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Fukushima rice farmers innovate to survive, 10 years after disaster

Rice planting for commercial sales began in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, in May, 2017, for the first time since the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster. |

February 21, 2021

Fukushima – Although the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture still casts a shadow over local agriculture a decade later, rice farmers are working to shake off radiation-related rumors and pass on Fukushima’s rice farming to the next generation.

Some are pinning hopes on an original rice brand developed in the prefecture to find a way to overcome the difficulties posed by the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant. The disaster was triggered by the major earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

The annual rice harvest in Fukushima, which totaled 445,700 tons in fiscal 2010, slid to 353,600 tons in the following year and has since remained at around 350,000-380,000 tons. Although exports of Fukushima-grown rice have been increasing in recent years thanks to promotion measures by the national government, shipments to Hong Kong, for example, plunged to 2.6 tons in fiscal 2019 from some 100 tons in fiscal 2010 due to the strengthening of purchase restrictions introduced after the disaster.

All Fukushima-made rice had to undergo checks for cesium and other residual radioactive substances to secure safety. Finally, in 2020, rice grown in areas other than 12 municipalities near the accident-hit power plant was switched to random checks.

Also in 2020, rice of the “Fuku, Warai” (lucky, laughter) original brand was harvested for the first time after 14 years of development by the Fukushima Agricultural Technology Center. Of the total 37 tons harvested, the producers sold 16.8 tons via the internet and stores in the Tokyo metropolitan area, exceeding the sales projection of 15 tons. Full-scale sales of the rice, whose features include sweetness and a rich scent, will start in fiscal 2021.

Fukushima Prefecture plans to allow only farmers certified by the Good Agriculture Practice program and other selected producers to engage in the cropping of the new rice brand, in order to ensure quality and credibility.

“I take pride in producing safe and secure rice,” said Shiroyuki Terasawa, 70, who is the only producer of the new rice brand in the Hamadori coastal region in Fukushima Prefecture. “I want everyone to know that Fukushima-grown rice is tasty.”

Terasawa’s rice field in the city of Minamisoma was washed away by the tsunami. Despite worries about rumors related to the nuclear disaster, he restarted full-scale farming in 2015, out of a sense of responsibility for keeping local agriculture alive.

According to an official from the Fukushima prefectural government, some of those who initially abandoned farming have returned in recent years, partly thanks to large-scale streamlined farm operations realized through the establishment of agricultural corporations.

Terasawa also set up a corporation and started so-called smart farming, utilizing drones and GPS devices, on large-scale farmland of some 55 hectares. “Although the scenery and the environment have changed from before the disaster, I want to stay active in farming as long as I live.” he said.

Ami Endo, 23, from Minamisoma, experienced the disaster when she was 13.

“I wanted to restore the rural landscape and interactions among people in the local community that used to be common” before the disaster, she said, explaining her decision to go to an agricultural technical college and work in the farming sector.

Endo gave her father a push to resume farming although he was reluctant to begin again. They have been rice cropping together since 2019.

“I don’t see people of my age at community gatherings,” Endo said, aware that young people are moving away from agriculture.

She stays positive, however, saying: “I can learn things I don’t know from my predecessors in the community. I want to create an all-round company that will handle production, commercialization and distribution (of agricultural products).”https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/fukushima-rice-innovation/

February 21, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Tremors continue in northeast Japan

February 14, 2021

People in northeastern Japan remain vigilant as several tremors have followed the magnitude 7.3 earthquake that struck late on Saturday night.

The Meteorological Agency warns that jolts as strong as the initial one could occur over the next week or so.

The initial quake registered six-plus on the Japanese scale of zero to seven in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

The agency estimates that the focus was off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, at a depth of 55 kilometers. The quake did not trigger any tsunami.

Jolts are continuing off the coast of the prefecture.

As of 6 p.m. on Sunday, the agency had reported one quake with an intensity of four, two with an intensity of three, 10 with an intensity of two, and 22 with an intensity of one.

There are reports of landslides and damaged buildings.

The agency says people in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures should be on the alert for more landslides, as an approaching low-pressure system off the coast may bring strong winds and heavy rain.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20210214_53/

February 14, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , | Leave a comment

Powerful magnitude 7.3 earthquake jolts Fukushima area

(Slight) leak from the spent fuel pool of the reactor #1 of Fukushima Daini, nothing said about Fukushima Daiichi yet. But as usual Tepco is never very trustworthy to forward vital information.

February 13, 2021

A powerful magnitude 7.3 earthquake, which measured a strong 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale — the second-highest level — jolted Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in the Tohoku region late Saturday night. No tsunami warning was issued.

Local authorities in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures reported a total of at least 20 people injured.

Nationwide, at least 950,000 homes were without power as of midnight, top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said at a news conference. Kato added later that several power plants were offline.

The quake, which was also felt in Tokyo, where it registered a 4 on the Japanese scale, struck at around 11:08 p.m., according to the Meteorological Agency. The epicenter was off the coast of Fukushima, about 220 kilometers (135 miles) north of Tokyo. Its focus was estimated to be at a depth of about 60 kilometers.

At a news conference early Sunday morning, a Meteorological Agency official said aftershocks of up to a strong 6 on the Japanese scale could occur for at least a week. The official said Saturday’s quake was believed to be an aftershock of the Great East Japan Earthquake that struck the same region on March 11, 2011.

“Because (the 2011 quake) was an enormous one with a magnitude of 9.0, it’s not surprising to have an aftershock of this scale 10 years later,” said Kenji Satake, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute.

The quake registered a strong 6 in the southern part of Miyagi, and in the Nakadori central and Hamadori coastal regions of Fukushima, the agency said.

Power outages were reported in parts of Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, and Tochigi prefectures, according to media reports. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings reported blackouts across several prefectures as of early Sunday morning.

No abnormalities have been found at the Fukushima Nos. 1 and 2 nuclear power plants, according to Tokyo Electric Power. The same was true for Japan Atomic Power Co.’s inactive Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in the village of Tokai in Ibaraki Prefecture and Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s Onagawa nuclear plant in Miyagi Prefecture, according to their operators.

Following the quake, JR East temporarily halted operations of its Tohoku, Joetsu and Hokuriku shinkansen lines. Power outages occurred on some sections. A landslide had covered a section of the Joban Expressway in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, officials said, but no vehicles were found to be trapped.

Horizontal shaking lasted for a few minutes inside a traditional inn in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, with plates for food scattered in its dining room.

“The initial jolt felt more powerful than the one I experienced in the Great East Japan Earthquake,” said Tomoko Kobayashi, 68, who works at the inn. “I wondered if it would end.”

After the 7.1 quake, many smaller earthquakes with magnitudes between 3 and 5 occurred off Fukushima.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga immediately directed government agencies to assess damage, rescue any potential victims, work with municipalities and provide necessary information about any evacuation plans and damage as soon as possible. The government was setting up a task force to examine the quake.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi directed the Self-Defense Forces to gather information on the scope of the damage and be prepared to respond immediately.

The quake, which comes less than a month before the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, registered a 4 on the Japanese scale as far north as Aomori Prefecture and as far west as Shizuoka Prefecture. It was the strongest quake in the region since April 7 that year, the meteorology agency said.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/14/national/earthquake-fukushima/

February 14, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , | Leave a comment

Ten years on, economic growth is faltering in disaster-hit areas

Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, was hit hard by the disaster on March 11, 2011, and an evacuation order remained in place for the subsequent six years

February 11, 2021

While Japan will soon mark the 10th anniversary of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the economy of affected areas is showing signs of faltering.

The prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate have been shored up economically by public investment involving reconstruction projects since being devastated by the disaster on March 11, 2011, and the subsequent nuclear power plant meltdowns.

The three prefectures, however, are seeing reconstruction demand pass its peak.

As the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant continues to cast a shadow over the coastal areas, the three prefectures now face the challenge of achieving autonomous economic growth orchestrated by firms and others in the private sector.

In the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, an evacuation order issued shortly after the nuclear accident was partially lifted in March 2017. Although industrial complexes have been built and restaurants have opened their doors to customers once again in Namie, there are also many empty plots of land in the town, which shows that some former Namie residents had their houses torn down after giving up on returning from where they had been evacuated.

“Sales halved from before the disaster,” said Yasushi Niizuma, who reopened his restaurant in the town.

Meanwhile, some companies that were not doing business in Namie prior to the disaster have made inroads into the town.

“I don’t expect immediate changes, but I think the situation will be quite different 10 to 30 years from now,” Niizuma said with a sense of hope.

Prefectural gross product data show that the economy has recovered in the three prefectures since the disaster.

In 2011, the year of the disaster, the combined prefectural gross product in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate plunged ¥788 billion from a year earlier in nominal terms. But public investment increased sharply from 2012, with many restoration and reconstruction projects being implemented in disaster-affected areas. As a result, the combined gross product in the three prefectures in 2018 increased some ¥3.9 trillion from the 2011 level.

Noting that the region’s economy has been pushed up by public investment over the last 10 years, Yutaro Suzuki, economist at Daiwa Institute of Research Ltd., said, “It was not a self-sustaining growth.”

The three prefectures are seen to have suffered negative economic growth in 2020, chiefly reflecting a decrease in public investments and the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“An industrial recovery is crucial” for further economic growth in the region, Suzuki said.

Coastal areas in the three prefectures hit hard by the disaster are facing a serious population outflow. This is, in areas around the Fukushima No. 1 plant, including the town of Futaba, primarily due to the evacuation order still placed on some locations with high radiation levels.

“There are many areas (within Fukushima) that are nowhere near being restored,” Risa Ueda, head of the Bank of Japan’s Fukushima Branch, said.

While the central government is currently attempting to attract new industries to the region, the effects of such an initiative on the local economy are still unknown.

“Corporate performance has not recovered to the levels prior to the disaster at half of affected businesses,” Sachio Taguchi, president of Bank of Iwate , said. “We are still halfway down the road to reconstruction.”

Hiromi Watanabe, chairman of the federation of chambers of commerce and industry in Fukushima Prefecture, called on the Japanese government to look at the actual state of local economies and introduce precise measures, rather than end its support measures altogether.

As the economy has yet to recover to levels before the disaster in many parts of Fukushima and the coronavirus pandemic is also hitting the prefecture hard, Watanabe said, “What we need the most are job opportunities.”

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/11/national/quake-disaster-economy/

February 14, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Dynamics of radiocesium in forests after the Fukushima disaster: Concerns and some hope

Dynamics of radiocesium in forests after the Fukushima disaster: Concerns and some hope

80% of the Fukushima prefecture are mountain forests.

February 3, 2021

Considering the massive threat posed by 137Cs to the health of both humans and ecosystems, it is essential to understand how it has distributed and how much of it still lingers.

w/reminder: there’s no such thing as ‘radioactive decontamination’ the correct term would be ‘trans-contamination’

Scientists compile available data and analyses on the flow of radionuclides to gain a more holistic understanding

Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute

After the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (FDNPP) disaster was the second worst nuclear incident in history. Its consequences were tremendous for the Japanese people and now, almost a decade later, they can still be felt both there and in the rest of the world. One of the main consequences of the event is the release of large amounts of cesium-137 (137Cs)–a radioactive “isotope” of cesium–into the atmosphere, which spread farther away from the power plant through wind and rainfall.

Considering the massive threat posed by 137Cs to the health of both humans and ecosystems, it is essential to understand how it has distributed and how much of it still lingers. This is why the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has recently published a technical document on this specific issue. The fifth chapter of this “Technical Document (TECDOC),” titled “Forest ecosystems,” contains an extensive review and analysis of existing data on 137Cs levels in Fukushima prefecture’s forests following the FDNPP disaster.

The chapter is based on an extensive study led by Assoc. Prof. Shoji Hashimoto from the Forestry and Forestry Products Research Institute, Japan, alongside Dr. Hiroaki Kato from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, Kazuya Nishina from the National Institute of Environmental Studies, Japan, Keiko Tagami from the National Institutes for Quantum and Radiological Science and Technology, Japan, George Shaw from the University of Nottingham, UK, and Yves Thiry from the National Agency for Radioactive Waste Management (ANDRA), France, and several other experts in Japan and Europe.

The main objective of the researchers was to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of 137Cs flow in forests. The process is far from straightforward, as there are multiple elements and variables to consider. First, a portion of 137Cs-containing rainfall is intercepted by trees, some of which is absorbed, and the rest eventually washes down onto the forest floor. There, a fraction of the radiocesium absorbs into forest litter and the remainder flows into the various soil and mineral layers below. Finally, trees, other plants, and mushrooms incorporate 137Cs through their roots and mycelia, respectively, ultimately making it both into edible products harvested from Fukushima and wild animals.

Considering the complexity of 137Cs flux dynamics, a huge number of field surveys and gatherings of varied data had to be conducted, as well as subsequent theoretical and statistical analyses. Fortunately, the response from the government and academia was considerably faster and more thorough after the FDNPP disaster than in the Chernobyl disaster, as Hashimoto explains: “After the Chernobyl accidents, studies were very limited due to the scarce information provided by the Soviet Union. In contrast, the timely studies in Fukushima have allowed us to capture the early phases of 137Cs flow dynamics; this allowed us to provide the first wholistic understanding of this process in forests in Fukushima.”

Understanding how long radionuclides like 137Cs can remain in ecosystems and how far they can spread is essential to implement policies to protect people from radiation in Fukushima-sourced food and wood. In addition, the article also explores the effectiveness of using potassium-containing fertilizers to prevent the uptake of 137Cs in plants. “The compilation of data, parameters, and analyses we present in our chapter will be helpful for forest remediation both in Japan and the rest of the world,” remarks Hashimoto.

When preventive measures fail, the only remaining option is trying to fix the damage done–in the case of radiation control, this is only possible with a comprehensive understanding of the interplay of factors involved.

In this manner, this new chapter will hopefully lead to both timely research and more effective solutions should a nuclear disaster happen again.

###

Reference

Title: Environmental Transfer of Radionuclides in Japan following the Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Chapter 5 “Forest ecosystems”

Published in: International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA TECDOC no. 1927

Link (open access): https://www.iaea.org/publications/14751/environmental-transfer-of-radionuclides-in-japan-following-the-accident-at-the-fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-power-plant

About the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Japan

Inaugurated as a unit for forest experiments in Tokyo in 1905, the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute (FFPRI) was largely reorganized in 1988, when it received its current name. During its history of over 110 years, the FFPRI has been conducting interdisciplinary research on forests, forestry, the timber industry, and tree breeding with an agenda based around sustainable development goals. The FFPRI is currently looking to collaborate with more diverse stakeholders, such as international organizations, government agencies, and industry and academic leaders, to conduct much needed forest-related research and make sure we preserve these renewable resources. Website: https://www.ffpri.affrc.go.jp/ffpri/en/index.html

About Dr. Shoji Hashimoto from the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Japan

Shoji Hashimoto obtained Master’s and PhD degrees from The University of Tokyo, Japan, in 2001 and 2004, respectively. In 2005, he joined the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Japan, where he now works as Senior Researcher. He is also Associate Professor at The University of Tokyo. He has published over 50 papers and is a referee for over 30 scientific journals. His main research interests are soil and forest science, environmental dynamics, and climate change, among others. Hashimoto has also been an organizer for various events, including two Symposiums on Fukushima Forests and the Japan?Finland Joint Seminar, and serves as the coordinator of a radioecology unit in International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-02/fafp-dor020221.php?fbclid=IwAR0naTuQ7-QqY9KtR9zrGX1ZbVyHjyuoTI_gBnXiDGMx2zHMolY48eRjNrM

February 14, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima businesses struggling to stay afloat despite government help

Rokutaro Kurihara, managing director of a company that runs a shopping complex in Iitate village in Fukushima Prefecture, is struggling to keep his business afloat.

Jan 29, 2021

Commercial complexes built as part of revitalization projects in areas affected by the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011 are struggling to stay afloat.

Faced with difficulties due to swelling costs, business operators often turn to local municipalities for financial aid to help them overcome crises. But the financial struggles will not end soon, given that only a portion of the residents who evacuated from the disaster-stricken areas have returned or are expected to.

Those outlets are now facing a testing moment that will determine whether they can continue with their businesses.

A small village in Fukushima Prefecture located northwest of the power plant, Iitate, which was issued evacuation orders after the nuclear disaster, built the commercial complex Michi no Eki Madeikan for ¥1.4 billion. However, business at the commercial building, which has a convenience store and a vegetable stand, has always been touch and go.

Madei Garden Village Iitate runs the business using a ¥33 million payment from the local government. But even with those funds, the operator saw a deficit of ¥9 million in fiscal 2017 and ¥8 million the following year.

Faced with a severe financial crisis, the company was forced to seek financial aid worth ¥35 million from Iitate in 2018.

After revising its business strategy, the company managed to reduce running costs and decrease the deficit to ¥300,000 in fiscal 2019.

“We are expecting a profit in fiscal 2020. I’ll be dealing with the accumulating debt as a priority,” says Rokutaro Kurihara, the company’s managing director.

Kurihara’s company is among those operating at 12 commercial facilities in 10 towns in areas that used to be designated as no-go zones, including the town of Namie and Tamura city.

Since most of the stores and shops shut down when residents evacuated from the region, local governments have built them for returning residents.

But many of them share the same fate as Kurihara’s.

In the town of Tomioka, Sakura Mall Tomioka, which houses various shops including a grocery store, operates with support from the the town and Fukushima Prefecture, covering its yearly losses worth ¥22 million.

But an official at the municipal government warns that the town will need to raise its rent after the prefecture’s subsidy program ends at the end of fiscal 2021.

Not all tenants deal with financial stress. However, businesses that continue to attract customers worry they may lose them to competitors outside the region.

The operator of Kokonara Shopping Street, a shopping complex that opened in 2018 in the town of Naraha, believes that they cannot meet customers’ needs because they do not have much space. Recent estimates show that cashiers at the center’s 10 stores, including a supermarket and a retailer with daily necessities, served as many as 570,000 customers in fiscal 2019.

But Shigeki Nemoto, who runs a supermarket at the Kokonara shopping facility with limited products available, says he may lose his customers to a nearby, larger shopping complex.

“Our shop is really small and we are struggling to source the product lineup we would like to offer to respond to the needs of our customers,” Nemoto said, adding that he had to reduce its range of meat and fish products.

His store is about 500 square meters, about half the floor space of an average supermarket.

“The neighboring city of Iwaki has a supermarket twice as big as ours with a floor space of 1,000 square meters and we’re worried that we’ll lose out to the competition,” Nemoto added.

Meanwhile, shops operating in areas where the government-run revitalization projects are ongoing depend on workers engaged in the projects for their business.

For instance, Minamisoma city built the only supermarket in its Odaka district, which had its no-go status lifted in 2016, for ¥240 million in 2018.

But the daily number of customers now hovers at around 250.

Many workers for the government reconstruction project visit the store in the afternoon or in the evening to purchase take-out meals or daily necessities. But when the reconstruction project finishes, those workers will disappear as well.

“Operators in the area should invest more in mobile catering and delivery services to boost potential demand and lure former residents back,” a Minamisoma official said.

This section features topics and issues from the Tohoku region covered by the Kahoku Shimpo, the largest newspaper in Tohoku. The original article was published Dec. 30.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/01/29/national/fukushima-business-struggles/

January 30, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , | Leave a comment

Ex-classmates reunite at school abandoned after Fukushima disaster

Old friends Nozomi Kaminagakura (L) and Mari Yamamoto hug each other in a schoolyard before parting on Jan. 9, 2021

Jan 24, 2021

Namie – “Take care. Let’s meet again,” Nozomi Kaminagakura and Mari Yamamoto said repeatedly as they hugged in a corner of a weed-strewn schoolyard in the town of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture that is still partly under an evacuation order.

The friends were neighbors until they were forced to leave their hometown when they were in the fourth grade because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.

They smiled for most of the day when they visited Namie in January but became tearful as they were about to part. Wearing kimono, they had attended a coming-of-age ceremony in the town earlier in the day.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, seats at the ceremony were spaced apart and the participants only took off their face masks for the commemorative photograph. There was no reunion party afterward.

Former classmates visit Karino Elementary School

Eleven former classmates along with their families visited the abandoned building of Karino Elementary School, which is set to be demolished.

In contrast to the bleak schoolyard, the young adults were cheerful as they shared stories of their school days and took photos.

Their parents also looked delighted to see them enjoying their reunion.

“Where do you live now?” they asked one another. One even asked, “Do you really remember me?”

It was their first return to the school together since the disaster forced all the residents of the town to evacuate.

“We were separated without any time to prepare,” one of them said.

Former classmates take a photo in the schoolyard. As many as 11 of them gathered for the first time in almost a decade

Kaminagakura, now a university student in Sendai in adjacent Miyagi Prefecture, said the area where she and Yamamoto used to lived remains basically off limits because radiation levels are still high.

Affectionately calling each other “Non-chan” and “Mari-chan,” they played almost every day back then, at a nearby river in the summer and sledding on a hill in the winter.

“I never thought we’d be unable to see each other,” Kaminagakura said, adding she had expected to return to the town after a short time.

“It’s not the Namie I knew,” she said.

At the school, however, she was able to freely converse with her former classmates, even after such a long time. “I was glad they haven’t changed.”

Minori Yoshida, who attends a technical school in Yokohama, near Tokyo, was forced to evacuate in the midst of moving to her new home in the town. The house remains vacant.

“I feel at ease whenever I come to Namie,” said Yoshida, who was visiting for the first time in three years with her family, who now live in the city of Fukushima.

When asked why she feels so, Yoshida said, “Because it is in the countryside? I have mixed feelings though, looking at the scenery now.”

About her friends from Namie, she said, “They are special to me.”

The 11 young adults stand side-by-side for a group photo in front of a school building to be demolished.

It might be the last time the former classmates could gather at the school before its demolition. They took a group photo in front of the school building.

A banner placed on the three-story building’s balcony read, “Forever in the hearts of Karino pupils. Thank you, Karino Elementary School.”

The 11 former classmates were slow to leave, even though the sun was setting, and kept repeating, “Take care. Let’s meet again.”

Nozomi Kaminagakura (L) and Mari Yamamoto in kimono pose in the schoolyard.

https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2021/01/adea7d939fd4-feature-ex-classmates-reunite-at-school-abandoned-after-fukushima-disaster.html?fbclid=IwAR25P5T1dY0WWM4XnJR9rnflDH_IoukuUKArhqP_B2vsvbBARgdMyvabeu8

January 30, 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

Forests affected by Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident

November 22, 2020

Forestry was once a thriving industry in Fukushima – until the 2011 nuclear disaster struck. More than 70 percent of the prefecture is covered with trees, but large areas have been abandoned or neglected.

“It’s regrettable. I didn’t even imagine things were so bad,” says forester Akimoto Kimio, who visited a plantation in Tomioka, about 10 kilometers away from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Ever since an earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the facility, the forest has been abandoned. Some of its most prized pine trees, more than 50 years old, have died.

Akimoto, 72, heads a local forestry cooperative that was relocated elsewhere in the prefecture following the nuclear accident. But after nine years and eight months, it returned to Tomioka on November 4.

Akimoto Kimio, the head of the Futaba district forestry cooperative.

The forestry cooperative ships timber and manages maintenance, such as thinning out trees. Akimoto oversees about 2,000 hectares, 60 percent of which is in areas subject to an evacuation order due to high radiation levels.

His cooperative used to have 20 workers. At one point, the number dwindled to just two. Akimoto has worked hard to keep it afloat, negotiating with the central government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company on decontamination work and compensation. He believes forest preservation will one day help to ensure evacuated residents can return.

Unattended areas of woodland can pose various risks, including fires. A contaminated forest would be particularly hazardous in the event of a landslide, because the mud flow is likely to contain radioactive substances.

n 2017, a forest fire near Tomioka burned down trees on a 75-hectare-plot. It took 11 days to extinguish.

“Our mission is to take good care of our hometown forests and enhance the surrounding environment,” says Akimoto on the day his cooperative returned to Tomioka.

“We will help lay the groundwork to ensure residents can return worry-free. We hope many will come home.”

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/1383/

November 22, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

In Rural Fukushima, ‘The Border Between Monkeys And Humans Has Blurred’

Shuichi Kanno, 79, walks in front of his home at dusk. Kanno has been dealing with hordes of macaque monkeys in his neighborhood in Japan. They frequently wake him up as they climb over his roof in the early morning hours.

September 10, 2020

Shuichi Kanno rips tape off the top of a large cardboard box at his house in the mountains in Fukushima prefecture in Japan. He opens the box and rustles around to pull out pack after pack of long, thin Roman candle fireworks. The words “Animal Exterminating Firework” are written in Japanese on the side of each canister.

Kanno has been battling hordes of macaque monkeys that have encroached upon his neighborhood in a rural area of Minamisoma. These fireworks are his main deterrent — not to cause the monkeys any physical harm, but to scare them away with a loud bang. That is, until they regain their confidence and come back a few days later, which they do like clockwork, Kanno says.

Kanno stacks fireworks on his coffee table to distribute to neighbors. The fireworks make a loud noise meant to scare, not injure, the monkeys.

“In the early morning while I’m sleeping, just when I’m about to wake up, I hear the noise,” the 79-year-old says in Japanese as he stacks the fireworks on his living room table. “The sound of the monkeys running around on the roof, getting into the gardens, eating all my food. I have to fight them.”

Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated this area nine years ago, fleeing plumes of radioactive material after three reactors exploded at the Daiichi nuclear power plant, one of the most serious nuclear disasters in history. Whole towns and neighborhoods like Kanno’s were left empty of human life for years — and, much like Chernobyl, nature started to reclaim the space. Plants poke through sidewalks and buildings, while wild boar, raccoons and foxes roam the streets. But in recent years, many evacuation orders have lifted and people have started to return, meaning humans and animals are having to figure out new ways to coexist — or not.

A macaque monkey in a tree in Fukushima prefecture. After the 2011 nuclear disaster, towns and neighborhoods in Fukushima were left devoid of humans for years, and nature started to reclaim the space.

“The monkeys never used to come here, but after the disaster, the border between monkeys and humans has blurred,” Kanno explains. “The houses were empty, but the gardens were still growing — plums, pears, chestnuts, persimmons. It was a wonderland for monkeys, an all-you-can-eat buffet. And they remembered that.”

His neighborhood is on the very edge of the evacuation area, relatively far from Daiichi. People stayed away for only a few years, but by the time they came back, the monkeys had become comfortable. And, Kanno points out, half the houses are still empty and only older people came back. They just don’t have the numbers they need to win the battle against the monkeys without backup.

From left: Shuichi Kanno, Shigeko Hoshino, Hiroyuki Shima and Hachiro Endo are neighbors who moved back to Fukushima after the nuclear disaster and who get regular visits from monkeys that eat fruits and vegetables from their gardens.

That is where the fireworks come in, subsidized by the local government after residents complained. The governments here have provided several different kinds of tools, such as wild boar traps and electric fences for farmers, to help communities with animal problems.

Yuriko Kanno, 75, Shuichi’s wife, comes into the living room, looks at the pile of fireworks and laughs. “I’ve been worried that this village is going to become like that movie, the monkey planet one,” she says, referring to Planet of the Apes. “I’ve seen it — it could happen!”

She walks away giggling. Shuichi Kanno is laughing too. The monkeys are annoying, yes, but they’re also a source of entertainment for the aging residents, he concedes.

Yuriko Kanno, 75, is amused by the battle between her husband and the monkeys.

“Look, I think they’re cute. I would absolutely never hurt them,” he says. “None of this is their fault. It’s nuclear power’s fault. It’s the fault of humans.”

Shuichi Kanno is a leader in the neighborhood, and he’s in charge of distributing the fireworks to any of his neighbors who want them. The neighbors all have to sign an agreement saying they understand the dangers and — most importantly, he says — that they will not hurt any animals.

He loads the fireworks into the trunk of his car and drives down forest roads from house to house, dropping off packs of fireworks at every stop. As he drives, he points to all the natural beauty in the area. The nuclear disaster didn’t just change his relationship with monkeys, he says.

“I loved hiking, and foraging for wild vegetables, finding wild mushrooms. But now it’s so dangerous,” Kanno explains, referring to the high levels of radioactive cesium still present in the dense forests here. “We can’t have a relationship with nature anymore. It’s gone.”

Kanno drives his truck down a main road in his neighborhood, chasing monkeys that he saw scampering around his house not long ago.

He pulls up to the house of Hachiro Endo, 77, whose family has been in the area for generations. The home has a beautiful garden in front and long strands of drying persimmons hanging in the garage.

Endo is delighted by the delivery. He has gone through his entire stockpile protecting his garden. “I’m alert all the time,” Endo sighs. “The monkeys, they’ve taken over my life.”

He says he remembers a time when he was little and his grandfather tried to lure the monkeys down from the mountains into the village, hoping to boost tourism to the area by becoming a monkey town. He was never successful — the macaques were too afraid of humans to come down and stay.

“If only he could see it now,” he says with a laugh.

A troop of monkeys scampers across a road in Fukushima prefecture.

A few days later, Kanno is out on monkey patrol. He has just seen a troop of monkeys running from his house out into the neighborhood. He’s wearing knee-high rubber boots, a bright orange jacket and a baseball cap while clutching a firework in one hand and the steering wheel of his pickup truck in the other.

He drives slowly, leaning forward to scan the hills as he goes. And then suddenly, he slams on his brakes.

“There they are!” he shouts, pointing behind a shed. Dozens of monkeys are jumping toward the forest, scrambling up trees and crawling up the hillside.

He jumps out of the truck and pulls the firework from underneath his jacket, loading it onto a kind of stick so he can hold it far away. He lights the fuse and smiles, pointing it toward the hill.

Kanno grins after shooting off a firework to scare off monkeys that were roaming through the neighborhood.

Three loud booms echo through the trees. The monkeys scatter. Kanno bursts into a grin, giggling. Then he runs to every house nearby, making sure his neighbors know that he just saved their gardens from almost certain devastation.

“They won’t be back tomorrow!” Kanno calls, waving the spent firework, giddy with excitement. “I won today!”

But even as he says that he loads a fresh firework and tucks it into his coat. The monkeys will be back, and the battle will continue.

October 2, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Mr Sugeno Seiji, farming organically in Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture

September 11, 2020

Through the nuclear power plant disaster, Mr Sugeno reaffirmed the values of farming. His words leave a strong impression: “The nuclear plant stole our hometowns, they create divisions. This must not be repeated.” “We people of Fukushima need to share our story. To change lifestyles, to change policies. To stand up to the government, to farm our fields, this is want we want to continue to do.”

September 13, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Many Fukushima evacuees die away from home

September 9, 2020

NHK has learned that more than 2,600 people have died over the ensuing years after being evacuated from their hometowns following the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011.

NHK contacted local governments in Fukushima Prefecture and found that at least 2,670 people, about 10 percent of the original population, had died as of August. More than 26,500 people lived in seven municipalities near the plant. Where they lived have been designated no-entry zones for nearly nine and a half years because radiation levels remain high.

By municipality, 895 people from Okuma Town have died, 792 from Futaba Town, 576 from Namie Town, 362 from Tomioka Town, 32 from Iitate Village, 12 from Katsurao Village, and one from Minamisoma City.

The Japanese government is conducting decontamination work and rebuilding infrastructure in some areas with the aim to allow residents to return in two or three years.

But there is no concrete plan to make other parts, or 92 percent of the no-entry zone, habitable again, despite the strong hope of residents to return home.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20200909_06/

September 13, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Billing Olympics as ‘pandemic recovery games’ unfeasible: ex-Fukushima mayor

jkjFormer Minamisoma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai is seen talking to the Mainichi Shimbun in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on July 3, 2020

 

August 5, 2020

MINAMISOMA, Fukushima — Katsunobu Sakurai, former mayor of Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, who was in office during the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, firmly stated during a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun that it is unfeasible to dub the Tokyo Olympics a “sign of humanity’s triumph over the novel coronavirus,” as suggested by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Sakurai, who was born in the city of Minamisoma himself, served two terms as mayor for his hometown between 2010 and 2018. Sakurai was picked as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2011 following the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

The following is an excerpt of Sakurai’s remarks to the Mainichi Shimbun on July 3.

* * * * *

Following the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke of holding next year’s Olympics as a “sign of humanity’s triumph over the novel coronavirus.” Up until now, the prime minister may have thought that presenting the event with the title “disaster recovery” from the Great East Japan Earthquake would gather worldwide attention, but now he is trying to replace this slogan amid the global spread of the novel coronavirus. However, the concept of a “recovery Olympics,” let alone a “coronavirus Olympics” has no chance of success.

jllkmkFormer Minamisoma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai is seen talking to the Mainichi Shimbun in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on July 3, 2020.

 

The torch relay for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which was eventually canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, was just a performance put on for show. The relay was set to start at the J-Village national soccer training center in Fukushima Prefecture, which was used as a base to handle the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (after the Great East Japan Earthquake). However, the relay route was limited to areas that have been tidied up, and did not show the real nature of the disaster-hit areas. “Recovery” means restoring an environment to a state where people can return. At the very least, if residents have returned and can once again live in a state similar to before the disaster, this may be called a recovery. But the government is trying to show how far the recovery has progressed, when in fact there is much left to be achieved.

There is also talk that flowers grown in the disaster-stricken areas will be used for victory bouquets awarded to Olympic medalists, but would this actually help boost the recovery overall? In Fukushima Prefecture, baseball and softball matches for the Olympic Games are to be held in the prefectural Azuma ballpark in the suburbs of the city of Fukushima, but this site has almost no connection to the coastal areas of the prefecture (that were damaged in the tsunami following the magnitude-9.0 temblor). It appears that it is nothing more than a performance (by the Japanese government).

No matter how much you tout the games as a sign of recovery, the overall picture of only Tokyo prospering while the recovery of the disaster-hit areas in the Tohoku region remains undone will not change. I’ve been to Tokyo many times, and saw that there were more crane trucks at the construction site of the athletes’ village than in the disaster-hit areas. It was obvious at a glance where the national government was placing its resources.

It’s not that I am disapproving of the Olympics itself. It is a festivity celebrating peace, and I am aware that Japan had been long active in its bid to host the games. However, it doesn’t make sense when you start calling it a “recovery Olympics.” The inconsistency becomes clear when labeling the games an event “contributing to the recovery of the disaster-hit areas.”

During the Japan’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics, Prime Minister Abe described the polluted water generated by the nuclear disaster as being “under control,” and then Tokyo Games bid committee chairman Tsunekazu Takeda called Tokyo “safe,” as it is 250 kilometers away from Fukushima. Don’t these very statements run counter to a “recovery Olympics”?

At the time, I was confronted by an elderly resident of my city who asked, “It’s a dangerous place here, isn’t it? Why don’t you let us live in Tokyo?” A “recovery Olympics” should by nature be something that residents of the disaster-stricken areas can feel good about holding, but the authorities’ perceptions are inconsistent with those in such areas.

If a “recovery Olympics” in the true sense of the term is to be held, it will by restoring the coastal regions of disaster-hit areas to a state capable of hosting the events, such as marathons.

During the 2019 Rugby World Cup, matches were held in the city of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, in northeastern Japan, (an area also hit hard by the tsunami) as a way to underscore the recovery. This must have been a large source of emotional strength for local residents. However, Fukushima Prefecture still has zones that people cannot even enter. It just doesn’t seem like it is in any condition to hold the Olympics. I can only presume that the large impact of the nuclear disaster is still being underestimated.

The Japanese government has prepared for the Olympics while upholding the “disaster recovery” label, even though a recovery is far from reality. It is superficial to declare a recovery with no actual progress. The government is now talking of an Olympics that could be a sign of humanity’s triumph over the pandemic, but vaccines have not yet been put into practical use, and the world has not yet been freed from the risk of infection. There is no chance of success by trying to box in reality to meet the labels the government upholds. The idea of a “coronavirus Olympics” may also likely end as a mere fantasy.

(Original Japanese interview by Jun Kaneko, City News Department)

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20200805/p2a/00m/0na/003000c

 

August 7, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Experts propose two methods to scrap Daiichi plant

20200726_14_863728_L

July 26, 2020

Japanese atomic energy experts have proposed two ways to decommission the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The Atomic Energy Society of Japan floated the two methods in a report.

One proposal is to dismantle and remove all parts of the reactor buildings and leave the site vacant. The other is to dismantle and remove parts of the reactor buildings that are above ground and leave behind the underground structures.

The experts say each method has been studied in the United States and European countries.

They say amounts of radioactive waste to be generated during decommissioning work will vary significantly, depending on when the dismantling of reactor buildings begins — namely, starting to dismantle contaminated buildings soon or waiting a certain period for their radiation levels to drop.

A decommissioning timeline released by the Japanese government and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, shows the scrapping process will be completed by 2051. But the plan is unclear on how the reactor buildings will be decommissioned.

Miyano Hiroshi, a member of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, says it will be difficult to draw a conclusion from various arguments on how to decommission the plant. But he adds discussions are important and that he hopes the society’s report will contribute to the debate.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20200726_14/?fbclid=IwAR135prg8cmB7Yw5kdFWbeCitGEIWkPqIxi6Hgryx-PV-2HwN9ksZKld7CU

August 3, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Robots in Fukushima monitor cucumber production in IT-farming joint project

np_file_25710-870x653Katsumi Hashimoto (left) president of the Fukushima Seed Center, talks about how he teamed up with two other technology companies to make cucumber farming less labor intensive.

Jul 24, 2020

Three ventures from the IT and farming industries have started testing methods to produce cucumbers with less human labor in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, in the hope that it will reinvigorate the agriculture industry suffering from a worsening labor shortage, including a lack of successors.

Two technology companies, Benefic Co. and MK tech, have teamed up with Fukushima Seed Center and established a project team called Smart Agri Fukushima.

The team created a 1,300-square-meter testing greenhouse, planted 2,000 cucumbers and is monitoring temperatures, humidity and carbon dioxide among other data remotely using robots. The team has already shipped 1.6 tons of produce to a local agricultural cooperative, with a plan to expand the greenhouse to 1 hectare, or eight times the current scale, in the next five years.

In developing robots to monitor the cucumbers, Benefic will be in charge of its software while MK tech will manufacture the hardware. In the greenhouse, cucumbers are produced through a unique hanging method, which makes it easier for robots to monitor the produce, rather than the usual method which is to cut the plant at a certain height.

According to the seed center, the Sukagawa area, well-known for cucumbers, has been struggling for years with a shortage of labor, causing farmers to automate the farming process to make it more attractive to younger people. In the future, they hope to spread the smart farming method nationwide.

We want to protect cucumber farming by making the fields less labor intensive,” said Katsumi Hashimoto, president of the seed center.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/07/24/national/robots-farming-fukushima/

August 3, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment