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Clear vision needed for future of still-evacuated Fukushima areas

Access is restricted to the “difficult-to-return zone” in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture.

September 16, 2021

More than a decade after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident, there remains more than 30,000 hectares of land where the evacuation order is still in place and is not expected to be lifted any time soon.

The government recently announced a plan to rebuild ravaged communities in these areas near the crippled plant with high levels of radiation, known as “kitaku konnan kuiki” (difficult-to-return zone).

Under the plan, the government will decontaminate the land and houses of local residents who want to return to their homes so that the order can be lifted by the end of the 2020s.

Initially, the evacuation order covered more than 110,000 hectares. The measure was lifted for some 80,000 hectares by March last year.

In 2017 and 2018, the government thrashed out a plan to designate some 2,700 hectares of land in six municipalities within the zone as reconstruction priority areas eligible for preferential policy support to help improve the living environment. The plan requires the government to make intensive decontamination efforts in the areas and lift the evacuation order by the spring of 2023.

The local administrations involved asked the national government to make clear when the order will be lifted for the remaining areas in the difficult-to-return zone.

The latest plan unveiled by the government may represent a step forward as it offers a specific timeframe for lifting the measure, albeit for only those who wish to return to their homes. The blueprint has brought a ray of hope to local residents who have been facing a distressingly uncertain future outlook. 

But the fact remains that the government has yet to offer a realistic road map to deliver on its promise to lift the evacuation order for the entire restricted zone sometime in the future, no matter how long it will take.

The government has pledged to tread carefully in this undertaking, holding multiple meetings with residents to ask about their desire to to return home as well as talks with local administrations on the range of areas to be decontaminated.

But it has yet to announce specifics about the decontamination, such as the areas to be covered or the method to be used. 

The residents in these areas have been living as evacuees for more than 10 years. Many of them are likely to find it difficult to decide even if they want to return to where they once lived.

If the government proceeds with the latest plan, it needs to work out details of how it will tackle the challenge in a “careful” manner. The details should cover how the government will confirm the local residents’ wishes and ensure the level of decontamination that can reassure them of the safety of returning to their homes.

Moreover, the land and buildings that nobody wants to return to will not be covered by the plan to lift the order. This will remain a serious issue for the future.

The government has so far spent some 3 trillion yen ($27.45 billion) on decontaminating areas subject to the evacuation order. This effort has allowed some 14,000 residents, or 30 percent of the local population, to return home. It will cost taxpayers a huge additional amount of money to accelerate the cleanup work in the difficult-to-return zone, where nearly 22,000 people are still registered as residents.

The government says the necessary funds will be budgeted from the Fukushima reconstruction special account and other appropriate financing sources. But it admits the total amount of money required cannot be estimated since it depends on the number of local residents who want to return.

In other words, it has no clear and viable plan to raise the necessary funds.

The 2011 special law to deal with contamination by radioactive materials from the Fukushima plant stipulates that it is the government’s “obligation” to deal with radiation pollution caused by the accident.

The government has a duty to offer as soon as possible a clear future vision for tackling this formidable challenge, specifying when and how the evacuation order will be lifted and what kind of policy support will be provided to residents including those who choose not to return to the areas.

https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14441441

September 17, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , | Leave a comment

Former students return to school 7 years after nuclear disaster

March 4, 2018
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Yuki Kokatsu, left, smiles as she finds her Japanese dictionary in Ono Elementary School in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 2. She was a second-grader of the school at the time of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
 
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Seven years after being forced to leave her belongings behind, Yuki Kokatsu returned to her second-grade elementary school classroom here for the first time.
Yuki, now 15, spotted her melodica instrument on the floor, and said, “I found it.”
The third-year junior high school student also found 30 other items she had left when her family was forced to evacuate due to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including a Japanese dictionary and a jump rope. She put them all into her cloth bag to take home.
“I feel that I was able to recover my lost possessions. I will keep and treasure them,” said Yuki, who had evacuated to Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.
Yuki and other former Ono Elementary School students at the time of the disaster returned to their school on March 2 to retrieve their belongings.
After the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011, which was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, all the residents of Okuma town evacuated to other areas.
Ono Elementary School is located in an area that remains designated as a difficult-to-return zone. However, the radiation level around the school has been lowered due to decontamination work. Because of that, former students and related people have asked the Okuma town government to allow them to enter the school building.
According to the Okuma town government, six groups visited Ono Elementary School on March 2. A total of 39 groups are expected to do so through March 4.

 

March 5, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima national road 114 to open going thru difficult to return zone

route national 144 reopen 7 sept 2017.jpeg

 

http://www.minpo.jp/news/detail/2017090744864?utm_content=buffer8670f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

September 7, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

7 summers later, weeds engulf Fukushima’s abandoned areas

 

The startling effects of the passage of time come into sharp focus in aerial images taken of Fukushima’s “difficult-to-return zones” in the seventh summer since the March 2011 nuclear disaster.

The bird’s-eye view pictures were captured in abandoned areas near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Okuma and Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture.

The disaster unfolded after the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake spawned a tsunami that devastated coastal areas of the Tohoku region, including Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The Okuma outlet of Plant-4, a large shopping mall located 3 kilometers away from the nuclear plant along National Route No. 6, had been bustling with visitors before the disaster.

Today, weeds grow from the cracks of the asphalt-surfaced mall parking lot, slowly creeping through the expanse of space.

One striking image shows the exterior of the TEPCO-owned condominium building, which housed its employees in Futaba, is becoming covered with rampant weeds that have reached the second floor.

Another photo shows cars that cannot be recovered are partially buried, appearing as if they are sinking into a sea of green.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201708010034.html

August 3, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , | Leave a comment

Public funds earmarked to decontaminate Fukushima’s ‘difficult-to-return’ zone

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The so-called “difficult-to-return” areas are colored in grey

The government is set to inject some 30 billion yen in public funds into work to decontaminate so-called “difficult-to-return” areas whose annual radiation levels topped 50 millisieverts in 2012 due to the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster, it has been learned.
While the government had maintained that it would demand plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) cover the decontamination expenses based on the polluter-pays principle, the new plan effectively relieves TEPCO from the hefty financial burden by having taxpayers shoulder the costs.

The new plan is part of the government’s basic guidelines for “reconstruction bases” to be set up in each municipality within the difficult-to-return zone in Fukushima Prefecture from fiscal 2017, with the aim of prioritizing decontamination work and infrastructure restoration there. The government is seeking to lift evacuation orders for the difficult-to-return zone in five years.

However, the details of the reconstruction bases, such as their size and locations, have yet to be determined due to ongoing discussions between local municipalities and the Reconstruction Agency and other relevant bodies.

The government is set to obtain Cabinet approval for the basic guidelines on Dec. 20 before submitting a bill to revise the Act on Special Measures for the Reconstruction and Revitalization of Fukushima to the regular Diet session next year. The 30 billion yen in funds for the decontamination work will be set aside in the fiscal 2017 budget.

In the basic guidelines, the government states that decontamination work at the reconstruction bases is part of state projects to accelerate Fukushima’s recovery and that the costs for the work will be covered by public funds without demanding TEPCO to make compensation. The statement is also apparently aimed at demonstrating the government’s active commitment to Fukushima’s restoration.

Under the previous guidelines for Fukushima’s recovery approved by the Cabinet in December 2013, the government had stated that it would demand TEPCO cover the decontamination expenses of both completed and planned work. However, it hadn’t been decided who would shoulder the decontamination costs for the difficult-to-return zone as there was no such plan at that point.

Masafumi Yokemoto, professor at Osaka City University who is versed in environmental policy, criticized the government’s move, saying, “If the government is to shoulder the cost that ought to be covered by TEPCO, the government must first accept its own responsibility for the nuclear disaster, change its policy and investigate the disaster before doing so. Otherwise, (spending taxpayers’ money on decontamination work) can’t be justified.”

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20161219/p2a/00m/0na/015000c

December 19, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , | Leave a comment

State funds planned for cleaning heavily contaminated zones in Fukushima

Privatized profit, socialized risk and clean up

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The government plans to use state funds to finance the radiation cleanup in the areas most seriously contaminated by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, government sources said Friday.

It is the first plan to decontaminate the “difficult to return to” zones, including a large portion of the two towns hosting the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and parts of other nearby municipalities in the prefecture.

The move is intended to expedite the cleanup process but may draw criticism because it will effectively reduce the financial burden on Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., the utility responsible for the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

Under the current legal framework, the decontamination costs are first shouldered by the state, with Tepco told to reimburse the expenses over time. But since the costs are expected to far exceed the ¥2.5 trillion estimated earlier, the utility has requested more financial support.

The government plans to conduct decontamination in the difficult-to-return-to zones, which comprise about 337 sq. km of land where around 24,000 people used to live, the sources said.

The work within the designated “reconstruction bases” will include removing buildings, replacing soil and paving roads.

Tepco will only be asked to shoulder the costs of cleaning existing facilities and infrastructure that will continue to be used within the reconstruction bases.

The government hopes to officially endorse the plan this month, the sources said.

The Fukushima disaster, triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, prompted the government to issue evacuation orders to 11 municipalities near the plant.

The areas have been reclassified into three categories based on radiation level — a zone where evacuation orders are ready to be lifted, a zone where human habitation is restricted, and a zone where residents will have difficulty coming back to for a long time.

The areas subject to evacuation are gradually being reduced, with the government setting a goal of lifting all the remaining orders apart from the difficult-to-return-to zones by next March.

In the heavily contaminated zones, the government plans to conduct costly and intensive radiation cleanup efforts that will allow it to lift the evacuation orders in five years’ time.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/08/20/national/social-issues/state-funds-planned-cleaning-heavily-contaminated-zones-fukushima/#.V7h3ojXKO-d

August 21, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , , | Leave a comment