines, is dismantled, crushed, shredded, and separated to extract precious metals and other materials. These and other projects contribute toward environmental objectives, but Japan’s resource-consciousness derives as much from a fixation on rationalization and efficiency, communicated via catchphrases like ‘industrial ecology’ and ‘zero-emissions’ production. Ironically, there is not much concrete, demonstrable circularity in Japanese recycling.7 Yet circular-economy rhetoric pervades Japanese officialdom. It seems that virtually every ministry white paper, urban development project and metropolitan government report trumpets its concern with sustainability.8 Due to the political ends to which recycling is mobilized in Japan, most egregiously in the radioactive spill of the Fukushima disaster zone, this circularist rhetoric merits rigorous scrutiny.

While examples of discursive overreach vis-à-vis recycling abound in contemporary Japan, the yawning gaps and slippages in Japanese circularity are most evident and striking in the official response to the Fukushima Daiichi radiation crisis, whose determined work crews and complex logistics drive an effort that has been every bit as much of a disaster, in the end, as the earthquake and tsunami that struck Tōhoku in 2011. The Japanese Ministry of the Environment and its partners have branded the Fukushima effort as ‘decontamination’; but as demonstrated below, their use of this term is highly misleading. Instead, I refer to the campaign as The Clear for two reasons. First, ‘clear’ (kuriā) is a term used by Japanese officials and others to declare completion of a project or attainment of a goal, even though its invocation is frequently based on arbitrary bureaucratic targets and massaging of data belied by conditions on the ground (literally, in this case). Next, those involved in the campaign were physically attempting to clear away the radioactive debris that had settled on a huge amount of territory; this was uneven terrain, including steep hillsides, forestland, and residential areas, that would make such a task exceedingly complex and difficult, if not impossible. By declaring ‘clear’ on 31 March 2017, Japanese officials were strongly suggesting that radiation had been cleared away, as it had been ‘on paper’ in ministry documents. Yet as demonstrated in the next section, irradiation of dirt, trees, streams, sandy littoral, and meadowlands is a maddeningly tenacious condition to attempt to reverse, and the rush to clear away Fukushima’s radiation (and burnish its sullied reputation) within a tight, arbitrary timeframe made this Herculean task even more difficult to achieve. By appropriating the terms of exalted recycling to transform these millions of tonnes of radioactive dirt into ‘resources’, the nuclear lobby arguably made promoting this task much easier and more palatable to Japanese communities.

It may be difficult to recall with the crippled Fukushima Daiichi leaking tonnes of radioactive water daily into erstwhile prime fishing grounds in the Pacific, but the conceit of recycling has long bolstered the nuclear sector. Ever since the vaunted promise of limitless energy via fission became destabilized by accumulations of radioactive waste from the 1970s, nuclear elites sought to marshal those parlous residues in a drive toward greater efficiency, as well as discursive control. High-level nuclear waste—usually spent fuel rods from reactors—entered elaborate conversion infrastructures, rationalized as ‘reprocessing’, to transform hazardous, depleted residues into puissant resources. Perhaps the most audacious of these initiatives involved Japanese plans hatched in the 1980s to transform plutonium—arguably the world’s most toxic and dangerous substance, with a half-life of 24,100 years—into the pole star of Japan’s nuclear energy production apparatus. Such a plutonium economy would use fast-breeder reactors to generate energy from the most hazardous nuclear wastes at a time when most nuclear nations were abandoning the technology as unpromising and/or too dangerous. Significantly, this fixation on plutonium developed out of Japan’s long self-perception as a resource-poor nation, a key driver of imperial Japan’s colonialist ambitions through World War II.

Japan’s idée fixe over a perceived scarcity of natural resources has had a profound influence on the nation’s development. The idea of Japan as a ‘small island nation, poor in resources’, or shigen shōkoku nippon, emerged as a powerful discourse from the early twentieth century through the Second World War.9 Japan’s 1960s nuclear policy developed directly out of muscular hydropower initiatives that spanned the trans-war period, where abundant energy resources were seen as critical to ensuring Japan would secure membership in the top rank of great nations.10 Japanese elites seized on nuclear energy as a strategic means to achieve energy independence—paradoxically, of course, while being the only nation to have suffered wartime fallout from nuclear weapons after the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As Japan developed through the 1980s into one of the world’s most pro-nuclear states,11 a powerful domestic nuclear lobby began to promote plutonium as a kind of thermodynamic elixir capable of bestowing the archipelago’s energy needs almost indefinitely. Lest this seem like casual hyperbole, consider an exhibit at the Aquatom museum complex, located near Japan’s showcase fast-breeder reactor, called Monju: ‘Japan is a poor country in natural resources … therefore Monju, a plutonium burning reactor, is necessary because plutonium can be used for thousands of years’.12

Central to this campaign was the concept of circularity. Take the logistics that underpin nuclear fuel reprocessing, which involves both elements that typify ‘recycling’ as well as hazardous externalities which belie its exalted, circularist trappings. Only by ‘closing’ the fuel cycle13 could Japan’s spent fuel residues be transformed into (and re-consecrated as) new nuclear fuel stocks. In this heady policy climate before the radiation crisis of 2011, recycling came to take on a peculiarly talismanic quality when intoned by elite institutions invested with authority and lavish funding, such as the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE). Even the mere invocation of a closed fuel cycle could conveniently rebrand spent fuel rods and other parlous nuclear residues as ‘resources’. Since these radioactive materials were therefore to be reused, and were represented by nuclear boosters as a dizzying thermodynamic bounty, the nuclear industry has largely been able to sidestep the thorny question of, for example, containing such nuclear waste in secure underground repositories—generally considered best practice, if expensive and difficult, by most major nations, with only Finland and the US testing appropriate facilities thus far.14 These so-called ‘final repositories’ for nuclear waste were, at any rate, deemed virtually impossible to establish on the archipelago. Since the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no Japanese prefecture has wanted to host such a permanent nuclear waste repository,15 partly due to the enduring, though largely dormant, stigma of radiation among Japanese after 1945. Moreover, Japan is so seismic that it would be impossible to find a subterranean location capable of remaining stable for up to 100,000 years (a verdict confirmed by an expert panel of the Science Council of Japan, convened after the Fukushima Daiichi crisis unfolded, in 2012)—and therefore the task of convincing a potential host community to accept a final repository was deemed unworkable.16

For nuclear proponents, by contrast, there is practically no such thing as ‘nuclear waste’ due to the pivotal significance of circularity to the whole rationale of nuclear energy in Japan. Radioactive material is instead viewed as resources—valuable ascribed commodities in a sprawling reprocessing apparatus. This strategic posture has furnished Japan’s nuclear sector with considerable latitude to sidestep the very notion of perilous nuclear residues, long one of the costliest and most unpopular facets of nuclear energy globally. Meanwhile, Japan possesses about 17,000 tonnes of spent fuel rods, most of which are stored on site at nuclear power stations in jam-packed pools, above ground, in a highly earthquake-prone nation.17 These pools resemble drab onsen, radioactive versions of the idyllic hot springs for which Japan is famous, though these pools are heated up not by salutary geothermal currents redolent of therapeutic minerals but by the acute radioactivity of the spent fuel rods themselves, recalling the steaming, overheated wreckage of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in the aftermath of the 2011 meltdowns.

The term ‘recycling’ imparts a sense of effortless, perhaps even endless, movement, dynamism, and highly rationalized process, particularly in the context of bold circularist discourse. But the overwhelming reality of Japan’s nuclear regime is that of relative stasis. These pools regularly hold several times as many fuel rods as any reactor, leaving them exposed, beyond standard containment, and therefore vulnerable. Once deposited, they generally lie for years, steeping in makeshift wet storage in the absence of a repository or a properly functioning fuel cycle. (And, after all, only nine of Japan’s commercial reactors are currently in operation anyway, and only a fraction are capable of burning the reprocessed fuel described above.)18 These components of chimerical recycling are sustained by a well-funded and integrated programme of spin—an ironic but appropriate circular metaphor here—along with a multitude of political capital wielded by well-placed institutional powerbrokers. Yet it remains striking how, in a nation celebrated for high-tech innovation and exacting quality control, this recycling apparatus has fallen far short of the circularist grandiloquence propagated by the sector. Most major nuclear nations have faced problems in trying to recycle, or ‘reprocess’, nuclear material—an inherently dangerous and messy set of procedures that in the process creates about 12 times more low-level and medium-level nuclear waste, by volume, than the original volume of nuclear waste that was sent for reprocessing—but Japan’s chequered history with managing nuclear externalities is notable, as explained in these pages, particularly when contrasted with Japan’s longstanding reputation for meticulous quality control and technological excellence.

Japan’s decades-long quest for a closed fuel cycle has not only been exorbitant but plagued by grave safety lapses and technical failures. Here, a few evocative examples of nuclear mismanagement suffice to convey the circularist disarray in Japan’s ‘nuclear village’. The centrepiece of the nation’s audacious plans for energy independence was the aforementioned fast-breeder reactor called Monju, located in Tsuruga on the Japan Sea. Named after the bodhisattva representing transcendent wisdom, the facility operated in a rather more mundane fashion. Completed in 1994, the plant fell offline in 1995 after a serious leak of sodium coolant ignited a major fire, causing extensive damage. A semi-governmental agency’s subsequent bungled coverup brought infamy upon the plant, its operators and regulators, and the nuclear industry generally. Monju was intended to burn, and in turn ‘breed’, plutonium from the spent fuel produced by Japan’s nuclear power stations, but repeated attempts to bring Monju back online within Japan’s aspirational nuclear fuel cycle failed. Having cost about $12.5 billion, the facility was finally slated for decommissioning in 2017 after having produced only a tiny amount of energy. Its decommissioning and dismantling are estimated to cost approximately $3.3 billion more and take until the year 2047.19

Another key component of the nuclear fuel cycle was to be Rokkasho, a sprawling reprocessing facility on a remote peninsula of Aomori Prefecture—the northernmost extremity of Japan’s main island. The Rokkasho plant, embarked upon in 1993, has never been fully operational. Nevertheless, after over $12 billion invested and a quarter century in limbo, Rokkasho has repeatedly been depicted as on the verge of activity. The plant therefore appears to serve as an expensive and unacknowledged semantic deposit on the nation’s whole programme of nuclear fuel recycling. Particularly with Monju slated for decommissioning, over the strident objections of Japan’s nuclear boosters, Rokkasho remains the most compelling symbol of Japan’s aspirations for a closed nuclear fuel cycle. Or in other words, without Rokkasho forever on the reprocessing horizon, the 17,000 tonnes of spent fuel rods languishing in cooling ponds next to Japan’s dozens of mostly idled nuclear reactors would be in danger of unfavourable re-interpretation: not as ‘resources’ to power the nation but as highly toxic and radioactive nuclear waste, a ponderous burden on the nation’s balance sheet and a damper on its circularist aspirations. Significantly, the central government’s agreement with Aomori Prefecture stipulates that no nuclear residues will continue to be stored at the facility if the nation’s reprocessing effort falters.20 This provides additional incentive to keep up appearances, even as Japan’s fuel recycling effort lies in ruins—both figuratively and in some cases literally. (For example, the decades that Rokkasho’s facilities have lain idle have taken their toll, with the vast conversion infrastructure corroding and deteriorating in numerous places due to poor maintenance inspections and general disuse.)21

Copious recycling rhetoric notwithstanding, then, a great deal of nuclear waste in Japan has simply been converted into other forms of waste. Much is left to languish at different material stages due to what might be called insufficient circularity. Without the domestic capacity to achieve its objectives, the nuclear sector has been forced to scrounge elements of this cyclical potential with the help of European allies—a makeshift, stopgap measure that will no longer be workable in any long-term sense.22 For example, of Japan’s stockpile of more than 47 tonnes of weapons-usable plutonium (enough for more than 6,000 warheads), all but 10.5 tonnes are located at reprocessing sites in the UK and France (with about 21.2 tonnes at Sellafield and about 15.5 tonnes at La Hague, respectively).23 Some of the MOX fuel rods, comprised of mixed-oxide uranium and plutonium reprocessed overseas from Japan’s spent fuel, have been burned in a handful of specially calibrated reactors in Japan, but for the most part, the overwhelming bulk of Japan’s nuclear residues remains curiously unproductive—particularly so now that most of Japan’s reactors remain offline in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns. Only through the peculiar rhetorical alchemy of recycling explained above do the piles of spent fuel rods soaking for years in pools within nuclear power station compounds take on the guise of ‘resources’. With the Rokkasho reprocessing facility forever on the verge of becoming operational, Japan’s many tonnes of spent nuclear material are thereby spared the designation of nuclear waste, a classification which would usher in a host of thorny consequences. For instance, Japan possesses far more weapons-usable plutonium than any self-respecting pacifist, no-nukes nation would normally ever dream of having.24 Imperious postwar security guarantor the United States has already signalled its displeasure with Japan’s wildly disproportionate plutonium stocks, manifest most recently via a six-month termination clause in a key bilateral civil nuclear treaty governing Japanese plutonium.25 If the nuclear lobby fails to demonstrate a more plausible justification for this vast stockpile of plutonium, Japan may encounter diplomatic and geopolitical obstacles down the road. This is particularly challenging because Japan has benefitted from a certain strategic ambiguity with regard to nuclear weapons over the years. While remaining officially pacifist and anti-nukes post-1945, Japan has nevertheless for several decades possessed more than enough technological and engineering know-how to produce nuclear weapons. It boasts a well-regarded space agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), that launches missile-like rockets into space. The military and geopolitical ramifications of Japan’s enormous plutonium stockpile have therefore certainly not been lost on prickly East Asian rivals like China and North Korea, who have long been sceptical of Japan’s reprocessing rationale, particularly with regard to plutonium.26

Chimerical recycling has bolstered Japan’s nuclear fuel-cycle strategy for a number of years, but it was only with the advent of the Fukushima Daiichi radiation crisis that more novel forms of nuclear waste materialized on the archipelago, exposing serious inadequacies in the nuclear apparatus and necessitating official response. These include the estimated 100 tonnes of radioactive water that leak into the Pacific Ocean every day from the bowels of the ruined nuclear power station, as well as the nearly 1000 giant, serried tanks of Tritium-laced water slowly filling the 350-hectare Fukushima Daiichi compound as effluent from the facility’s own filtration system—now exceeding a million tonnes in total. (Referring to the highly toxic liquid residues these tanks hold, even the environment minister himself recently stated that ‘The only option will be to drain it into the sea to dilute it’ to alleviate the ever-increasing burden of radioactive water storage there.)27 Leaving aside the wreckage of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station—itself a twisted and heterogeneous mass of nuclear waste requiring at least several more decades of highly specialised work to dismantle and segregate—the trope of recycling has been invoked to mobilize, and justify, the colossal effort to sequester and make efficient many millions of cubic metres of radioactive dirt and other debris brought on by the 3.11 disaster. Ambivalent Fukushima Prefecture has, thus, become a pivotal testing ground for the principles of circularity that have guided Japan’s nuclear sector for decades, offering a useful opportunity to interrogate the core precepts of nuclear recycling in evidence there.

 

4Decontamination work, Nihonmatsu, Fukushima. Image credit: Peter Wynn Kirby.

 

5Decontamination work, Nihonmatsu, Fukushima. Image credit: Peter Wynn Kirby.

 

6Clean’ dirt ready to spread on agricultural field cleared of radioactive soil, Tomioka, Fukushima. Image credit: Peter Wynn Kirby.

 

7Woman with dosimeter taking a break from decontamination work, Nihonmatsu, Fukushima. Image credit: Peter Wynn Kirby.

 

 

Shifting geographies of transcontamination

A crew of seven men and one woman, clad head-to-toe in helmets, face masks, protective clothing, gloves, and rubber boots wielded rakes and shovels to scrape radioactive dirt and vegetal matter from a wooded area around a local shrine in Nihonmatsu, not far from the Exclusion Zone, in autumn 2015. The crew laboured to remove enough radioactive debris to bring radiation levels back down toward levels deemed safe by the Japanese government. This involved clipping off low-lying tree branches and clearing away small bushes and undergrowth. (Elsewhere, in Iitate village, I have witnessed bark removed so aggressively from tree stumps that they had been whittled down to resemble pencil-stubs gnawed by schoolchildren.) Yet in spite of the serious nature of the job and the tragic backdrop of contaminated Fukushima against which they worked, the crew were rather grumpy. Their foreman, Nakayama-san, complained about how low their pay rate was, a paltry 720 yen per square metre compared to more desirable work around residential areas, called jutaku josen, which paid better mostly because it was calculated by weight rather than by area. Having previously worked as an insurance agent, the stalwart, outspoken Tohoku native railed against the government’s standards for calculating radiation safety, which he called too lax. ‘We’re mormotto (guinea pigs)!’, he declared, or test subjects who could be studied for decades. He and his crew worked long and hard to collect huge black bags of radioactive waste for collection as part of a campaign that was called ‘decontamination’ (josen), but they were under no illusions that the area would be free of radiation in the years to come. (Below, I describe how such workers see the decontamination effort as extremely patchy or non-existent in places, belying the campaign’s very moniker.) It also remained far from clear how the problem of radiation stored in these large black bags would ever be adequately resolved.

Japan’s Ministry of Environment announced vague plans for an Interim Storage Facility (ISF) for radioactive material in 2014, to be located in Fukushima Prefecture, with more concrete plans by 2016. The proposed site would occupy already highly radioactive terrain. Encompassing 1,600 hectares in a half-doughnut shape, the facility would literally nestle around the compound of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, perched on Fukushima’s Pacific coast at the heart of the Exclusion Zone. Though proximity to Fukushima Daiichi suggests to a reasonable layperson that the facility would hold high-level nuclear waste such as the slumped uranium fuel located below the power station’s wrecked reactors, in fact the ISF planned to store, for a time, the millions of cubic metres of radioactive soil and other biomass collected from the irradiated territory of Fukushima Prefecture since 2011.

It is central to the political culture of the reconstruction effort that Fukushima’s various storage sites for radioactive material clearly advertise their transitory nature. For seven years, about 16 million huge black bags (furekon), each about the size of a hot tub and weighing approximately a tonne when filled,28 have sat in piles scattered around the Exclusion Zone. These furekon bags are filled with radioactive topsoil scraped from the surface of most of the prefecture’s hardest-hit areas, by crews like that of Nakayama-san, and at first lie in odd, desultory heaps of perhaps two to six bags before being transported by truck to what are known as kari-kari-okiba (third-tier storage, literally ‘provisional-provisional’ depots). After a time, sometimes a year or more, workers will move these bags to further, though still provisional, second-tier storage depots (kari-okiba) located throughout the region. All these sites, clearly blazoned as temporary, keep the bags in motion just enough to sell a rationalized system, but in fact the bags still have nowhere to go. An elaborately designed Interim Storage Facility, its name similarly advertising its impermanence, exists mostly on paper in the form of a series of diagrams and renderings, as Ministry of Environment officials await cooperation of the aforementioned, tetchy absentee landowners who, since 2011, find themselves holding title to parcels of some of the most abominated land on the planet. Significantly, the ISF plan was only signed off on by the prefectural governor on the proviso that all radioactive material stored there must leave Fukushima after 30 years, at which time prefectural and central government authorities hope eventually to begin converting the land to a park. However, such a restored future green space remains far from guaranteed, as does much of the facility itself. By the end of winter 2018, only 52.8 percent of the private landowners had agreed to lease their land to the government,29 meaning that implementation of the plan is largely beyond the power of the state to guarantee. In the meantime, the overwhelming quantity of bags of irradiated material mostly move around the chimerical circle of provisional destinations, somewhat like an intermittent game of pass the parcel. While, for a time, the state could put bags of radioactive dirt almost anywhere during the decontamination process, these bags slowly aggregate in successive particular sites. These sites are generally leased from landowners and therefore generate revenue. 

All this material flux involves long concatenations of logistical steps. Moving millions of furekon bags requires trucks, and the standard Japanese truck can only hold a maximum of six of these bags. Therefore, to transport all the bags from the scattered sites where they were initially collected (gemba hokan) to the subsequent sites of formal storage—and eventually to the ISF—involves over two million truck journeys, a staggering figure.30 Moreover, according to the manufacturer, the bags are meant to last just three years and some bags must also be decanted regularly due to further routine damage, bringing even more stuttering progress. The scale and logistical complexity of The Clear has provided piecemeal work for members of local communities as well as for transplants, with some local companies subcontracted to do scraping, collection, transport, and so on. This is, however, small comfort after the radioactive defilement of hundreds of square kilometres of their home region, the decimation of Fukushima’s agricultural sector (even in relatively unaffected areas distant from the meltdowns), the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents, nearly 8 years of upheaval, and a highly uncertain future.

Improbably, authorities speak of ‘recycling’ all these millions of tonnes of dirt. The most likely scenario I have heard bruited by nuclear clear-up officials involves creating massive anti-tsunami berms along the coastline, with ‘recycled’ radioactive dirt comprising the core of these structures for many miles. Based on my decades of research on this topic in Japan,31 such a strategy is a long way away from what most Japanese associate with the term ‘recycling’. Under rosy scenarios of public use, such radioactive dirt would be sequestered safely within berms, but such strategies incur potential risks of contamination of surrounding land and coastal seas, particularly worrisome given the periodic seismic events that jolt contemporary Japan.

Yet sustainability discourse in Fukushima goes further. Ministry officials are executing their plan to incinerate all the vegetal matter collected across and around the Exclusion Zone, along with all the protective clothing (gloves, coveralls, masks, and so on) used in decontamination operations. Because Japanese incinerators generate electricity from their operations, environmental officials and partners dub this process ‘thermal recycling’. For deeply sceptical informants based in communities around the Exclusion Zone, such rhetoric often falls on deaf ears. Some Fukushima residents feel it is their duty to agitate against the environmental health excesses of this campaign, and I have witnessed the gamut of such protests, from activists banging drums on a street corner in Fukushima City to having a quiet word over tea with a local politician. For many others whose lives were turned upside down by the nuclear plant meltdowns and radiation crisis and subsequent evacuation, the emotional toll has been devastating. As one middle-aged woman put it, referring to the large black bags used for bulk transport in Fukushima, ‘The furekon are filled with our tears’.

Problematically for nuclear stakeholders, the lofty goals of the decontamination programme are undermined by the inconvenient properties of radionuclides, as well as by the uneven terrain of Fukushima itself. For there is no such thing as decontamination when dealing with radiation—there is only transcontamination. As Associate Professor Shinzō Kimura, a Dokkyō Medical University radiation health researcher working since 2011 in Fukushima, explained, ‘Radiation cannot be eliminated. It can only be transported from one place to another…. This is clearly transcontamination, with no easy solutions…. Fukushima’s “decontamination” is a complete misnomer—it’s a con perpetrated against the Japanese people’.

Fukushima’s elaborate decontamination programme is therefore, in essence, a matter of taking radioactive debris from one part of Fukushima and moving it to another part of Fukushima. More precisely, the radioactive material enters stuttered slow motion, moving periodically from one place to another, with no certain final destination. By 11 March 2019, the eighth anniversary of the radiation disaster, only about 15% of the total volume of radioactive soil (2.3 million cubic metres) had been transported to the as-yet only partially realized Interim Storage Facility, with a flotilla of trucks making about 1600 roundtrip journeys each day.32 According to the ISF plan itself, much of the nuclear waste would be on the move again in a few decades. Meanwhile, the supposed clean-up in Fukushima falls short, with too much radiation lingering in ‘decontaminated’ sites in question. Of course, true to form, Fukushima’s custodians like the Ministry of Environment have rationalized and transported a sizable amount of Fukushima’s radiation—but by no means all. After scraping up dirt and other matter, after cutting weeds and clipping low branches, workers spread a layer of ‘clean’ soil from elsewhere in order to be able to take out a Geiger counter and produce a ‘safe’ reading. In Fukushima, safety was a labile concept, with sizeable constituencies ambivalent about the aftermath of the 2011 radiation crisis. A number of the decontamination workers I interviewed and witnessed in action were sceptical that The Clear, across vast expanses of Fukushima, had been wholly successful. They had seen first hand the occasional patchiness of the work, the places where they or others had had to cut corners due to the vagaries of rigid schedules, weather, diktats from up the food-chain, and so on.33 The Japanese government claims that areas are now ‘safe’ due to Geiger counter readings, but activists and others accuse the government of putting their thumb on the scale, so to speak—taking many readings over time and throwing out the undesirable high radiation measures as “failed” tests, thereby keeping only the lower radiation readings. As dodgy as this may sound, I came across a similar tactic used by the Tokyo Waste Bureau during a successful community challenge against the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in a 1999 toxic pollution dispute. The independent scientist who had carried out the atmospheric measurements testified that government officials had warped the data he had carefully compiled, in similar fashion.34 While controversy smoulders over the decontamination effort, weary communities attempt to return to normalcy, unconvinced that the situation on the ground will get much better.

Kimura-sensei demonstrated the absurdity of The Clear, energetically sketching out a rudimentary farm on a white board in his Nihonmatsu laboratory. ‘The decontamination activities are a joke…. [They] scrape the dirt from the agricultural fields, but leave the fringes untouched. Cows then eat irradiated grass, becoming irradiated themselves, and shit radiation onto the “decontaminated” soil. This can then contaminate crops over time…. Both the plan and the implementation are a complete farce’. Radiation remains most acute in the margins, in the neglected areas between sites that have been deemed suitable for decontamination. For instance, in communities like Naraha where only about 15% of the pre-disaster population has returned and resettled in the past couple of years,35 putatively sanitized areas resemble islands and peninsulas surrounded by eddies of higher radiation, particularly in wooded and/or overgrown areas, which the ministry has relinquished to so-called ‘natural decay’. Natural decay entails simply waiting for the radiation to go down by itself, without intervention. Caesium-137, for example, has a half-life of over 30 years, which means that when the proposed ISF is to be shut down in the late 2040s, the Cs-137 in Fukushima’s soil will still be perhaps half as radioactive as when it first hit the ground—still exceeding international standards, as shown below.

Take the northern area of Tomioka Township, which is still designated a ‘difficult-to-return zone’—meaning that, on average, the area continues to emit more than 20 milliSieverts per year of radiation. (For reference, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission mandates a maximum exposure for American communities of 1 milliSievert per year over background radiation.)36 I and collaborator Toshihiro Higuchi conducted ethnographic fieldwork on The Clear, in Tomioka, before the evacuation order was lifted there on 1 April 2017. We explored derelict neighbourhoods and the desolation of its evacuated, overrun, intermittently bag-scattered terrain. We also witnessed the MOE’s clear-up of farms in the region, where they endeavoured to spread ‘clean’ dirt over fields and property to bring down radiation levels. Northern Tomioka is a patchwork of some areas that test relatively low on a Geiger counter and other zones that have radiation many times higher, like thickly wooded areas, hilly precincts, even just the overgrown areas near roadways. This reflects the maddening variation throughout the rest of Tomioka and the entire area around the Exclusion Zone. Forbidding teenagers to wander in the woods or scolding children for digging in the ground, and scraping away surface soil is far from decontamination—this is, instead, decontamination for show, decontamination that is literally superficial. Furthermore, Fukushima remains teeming with irradiated boar and deer who are heedless of the boundaries imposed by human nuclear functionaries, not to mention the multitudes of birds and other creatures who roam the area. Wild boar is a delicacy in Japan, but since Fukushima boar have been found with levels of Caesium-137 over 300 times Japan’s radiation limit for human consumption, boar have morphed from culinary treat into toxic vermin. Tomioka Town has killed many hundreds of boar in recent years, but overwhelmingly as a preventative measure, not for their meat. While Fukushima municipalities attempt to enlist greater numbers of hunters licensed to shoot boar to help control the infestation of these determined radioactive interlopers,37 for example, it is clear that this is selective decontamination by state fiat, finding little purchase on the disaster zone’s intricate non-human ecology.

Granted, one wouldn’t expect Fukushima Prefecture to advertise its radiation travails to tourist visitors and prospective investors. Nevertheless, it is ominous that government proclamations regarding revitalization of the area in and around the Exclusion Zone intone about jobs but seem geared toward a future with relatively few humans. The Fukushima Prefectural Government now promotes a plan, dubbed The Innovation Coast, that would transform the unwelcoming region into a thriving zone of high-tech innovation. Much of the development along the purportedly revitalized Innovation Coast would be directed towards a ‘robot-related industrial cluster’ and experimental zones like the Fukushima Robot Test Field.38 Both in the Robot Test Field and in other planned facilities, engineered runways and surrounding radiation-hit areas would serve as prime territory for testing aerial drones for a range of purposes in various weather conditions—which would be difficult or impossible to achieve elsewhere in relatively densely populated Japan. The planned site for the test field would link with a secluded test area about 13 kilometres due south along the coastline, located closer to Fukushima Daiichi, to coordinate test flights over the unremediated Exclusion Zone’s more or less posthuman terrain.39 Naturally, unlike Fukushima’s human residents, robots and the sometimes highly automated facilities that produce their components would be oblivious to the elevated—but to robots not debilitating—radiation levels found outside the Fukushima Daiichi facility itself. In addition, prefectural officials have suggested that the Exclusion Zone environs could play host to a range of other services that don’t require much human intervention, such as long-term archive facilities.40 

Proud long-time residents of Fukushima, for their part, see all this proposed development as a continued ‘colonization’ of their home prefecture by Tokyo41—namely, a well-worn pattern of outsiders using the zone for their own purposes, as were the original nuclear proponents who built the ill-fated Fukushima Daiichi plant in the first place. Moto, a man born and raised in Fukushima City and educated in an elite Ivy-League graduate programme, lambasted the process. ‘This has been going on for many decades. Again, we have outsiders coming into Fukushima, dictating how to use our land, how to exploit our resources. They need to take account of the wishes of the people of Fukushima, how we want Fukushima to be’.42 Moto and his family, along with neighbours, discovered in 2017 that the Fukushima City Council—facing massive radioactive waste volumes—had arbitrarily decided to use an open green area in the middle of their community as a temporary storage facility for radioactive dirt, without undergoing the usual elaborate consultation process.43 A university history professor commuting to Sendai, Moto humbly proclaims himself an ‘academic from the sticks’ (inaka) with no activist experience. Nevertheless, he proved himself an unusually capable political infighter. He quickly mobilized his extensive local contacts in Fukushima politics to shoot the proposal down within a handful of days, ensuring that the city would think twice before attempting to exploit the site again. Yet the project was subsequently moved not far away to another, less well-off neighbourhood, prompting his wife to say, ‘Yes, we are glad that the project will no longer go forward less than a hundred metres from our home, but the people who live [in the other community] are less enfranchised, less able to protest. I feel terrible…. This shouldn’t be happening. They shouldn’t be doing this to local communities in this way’. Many locals—even those who have benefited from the upsurge in clear-up work after 2011—have grown to criticize the whole project of decontamination. One notable turn of phrase, josen yori osen (‘[it’s] more pollution than decontamination’), caustically juxtaposes ‘decontamination’ (josen) with its near homophone ‘pollution’ (osen), engaging in a form of wordplay common in Japanese.

Naturally, sustainability and recycling figure in the prefecture’s Innovation Coast plan. Promotional materials invoke the circular economy of recycling Lithium-ion batteries from electrical vehicles into other energy-storage products at a newly completed facility in Fukushima; another Fukushima plant promises to produce all the hydrogen needed for fuel cells with renewable energy, and Fukushima Prefecture itself aims to derive 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2040.44 Fukushima stakeholders trumpet the putative synergies created by concentrating these industries in the region; furthermore, all design studios, factories, and staging grounds would be governed by the same strict laws on processing and converting electronic and other wastes as the rest of Japan. But despite the evocations of circularity along the planned Innovation Coast, the scheme flirts with unreality as it brushes aside radioactive threats in Fukushima. The recovering, tsunami-hit region remains at risk. The millions of tonnes of radioactive soil, the large expanses of defiled territory relegated to ‘natural decay’—these, understandably perhaps, remain downplayed in favour of the opportunities presented by a sprawling, relatively depopulated area of Japan available for experimentation with perilous drone technologies and automated systems, as well as abundant cheap land and tax incentives for newly built manufacturing sites. Zooming out from such glossy public-relations portrayals—made with an eye toward the coming 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games—demonstrates the limits of the government’s attempts at rationalization. Where nuclear waste languishes in various stages of inertia/abandonment, the circularist nuclear establishment projects a utopian system, with materials forever floating along tight, efficient loops of eco-conversion to feed a self-correcting market. All the while, the very radiation that necessitates the clear-up helps pull off the PR campaign; due to elevated radiation, the most dangerous areas outside Fukushima Daiichi remain depopulated and therefore little scrutinized. Even the radiation in marginal areas that are legally accessible tends to discourage interlopers.

To be sure, all the dreadful externalities of the triple-meltdowns in Fukushima presented here notwithstanding, there are pollutant drawbacks to other forms of energy production. Toxic air pollution and hazardous tailings associated with exploiting coal energy cause hundreds of thousands of premature deaths around the world annually45 and depredate landscapes. The same goes for other fossil fuel exploitation, such as oil and natural gas/fracking, which due to their vast scale and favourable margin have the potential to warp entire planetary regions.46 ‘Clean energy’ doesn’t get a pass, either. Production of solar panels and wind farms requires energy and material resources. Eventually, this eco-infrastructure will result in e-waste that will need to be handled responsibly. Ditto for electric cars, which, to a degree, will only be as eco as the forms of energy that charge their batteries. Yet the economies of scale triggered by nuclear calamity reach a different order of magnitude, as Fukushima demonstrates. Communities in and around the Exclusion Zone will struggle with radiation for generations, particularly near acutely irradiated areas left to ‘natural decay’. Many of the evacuated communities in Fukushima have been unsuccessful in attracting more than a small fraction of their former populations back for resettlement—usually about 15%—and the whole prefecture must grapple with the stigma of radiation that affects who buys Fukushima produce, who comes as a tourist, who decides to move to the area, and who marries their offspring. Not to mention that Japan has failed to convince its citizenry that obdurate Nuclear, Inc., has truly learned from the triple-disasters about the swift, durable ruin of large-scale radiation events from crippled nuclear facilities and the cost of shoddy management and careless quality control. Though the nuclear lobby seems largely unfazed in its push for return to the status quo ante energy strategy, the Fukushima Daiichi debacle has done rough violence to the illusion of circularity and control that the nuclear industry has propagated over decades.

Given the broad significance of circularity to Japan’s nuclear sector, it is even more striking how recent efforts to ‘recycle’ nuclear waste in public works projects and in agriculture give the lie to the eight-year circularist campaign in Fukushima. In June 2018, the MOE diverged sharply from long-articulated plans to recycle radioactive soil collected in Fukushima. In a recently published outline,47 the ministry instead set out to offload radioactive dirt in road-building and agriculture in various sites throughout Fukushima—prompting vociferous protests from community groups. For instance, along a 200-metre stretch of road in the town of Nihonmatsu, the ministry proposed to place 500 cubic metres of radioactive dirt underneath the roadway. The ministry explains that the dirt, having levels of approximately 1000 becquerels per kilogram, would be covered with ‘clean’ dirt to block the radiation—small comfort to local farmers keen to advertise their produce as free of radiation, not to mention concerned homeowners and casual passersby. (For comparison, the Japanese government maintains a radioactivity safety limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram for foodstuffs for human consumption—though no one intends to directly eat the dirt, the disparity between the levels is resonant in an agricultural area that longs to become a major food producer again.)48 Furthermore, officials intend to use radioactive dirt to grow crops within Fukushima Prefecture. According to the MOE, this ‘recycled’ soil would not, however, yield produce intended for human consumption, representing an (unsuccessful) attempt to alleviate the sharp concerns of yet more local farmers and residents.49 Under Japanese law, soil of up to 8000 becquerels per kilogram can be used for a variety of purposes, a regulatory flexibility that government stakeholders are attempting to turn, gradually, to their advantage. By contrast, the International Atomic Energy Agency maintains a standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram for material containing Caesium-137.50 Opposition to the plan from communities in Fukushima demonstrates the chasm between rosy projections generated by officialdom and what exasperated residents will tolerate. In a society broadly shaped by recycling regimes, it seems that, after 3.11, there are limits to what forms of circularity residents are willing to accept—particularly when the ‘circularity’ of Fukushima’s nuclear waste dead-ends in one’s residential neighbourhood.

 

Conclusions

The colossal scale of the clear-up in Fukushima bears perhaps inevitable comparison with other monumental human endeavours, epitomized by the much-bandied construction of the Egyptian pyramids. The mastaba-shaped waste mesas of Fukushima, comprised of serried stacks of hundreds of thousands of black furekon bags that loom over desolate areas in and around the Exclusion Zone, may not seem as visually impressive as, say, the Great Pyramid of Giza (weighing about 6 million tonnes and having a volume of approximately 2.5 million cubic metres). Yet the eight-year project of gathering up more than 16 million cubic metres of radioactive dirt, transporting it over considerable distances, and eventually constructing enormous ziggurats of furekon bags swaddled with enough tarpaulin to cover all the football pitches in the Premier League many times over does exude a somewhat Pharaonic character. Nevertheless, what is striking about The Clear in Fukushima is that this whole campaign is designed to achieve precisely the opposite result. Instead of constructing a series of monuments out of the most durable materials available, such as granite, to create a lasting memorial—as did the pharaohs—Japanese government authorities instead composed a succession of gigantic (but slowly shifting) depositories that advertise their transitory nature. The vicissitudes of weather and circumstance continue to take their toll, but the most committed destructive force that these structures will face is their very builders. Officials have guaranteed that these radioactive plateaux will be removed from Fukushima Prefecture in less than three decades. As regards the radiation therein, the government has gone to great lengths to disguise, play down, or otherwise diminish the quantity contained in these piles. Whether to line the undersides of roadways, fill mammoth berms along Fukushima’s coastline, or use in reclaimed land or other construction, nuclear officials are determined to find ways to reduce the gargantuan scale of this volume of radioactive dirt until there is virtually no remaining trace—contradicting the profuse recycling rhetoric generated in Fukushima since March 2011. What this decontamination campaign does comprise, however, is a monumental glorification of Japanese models of circularity.

Circularist discourse on recycling tends to express the conversion of residues—either explicitly or implicitly—as a seamless process, free of emissions or other externalities. Moreover, diagrams and other renderings make recycling appear not only effortless but as forever ongoing. Such exhortations of circularity become, therefore, less descriptions of a process than expressions of a worldview, one that through its banality subtly creeps into general consciousness. With both a powerful pro-nuclear lobby and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games looming on the horizon, Japanese authorities will have every incentive to make this radioactive dirt disappear in a range of inventive ways that have nothing to do with recycling. Nevertheless, a veil of circularity will help colour, and obscure, the familiar process of converting nuclear wastes into yet other forms of nuclear waste. This time-honoured exercise in nuclear PR will likely perdure alongside the current revolution in solar power, offshore windfarms, and other sustainable energy sources, many of whose rates already undercut new-build nuclear. The well-funded nuclear campaign to promote circularity in Japan will then increasingly seem like another problematic residue of the Nuclear Age, one that will endure far longer than it really should.

As demonstrated in these pages, the clear-up of the Fukushima disaster zone has itself been a disaster, partly facilitated by distorted circularist propaganda. Yet recycling rhetoric pervades the nuclear industry internationally. We live in what could be described as ‘the environmental century’, with sharp concern over climate change, planetary depredation, profligate lifestyles, and access to resources. Around the world, governments, corporations, academics, activists, and concerned citizens are attempting to decide which forms of energy show the most promise in turning our situation around. By lifting the tarpaulin on Japan’s handling of nuclear residues in Fukushima, we can begin to uncover the manifold ways in which recycling discourse is used to warp the case for nuclear in a range of nations.

 

Notes

1

T. Christoudias et al., ‘Modelling the Global Atmospheric Transport and Deposition of Radionuclides from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Accident’, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 13, 2013, pp. 1425-1438; Majia Nadesan et al, eds., Fukushima : Dispossession or Denuclearization?, [no publication city], 2014, p.103.

2

Environmental Remediation in Affected Areas’. Tokyo: Ministry of the Environment, 2019, p. 7.

3

This article received generous support via a Leverhulme Trust Project Grant (RPG-2014-224). I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the kind help and sharp insight of Dr. Toshihiro Higuchi of Georgetown University, who collaborated on some ethnographic fieldwork on which this article draws.

4

McKean, Margaret, Environmental protest and citizen politics in Japan, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981; Huddle, N., and M. Reich, Island of dreams: Environmental crisis in Japan, Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Books, 1987; Dauvergne, Peter, Shadows in the forest: Japan and the politics of timber in Southeast Asia, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997; Broadbent, Jeffrey, Environmental politics in Japan: Networks of power and protest, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998; Kerr, Alex, Dogs and demons: Tales from the dark side of Japan, New York: Hill & Wang, 2001; Avenell, Simon, Transnational Japan in the global environmental movement, Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2017.

5

Shunichi Honda et al, Regional E-Waste Monitor: East and Southeast Asia, Tokyo 2016, pp. 84-89.

6

H. Kalimo et al, ‘Greening the Economy through Design Incentives’, European Energy and Environmental Law Review 21/6, 2012, p. 296.

7

For example, many Japanese manufacturers eschew recycled metal or plastic as substandard; instead, much recycled material tends to be sold overseas. See Kirby, P. W., A. Lora-Wainwright, and Y. Schulz, Leftover Lucre [manuscript in preparation].

8

A comparison of Tokyo, Japan’s largest city, with that of much-smaller Kitakyushu shows a consistent attention to recycling and sustainability in both locations (and in many other Japanese communities). Creating a Sustainable City: Tokyo’s Environmental Policy. Tokyo, 2018 See here (accessed September 2019); here (accessed September 2019); and here (accessed September 2019).

9

Eric Dinmore, ‘A Small Island Nation Poor in Resources: Natural and Human Resource Anxieties in Trans-World War II Japan’. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 2006.

10

Amano Reiko (2001). Damu to Nihon [Dams and Japan. Published in Japanese.] Tokyo: Iwanami Shinsho.; Dinmore, 2006, op. cit.

11

Martin Dusinberre, Hard Times in the Hometown, Honolulu 2012.

12

Gavan McCormack, ‘Japan as a Plutonium Superpower’, Japan Focus 5/12, 2007.

13

A nuclear fuel cycle describes a process whereby nuclear fuel rods are fabricated and then, after use, reprocessed so that some nuclear material that might otherwise have become high-level nuclear waste could instead be reused in reactors.

14

The Finnish final repository, dubbed Onkalo or ‘hiding place’ (still under construction until 2023), will be able to hold all of Finland’s high-level nuclear waste in a network of granite cavities 520 metres underground. By contrast, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) outside Carlsbad, New Mexico, holds only a portion of the USA’s transuranic waste from its weapons programs. These pilot repositories, 660 metres underground, are carved out of a gigantic subterranean salt bed and could be expanded relatively quickly—as salt-rock is far more easily excavated than granite (see here).

15

Japan’s Nuclear Waste Problem’, Japan Times, 21 January 2014; also confirmed by several Japanese environmental officials in interview between 2017-18.

16

Kō-reberu hōshasei-haikibutsu no shobun ni tsuite. [Regarding disposal of high-level radioactive waste.] Science Council of Japan, September 2012; Japan’s nuclear waste problem (Editorial). Japan Times 21 January 2014.

17

Yukari Sekiguchi, ‘Mitigating the Risks of Spent Nuclear Fuel in Japan’, CSIS Policy Perspectives, Washington, D.C. 30 March 2017, pp. 1-2, 4; ‘Japan’s 17,000 Tons of Nuclear Waste in Search of a Home’, Bloomberg 10 July 2015.

18

Nuclear Power in Japan’. World Nuclear Association. (accessed September 2019).

19

Fuel removal work starts at Japan’s Monju reactor. World Nuclear News, 2018, August 30. (accessed September 2019)

20

Confirmed in interviews with MOE officials in 2017-18.

21

Japanese nuclear fuel reprocessing plant delayed yet again: Age-related decay plagues Rokkasho project, stalled for 20 years’, Nikkei Asian Review, 23 December 2017.

22

The UK is no longer an option for reprocessing. The conversion operation at Sellafield, which grapples with dire cost overruns and its own very serious nuclear waste cleanup, has been closing out its contracts and slowly shipping reprocessed waste back to Japan. Areva, which does reprocessing in France at La Hague, has been in severe financial straits and is not nearly reliable enough a partner on which to base Japan’s future nuclear waste policy.

23

Status Report of Plutonium Management in Japan – 2017, Japan Atomic Energy Commission, Tokyo 2018.

24

Gavan McCormack, ‘Hubris Punished: Japan as a Nuclear State’, Synthesis/Regeneration 56, 2011.

25

Agreement for Cooperation between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Japan Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy’ [civil nuclear treaty which came into force in 1988]; ‘Japan Plutonium Stockpile Fuels US Unease’, Financial Times, 25 June 2018.

26

Gavan McCormack, ‘Japan as a Plutonium Superpower’, Japan Focus 5/12, 2007.

27

Fukushima: Japan will have to dump radioactive water into Pacific, minister says’, The Guardian, 10 September 2019.

28

Each bag is designed to hold a volume of one cubic metre.

29

Environmental Remediation in Japan’, Japanese Ministry of the Environment, Tokyo 2018, p. 22.

30

Calculated and confirmed in interview (May 2018) with a Ministry of Environment official in charge of the Fukushima decontamination programme.

31

Kirby, Peter Wynn. Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011.

32

Fukushima grapples with toxic soil that no one wants’, The Guardian, 11 March 2019.

33

This is corroborated, for example, by Justin McCurry, who quotes a clear-up worker describing places where his crew was told just to sweep up the leaves on the ground to make a deadline, leaving contaminated soil behind.

34

See Peter Wynn Kirby, Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan, Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011.

35

Learning from the Lessons of 3/11, Seven Years On’, Japan Times, 9 March 2018.

36

Backgrounder on Biological Effects of Radiation’, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission factsheet, 2017. (accessed September 2019)

37

Wild boars offer challenge for homecomers in radiation-hit Fukushima’. Reuters, 9 March 2017.

38

METI and the Fukushima Prefectural Government Conclude an Agreement on the Development and Operation of Robot Testing Fields and the International Industry-Academia-Government Collaboration Facilities for Robots under the Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework’ news release, Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, 26 January 2016.

39

See here, page 7 image.

40

This was aired last year in interview with officials from the Fukushima Prefectural Government.

41

Norio Akasaka, Tōhokugaku: Wasurerareta Tōhoku [Tōhoku Studies: Forgotten Tōhoku], Tokyo, 2009.

42

See also Kainuma, Hiroshi, Fukushima-ron: Genshiryoku mura wa naze umareta no ka [Debates over Fukushima: How and Why was “The Nuclear Village” Spawned in Japan?], Tokyo: Seidosha, 2011.

43

Disposal of contaminated soil – is this only Fukushima’s problem?’ [Osendo no shobun, Fukushima dake no mondai ka?] Asahi Shimbun, 7 June 2017, p. 14.

44

Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework’, Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry PR materials, Tokyo 2018.

45

Air pollution, climate and health: the calculation is simple. World Health Organization (accessed September 2019)

46

E.g., Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

47

Basic thinking on the safe use of dirt reclaimed [from Fukushima]’, Japanese Ministry of the Environment, Tokyo 2018.

48

Nokuaki Kunii et al., ‘The Knowledge and Awareness for Radiocesium Food Monitoring after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(10):2289, 2018.

49

A pilot project in Iitate would plant flowers and energy crops in fields with a radioactive soil substrate. ‘Environmental Remediation in Affected Areas’. Tokyo: Ministry of the Environment, 2019, p. 22.

50

IAEA Safety Standards for Protecting People and the Environment: Radiation Protection and Safety of Radiation Sources: International Basic Safety Standards. Geneva: IAEA, 2014, p. 126.

Source:

https://apjjf.org/2019/19/Kirby.html

 

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Foreign Trainees for Fukushima Clean-Up

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Japanese firms used foreign trainees for Fukushima clean-up

13 July, 2018
Vietnamese in Japan for professional training were among those picking up soil as part of decontamination work at the crippled nuclear power plant
Four Japanese companies made foreign trainees who were in the country to learn professional skills take part in decontamination work after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the government said on Friday.
The discovery is likely to revive criticism of the Technical Intern Training Programme, which has been accused of placing workers in substandard conditions and jobs that provide few opportunities for learning.
The misconduct was uncovered in a probe by the Justice Ministry conducted after three Vietnamese trainees were found in March to have taken part in clean-up work in Fukushima.
The Vietnamese were supposed to do work using construction machines according to plans submitted by the company.
“But they joined simple clean-up work such as removing soil without machines,” an official said.
A powerful earthquake in March 2011 spawned a huge tsunami that led to meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing the world’s worst such accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
One of the four companies has been slapped with a five-year ban on accepting new foreign trainees as it was found to have paid only 2,000 yen (US$18) per day to the trainees out of the 6,600 yen provided by the state as a special allowance for decontamination work.
The ministry is still investigating how many trainees in the other three firms were involved.
The four companies cited in the interim report no longer send foreign trainees to help with the radiation clean-up. It did not name the four firms.
The ministry has finished its investigation into 182 construction companies that hire foreign trainees, and will look into another 820 firms by the end of September.
Japan has been accepting foreign trainees under the government programme since 1993 and there were just over 250,000 in the country in late 2017.
But critics say the trainees often face poor working conditions including excessive hours and harassment.
The number of foreign trainees who ran away from their employers jumped from 2,005 in 2012 to 7,089 in 2017, according to the ministry’s survey. Many cited low pay as the main reason for running away.
The investigation comes as Japan’s government moves to bring more foreign workers into the country to tackle a labour shortage caused by the country’s ageing, shrinking population.
The government in June said it wanted to create a new visa status to bring in foreign workers, with priority given to those looking for jobs in sectors such as agriculture that have been hardest hit by the labour shortage.
The workers would be able to stay for up to five years, but would not be allowed to bring their family members.
The government put the number of foreign workers in Japan in 2017 at 1.28 million people.
But more than 450,000 of those are foreign spouses of Japanese citizens, ethnic Koreans long settled in Japan, or foreigners of Japanese descent, rather than workers coming to Japan simply for jobs. Another nearly 300,000 are students.
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Japan firms used Vietnamese, foreign trainees at Fukushima cleanup

 July 14, 2018
Four Japanese companies have been found to made foreign trainees take part in decontamination work after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The discovery is likely to revive criticism of the foreign trainee program, which has been accused of placing workers in substandard conditions and jobs that provide few opportunities for learning, the government said Friday.
The misconduct was uncovered in a probe by the Justice Ministry conducted after three Vietnamese trainees, who were in the country to learn professional skills, were found in March to have participated in cleanup work in Fukushima.
The Vietnamese were supposed to do work using construction machines according to plans submitted by the company.
“But they joined simple cleanup work such as removing soil without machines,” an official told AFP.
A powerful earthquake in March 2011 spawned a huge tsunami that led to meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing the world’s worst such accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
The justice ministry said after the discovery this March that decontamination work was not appropriate for foreign trainees.
One of the four companies has been slapped with a five-year ban on accepting new foreign trainees, and the ministry is still investigating how many trainees in the other three firms were involved.
The ministry has finished its investigation into 182 construction companies that hire foreign trainees, and will look into another 820 firms by the end of September.
Japan has been accepting foreign trainees under the government program since 1993 and there were just over 250,000 in the country in late 2017.
But critics say the trainees often face poor work conditions including excessive hours and harassment.
The number of foreign trainees who ran away from their employers jumped from 2,005 in 2012 to 7,089 in 2017, according to the ministry survey. Many cited low pay as the main reason for running away.
The investigation comes as Japan’s government moves to bring more foreign workers into the country to tackle a labor shortage caused by the country’s aging, shrinking population.
The government in June said it wanted to create a new visa status to bring in foreign workers, with priority given to those looking for jobs in sectors such as agriculture that have been hardest hit by the labor shortage.
The workers would be able to stay for up to five years, but would not be allowed to bring their family members.
The government put the number of foreign workers in Japan in 2017 at 1.28 million people.
But more than 450,000 of those are foreign spouses of Japanese citizens, ethnic Koreans long settled in Japan, or foreigners of Japanese descent, rather than workers coming to Japan simply for jobs. Another nearly 300,000 are students.

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July 19, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Evaluating Different Radiocesium Decontamination Practices In A Forest Plantation Near The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

A
June 25, 2018
Owing to an earthquake and the resulting tsunami that occurred on March 2011 in central-eastern Japan, the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant was damaged by several hydrogen explosions.
This accident released a vast amount of radionuclides, including caesium 134 and 137 (ca. ratio 1:1). Initial fallout contaminated cultivated soils (mainly paddy fields), forests, water bodies, residential areas, asphalt and concrete surfaces. Since then, a variety of decontamination practices have been completed, reducing the ambient dose rates.
In a recent study, published in Environmental Pollution (available online since April 19, 2018) and conducted by Prof. Yuichi Onda (University of Tsukuba, Japan), Dr. Manuel López-Vicente (EEAD-CSIC, Soil Management and Global Change Group), and staff of Onda’s Laboratory and Asia Air Survey Co., eight decontamination practices were evaluated in a forest plantation located 16 km southwest of the power plant and within the exclusion area. The stand is composed of a forest plantation of Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) and natural understory vegetation. This plantation has an age of 58 years (in 2017) and is located on a steep hillslope (average slope gradient of 25⁰) near Kawauchi village, in the Fukushima Prefecture. Ten runoff plots were installed and managed by the Fukushima Prefectural Forestry Research Centre.
B
Radiocesium (Cs-137) concentrations and activities were calculated in soil and litter samples over 27 months (May 2013 – July 2015) and after decontamination practices. One plot was devoted to litter removal; two plots to tree thinning without litter removal (Th_1 with logged area, and Th_2 under remnant trees); two plots to tree thinning with litter removal (Th + LR_1 with logged area, and Th + LR_2 under remnant trees); and three plots to clearcutting with litter removal (CC + LR_1 without matting, CC + LR_2 matting with seeds, and CC + LR_3 matting without seeds). Finally, two plots (Co_1 and Co_2) remained as control plots without application of any decontamination practice.
Differences were statistically significant, and researchers distinguished four homogeneous groups. Tree thinning and litter removal greatly reduced the radioactivity. Tree thinning, clearcutting with litter removal, and litter removal also had higher discharge rates than those rates in the control plots. We only observed low rates in the two plots with matting (soil conservation practice). The temporal variability was explained by (i) the different rainfall depths registered during the measurement intervals (with heavy rainfall events and typhoons: accumulated precipitation from 14 to 361 mm during the measurement intervals); and (ii) the fluctuations of the total ground coverage (canopy and surface).
The vegetation recovery after the countermeasures triggered a reduction of hydrological connectivity in all compartments of the forest plantation. This fact explained the decreasing trend in radiocesium concentration that was very high in 2013, high in the first half of 2014, moderate in the second half of 2014, and low in 2015. This tendency will reduce the possibility of secondary pollution of the neighboring residential and/or agricultural areas. The average proportions of the contribution of Cs-137 discharge by soil and leaf fraction were 96.6% and 3.4%.
C
These findings are described in the article entitled Radiocesium concentrations in soil and leaf after decontamination practices in a forest plantation highly polluted by the Fukushima accident, recently published in the journal Environmental Pollution. This work was conducted by Manuel López-Vicente, Yuichi Onda, Junko Takahashi, and Hiroaki Kato from the University of Tsukuba, and Shinya Chayama and Keigo Hisadome from Asia Air Survey Co.
This research was funded by the project “Development of techniques for migration control against radioactive substances in forests (2012-2016)” of the Japanese Forestry Agency; and was carried out by Dr. Manuel López-Vicente during his postdoctoral stays at the University of Tsukuba (Prof. Onda Laboratory) in 2015 (Research Fellowships Program of the Canon Foundation in Europe, call 2014) and 2016.

June 26, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Contractor skimmed pay of Vietnamese trainees doing Fukushima cleanup work

waste
TOKYO — A construction firm siphoned off the danger allowances of Vietnamese technical trainees it sent to do cleanup work in the Fukushima nuclear disaster area, the Environment Ministry announced on April 6.
 
The firm, which assigned the technical trainees to radioactive decontamination and home demolition work, used false wage records in explaining that the allowances had been paid. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is investigating the firm for suspected violations of the Labor Standards Act.
 
The foreign trainee system is intended to bring foreign workers from developing countries to Japan to learn technical skills.
 
The Environment Ministry has confirmed that the construction firm skimmed off the trainees’ danger allowances in 2016 and 2017, when they worked at a demolition site in Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture.
 
One of the trainees spoke about the pay-skimming at a news conference on March 14 this year. However, the construction firm had given Environment Ministry investigators the falsified wage records, and Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa stated on March 27 that the danger allowances had been paid.
 

April 9, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Govt. bans decontamination work by foreign interns

 

March 16, 2018
The Japanese government has decided to ban companies from using foreign trainees to carry out decontamination work in areas affected by the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
 
The decision comes after a Vietnamese man complained that he was asked to remove contaminated soil in Fukushima Prefecture. He told a news conference that he would never have come to Japan if he had known that he would be doing this kind of work. He also expressed concern about the possible impact on his health.
 
The man came to Japan under a government-backed technical internship program that allows foreigners to acquire skills and knowhow.
 
The ministries in charge of the program say that decontamination is not suitable work for interns.
 
They say they will make it mandatory for companies to submit a pledge that trainees will not be asked to do this kind of task.
 
A group that supports foreign interns says there have been similar cases.
 
The ministries will warn companies if other cases are discovered and may consider revoking their permission to hire foreign interns.
 

March 17, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Decontamination work begins in Okuma, Fukushima

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Decontamination work begins in Fukushima town
March 14, 2018
Media have been allowed to watch decontamination work at a post-disaster reconstruction hub inside the no-entry zone set up after the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
 
Reporters were invited on Wednesday to a kindergarten in the town of Okuma, about 7 kilometers from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
 
Work began there last Friday to remove radioactive substances from the kindergarten’s 7,000-square-meter playground. Workers will weed grass as tall as an adult, and replace contaminated topsoil with new earth.
 
The central government has recognized an 860-hectare zone around the railway station in Okuma as a reconstruction hub based on the local administration’s plan.
 
Utilities and other infrastructure will be rebuilt and some houses will be demolished at the request of residents to provide them with a livable environment.
 
Okuma was designated as an area where residents could not return due to high radiation levels. Authorities plan to lift the evacuation order in about 4 years.
 
Okuma is the second municipality in the prefecture after the town of Futaba where decontamination work has begun at reconstruction hubs.
 
Similar projects are set to kick off in other municipalities in the fiscal year starting in April.

March 16, 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
c1
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.
c2
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

Fukushima town of Namie to launch radioactive decontamination work around May

February 16, 2018
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Around May, decontamination work will begin in the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, to make some of its most radioactive areas habitable again, the government said.
Namie was hit hard by the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011, and entry is effectively prohibited for about 80 percent of it.
By March 2023, the government hopes to lift the evacuation order for three parts consisting of 660 hectares. The areas scheduled for decontamination cover about 3.7 percent of the town.
To rebuild areas tainted by the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power, the government approved a plan submitted by Namie on Dec. 22.
Similar efforts got underway in neighboring Futaba in December and more are scheduled to start in the town of Okuma in March. The two towns cohost the crippled plant. The first round in Namie will cover about 30 hectares.
On March 11, 2011, tsunami inundated the six-reactor plant and knocked out its power supply. This crippled the reactors’ cooling systems, leading to core meltdowns in reactors 1 to 3. It is the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986.

 

February 18, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Town of Futaba kicks off radiation cleanup with eye on 2022 revival

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Decontamination work begins Monday in the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, to make it habitable again by spring 2022 under a government-led reconstruction project.
FUKUSHIMA – Cleanup work kicked off Monday to make radiation-tainted Futaba, one of the towns hosting the meltdown-hit Fukushima No. 1 power plant, habitable again by around spring 2022 under a government-led recovery project.
Cleanup and demolition crews are trying to decontaminate the town, which was tainted with fallout from the plant’s triple core meltdown after the March 2011 mega-quake and tsunami. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., is shouldering the cost.
The work at Futaba marks the beginning of a series of government-led projects to make areas designated as special reconstruction zones livable again, with an emphasis on new infrastructure.
About 96 percent of Futaba has been designated as “difficult to return to” zone, and an evacuation advisory is still in place for the entire town, which hosts the stricken power plant with neighboring Okuma.
The cleanup will be concentrated in the special reconstruction zone, which covers 555 hectares accounting for 11 percent of Futaba.
“The reconstruction efforts will help motivate residents to return to their homes,” Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa told officials involved in the project.
“We want you to carry out the work while thinking about the feelings of the citizens awaiting the day they can return,” he said.
Overseen by the Environment Ministry, the first steps will involve removing the top layer of soil in the area near Futaba Station, trimming grass along the streets, and dismantling nearly 60 houses and public facilities.
Along with Futaba, seven municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture have been designated as zones that are difficult to return to.
The government is aiming to lift the evacuation advisory near Futaba station by the end of March 2020, when the Joban Line plans to fully resume operation.
Some evacuees from Futaba had mixed emotions about the start of the work.
A 69-year-old woman residing in a temporary shelter in Iwaki said that her house is in the special reconstruction zone but that she had given up hope of returning because she evacuated over six years ago.
“If this was two or three years after the disaster, I might have a choice to return. But my house became run-down and I got old. Realistically speaking, I don’t think I can live there now,” she said.
On the other hand, Masamichi Matsumoto, who also fled to Iwaki, welcomed the project, saying, “I’m glad that a step has been taken to rebuild the town for the future.”
He said it is unlikely many citizens will return, partly because a nearby facility will be storing contaminated soil collected from the cleanup work.
“But I hope that Futaba will become a town where people can visit some day,” Matsumoto, 54, added.

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December 27, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment