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Rice planting resumes in Fukushima town

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May 13, 2019
Rice has been planted in a town hosting the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant for the first time since evacuation orders were partially lifted early last month.

Orders for all districts of the town of Okuma in Fukushima Prefecture were issued following the 2011 accident. They were lifted for two districts on April 10.

More than 20 people, including town officials, planted rice seedlings on Monday in a paddy in the Ogawara district that measures about 160 square meters.

Okuma Town resumed rice growing on a trial basis in the district in 2014, three years after the accident.

The radiation levels in all the rice harvested there were within state safety standards.

The town plans to prepare manuals to facilitate the resumption of rice farming in earnest.

The head of the town’s agricultural committee, Tomoko Nemoto, says there are still many problems to address, but that the town wants to pass its farmlands down to future generations.
https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20190513_14/

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May 15, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

Fukushima Japan nuclear fallout: Okuma residents encouraged home

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April 10, 2019
Eight years after a triple meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, part of nearby Okuma has been declared safe for residents to return. But there has been no rush to go home as radiation levels remain high.
The evacuation order for parts of Okuma was lifted by the Japanese government on Wednesday.
But just 367 of the town’s pre-2011 population of 10,341 have registered to go home, according to local media reports in Japan.
Okuma sits alongside the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and 40% of the town has been declared safe for a permanent return. But a survey last year found only 12.5% of former residents wanted to do so.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is to attend a ceremony in Okuma on Sunday to mark the occasion. But the government has been accused of promoting the return of residents to showcase safety ahead of the Tokyo Olympics next summer.
“This is a major milestone for the town,” Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe said in a written statement. “But this is not the goal, but a start toward the lifting of the evacuation order for the entire town.”
Lingering radiation
There are plans to open a new town hall in May to encourage more people to go back to their town which was devastated by the earthquake, tsunami and triple meltdown at the plant in March 2011. But the town center near the main train station remains closed due to high radiation levels which exceed the annual exposure limit. There will be no functioning hospital for another two years.
Much of Okuma still records high radiation levels and is off-limits. All of nearby Futaba remains closed, with the former 40,000 residents unable to return home. In a report from an investigation published last month, environmental campaign group Greenpeace said “radiation levels remain too high for the safe return of thousands of Japanese citizen evacuees.”
Reluctance to return
The government lifted the evacuation order for much of neighboring Tomioka two years ago. But only 10% of Tomioka’s population has so far returned. Some 339 square kilometers (131 square miles) of the area around the plant are designated unsafe. 
Fears of exposure to radiation remain high among former residents, especially those with children. In its report, Greenpeace accused the government of failure: “In the case of workers and children, who are in the frontline of hazards resulting from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the Japanese government continues to ignore international radioprotection recommendations.”
Part of the Okuma is being used to store millions of cubic meters of toxic soil collected during the decontanimation operation. Authorities say it will be removed by 2045 but no alternative storage site has yet been found.
In all, 160,000 people were evacuated out of the area when three of Fukushima’s six reactors went into meltdown, leading to radiation leaks.

April 14, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

‘Old man squad’ ends patrols of evacuated town in Fukushima

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Hisatomo Suzuki, right, speaks after he and other members of the “old man squad” received flowers from town government officials in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 31.
April 6, 2019
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–A team of older residents that stayed behind to patrol this town after its residents evacuated following the March 2011 nuclear crisis has completed its mission.
The “old man squad,” as its six members called themselves, ended its six-year activities on March 31 before an evacuation order is lifted for the Ogawara and Chuyashiki districts on April 10.
Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe and 30 town government officials visited the team’s base and expressed gratitude to the members.
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April 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Buses offer 1-day pass through ‘sakura’ tunnel in Fukushima

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Bus passengers enjoy the “somei-yoshino” cherry blossoms in the Yonomori district of Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, on April 6.
April 6, 2019
TOMIOKA, Fukushima Prefecture–For decades, locals have flocked to a 2-kilometer stretch of cherry trees in the Yonomori district here for “hanami” celebrations under the blossoms.
But the tunnel of cherry blossoms has been off-limits since the March 2011 nuclear accident at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
And while an evacuation order for about 90 percent of Tomioka was lifted in spring 2017, most of the Yonomori district still remains designated as a difficult-to-return zone because of high radiation levels.
Town officials pleaded with the central government for an exception to allow former town residents to once again enjoy the Yonomori cherry blossoms, and their wish came true on April 6.
For the one-day only occasion, buses packed with both former residents and others were allowed to navigate under the “sakura” tunnel. In the past, hanami visitors were stopped at a barrier designating the start of the difficult-to-return zone and had to gaze at the trees from that point.
… As of April 1, only 922 people, or less than 10 percent of the registered population, resided in Tomioka…
 
… The Tomioka town government has designated about 390 hectares of the difficult-to-return zone, including the Yonomori district, as a priority area for reconstruction and resuscitation. They are hoping the evacuation order will be lifted by spring 2023 if further decontamination work continues and social infrastructure is revamped.
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April 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Evacuees can return next week to parts of Okuma, host of Fukushima nuclear plant, but few likely to

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A ceremony in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, marks the opening of the Okuma Interchange on the Joban Expressway on March 31 ahead of the partial lifting of an evacuation order for residents of the town.
April 5, 2019
The town of Okuma — which saw all of its roughly 10,000 residents evacuate after one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters, triggered by a deadly earthquake and tsunami — will allow former residents to return for the first time in eight years, the government decided. The decision was said to be based on the lower radiation levels achieved through decontamination work.
Futaba, the other town that hosts the plant, remains a no-go zone.
Despite the decision, a very small number of residents are expected to return to Okuma. As of late March, only 367 people from 138 households, or around 3.5 percent of the original population of 10,341, were registered as residents of areas where the order will be lifted.
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April 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Eight Years Later: Black Sacks and Lonely Children

As usual no mention whatsoever about the incineration of the radioactive waste by the 20 plus incinerators in activity in Fukushima Prefecture….
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Coastal towns near the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are filled more with sacks of contaminated soil than with children. There are signs that this may be changing, though, as more areas are opened to returnees and new decontamination facilities come online.
I remember how the newsreader Andō Yūko, who visited Fukushima with me in 2014, got angry every time she saw a row of the 1-meter-high black sacks that hold contaminated topsoil.
“I don’t care how many times they say that it’s safe to return. The sight of these enormous sacks in the area completely puts you off.”
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Bags of collected topsoil interrupt the serenity of the Fukushima landscape.
The sacks contain earth and other contaminated material that has been removed during a decontamination process in which topsoil is sheared off. With nowhere to go, the bags, each holding around 1 metric ton of soil, have been either left on site or piled on top of one another in temporary storage areas and covered with green tarpaulins.
Not all of Fukushima Prefecture has high levels of radiation. In fact, radiation levels across the majority of the prefecture are comparable with the rest of Japan. Nonetheless, an extensive area of Fukushima, particularly communities in the northeast, near Fukushima Daiichi, was decontaminated after the accident to allay public concerns. The process has produced an endless stream of black bags, many of which have been simply left at the decontaminated sites.
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A roadside lined with black sacks.
Many people in Fukushima who I interviewed in the past told me that they disliked the ominous bags. And with no decision having been made on how the contaminated soil should ultimately be disposed of, the removal and bagging of soil only served to further increase their number.
Eight years after the accident, however, one does get the feeling that there are fewer sacks lying around. This is partly due to the construction of a medium-term storage facility, where sacks have now begun to be transported.
A Visit to the “Dark Side”
The new facility is being constructed to safely manage and store contaminated soil while it awaits final disposal. The facility straddles the towns of Ōkuma, home to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, and Futaba, in an area of the exclusion zone designated uninhabitable due to its particularly high level of radiation.
I went to see one section of the facility under construction in Ōkuma. We drove past houses where the laundry hasn’t been taken in since 2011 and parking lots filled with rusty cars before arriving at a huge pit surrounded by damlike walls.
What used to be an area of houses and fields is now a gigantic concrete-lined containment area for contaminated soil. At the time of my visit in January 2019, a total of 60,000 cubic meters of soil had already been transported to the facility.
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Truckload after truckload of soil is dumped at the site.
This amount is scheduled to reach 4 million cubic meters in fiscal 2019 (ending in March 2020) and to climb as high as 12.5 million cubic meters in fiscal 2020— enough to fill the Tokyo Dome 10 times over.
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The medium-term storage facility stands on what was once woods and farmland. (January 2019, Ministry of the Environment)
While at first glance work appears to be going smoothly, many issues remain. As the “medium-term” in the facility’s name suggests, no decision has been made on where the collected soil will ultimately end up. Nor has any decision been made on how the area would be returned to its original owners when that ultimate solution is agreed upon. The effects are also beginning to be felt by locals, who speak of the noise and traffic jams caused by the constant stream of dump trucks.
My guide from the Ministry of the Environment said apologetically, “There’s a bright side and a dark side to Fukushima. Today, I’ll be showing you the dark side.”
After finishing our tour of the storage facility, the soles of our shoes were meticulously checked to make sure that they had not been contaminated. It was heartbreaking to think that it would be quite some time before this area saw any of Fukushima’s “bright side.”
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Visitors’ shoes are inspected for radiation before they can leave the site.
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April 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Mega-quake would likely flood more of Fukushima than 2011 tsunami

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Mar 21, 2019
This handout picture released by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. on March 21, 2011, shows black smoke rising from reactor No. 3 of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after a mega-quake and tsunami knocked off the plant’s backup generators, triggering a triple meltdown crisis.
If a once-in-1,000-years earthquake occurs, the area of Fukushima Prefecture expected to be flooded by subsequent tsunami could be 1.3 times larger than at the time of the March 2011 disaster, the prefectural government said Wednesday.
If such a powerful earthquake takes place, tsunami of up to 22.4 meters high could hit the coast of Fukushima, and some 14,300 hectares of land in the prefecture could be inundated, according to a prefectural government estimate.
The prefectural government plans to call for 10 coastal municipalities to create hazard maps and review evacuation routes by the end of fiscal 2020.
Fukushima is the first of the three prefectures hardest hit by the 2011 disaster to work out such an estimate.
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March 25, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

2020 Tokyo Olympic torch relay in Japan to begin at soccer middle in Fukushima

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March 19, 2019
TOKYO, March 12 (Xinhua) — Japan’s torch relay of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will kick off on March 26, 2020 at a soccer facility in Fukushima Prefecture that was stricken by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, president of the organizing committee Yoshiro Mori said Tuesday.
The move of selecting the J-Village national soccer training center as the starting point was part of the Olympic organizers’ efforts to demonstrate the games as “reconstruction Olympics.”
“It is important to help showcase the reconstruction to people in Japan and abroad. But I hope this will be some support to the people, who struggled so hard, to find new hope,” Mori said, as Tuesday marked 500 days to go ahead of the Tokyo Games.
The J-Village national soccer training center is regarded as a symbol of the country’s reconstruction from the natural catastrophe, as it served as an operational base during the nuclear crisis.
Located 20km away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the center sheltered thousands of workers engaged in the cleanup of the nuclear plant in northeastern Japan.
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March 25, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

7 Years On: Fukushima Aims to Lure Young People with New Industries

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Fukushima, March 9 (Jiji Press)–Fukushima Prefecture aims to attract young people with new industries that will help realize a society without dependence on nuclear power, Masao Uchibori, governor of the northeastern Japan prefecture, said in an interview.
Some 50,000 Fukushima residents remain evacuees seven years after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Holding Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
“By eventually reviving areas where still entry is basically prohibited due to high radiation levels near the plant, I want to make Fukushima a home where residents can live with a smile,” the governor said.
“The prefecture has been aggressively introducing renewable energy in order to become a society that doesn’t depend on nuclear power,” he added.
On the situation in which the population of Fukushima, particularly in the severely afflicted coastal region, is declining fast, Uchibori said he aims to raise the prefecture’s fertility rate to at least 2.0.
 

March 14, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | | Leave a comment