The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

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

Is Fukushima doomed to become a dumping ground for toxic waste?

march 16 2018
16 Mar 2018
Despite promises of revitalisation from Japan’s government, seven years on from the nuclear disaster the area is still struggling
This month, seven years after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi reactor meltdowns and explosions that blanketed hundreds of square kilometres of northeastern Japan with radioactive debris, government officials and politicians spoke in hopeful terms about Fukushima’s prosperous future. Nevertheless, perhaps the single most important element of Fukushima’s future remains unspoken: the exclusion zone seems destined to host a repository for Japan’s most hazardous nuclear waste.
No Japanese government official will admit this, at least not publicly. A secure repository for nuclear waste has remained a long-elusive goal on the archipelago. But, given that Japan possesses approximately 17,000 tonnes of spent fuel from nuclear power operations, such a development is vital. Most spent fuel rods are still stored precariously above ground, in pools, in a highly earthquake-prone nation.
Japanese officialdom relentlessly emphasises positive messages regarding Fukushima’s short- and medium-term future, prioritising economic development and the gradual return of sceptical evacuees to their newly “remediated” communities. Yet the return rate for the least hard-hit communities is only about 15%. Government proclamations regarding revitalisation of the area in and around the exclusion zone intone about jobs but seem geared ominously toward a future with relatively few humans.
The Fukushima prefecture government is currently promoting a plan, dubbed The Innovation Coast, that would transform the unwelcoming region into a thriving sweep of high-tech innovation. Much of the development would be directed towards a “robot-related industrial cluster” and experimental zones like a robot test field.
march 16 2018 waste storage area in futaba
Aerial view of a nuclear waste storage area in Futaba, with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the background.
The test field would develop robots tailored for disaster response and for other purposes on a course simulating a wide range of hurdles and challenges already well represented in Fukushima itself. Large water tanks would contain an array of underwater hazards to navigate, mirroring the wreckage-strewn waters beneath the Fukushima Daiichi plant, where a number of meltdown-remediating underwater robots have met a premature demise in recent years.
Elsewhere on the robot test field, dilapidated buildings and other ruins would serve as a proving ground for land-based disaster-response robots, which must navigate twisted steel rods, broken concrete and other rubble. Engineered runways and surrounding radiation-hit areas would serve as prime territory for testing parlous 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 13km south along the coast to coordinate test flights over the exclusion zone’s more or less posthuman terrain.
Naturally, unlike Fukushima’s human residents, robots would be oblivious to the elevated radiation levels found outside the Fukushima Daiichi facility. 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.
Proud long-time residents of Fukushima, for their part, see all this development as a continued “colonisation” of the home prefecture by Tokyo – a well-worn pattern of outsiders using the zone for their own purposes, as were the utility representatives and officials who built the ill-fated plant in the first place.
march 16 2018 check post exit from the exclusion zone of Futaba town
A guard gesturing at a check post exit from the exclusion zone of Futaba town, Fukushima prefecture.
Years of colossal decontamination measures have scraped irradiated material from seemingly every forest, park, farm, roadside, and school ground. This 16 million cubic metres of radioactive soil is now stored in provisional sites in and around the exclusion zone, waiting to be moved to an interim storage facility that has hardly been started and for which nearly half of the land has not yet even been leased.
The state has promised to remove all the contaminated soil from Fukushima after 30 years, and government officials have been scrupulous in insisting that this will be the case – for soil. Yet in a nation with about 17,000 tonnes of highly radioactive spent fuel rods and no willing candidates for secure repositories, it is only a matter of time before it becomes possible for politicians to publicly back the idea of transforming the area around Fukushima Daiichi into a secure repository.
Government officials, including those tasked with nuclear waste storage, describe the quintessentially Japanese strategy of saki-okuri, or calculated postponement, in the context of nuclear waste storage. Such perception management is a subtle business, but by quietly and unrelentingly pushing back the day of reckoning – slowly changing the terms of debate – the broadly distasteful prospect of storing Japan’s most dangerous material in its most tragically maltreated region would become gradually less intolerable to Japanese sensibilities.
The expanse of Fukushima in and around the exclusion zone represents an already contaminated area with, since 2011, far fewer residents to protest against such plans. Such a rare opportunity for relatively unopposed intervention in a struggling area will surely prove irresistible to the nuclear lobby.
Fukushima has been marginalised, disenfranchised, and outmanoeuvred for decades. After all, the electricity from Fukushima Daiichi went straight to the capital, not to Fukushima itself, which bore the risks. Since 2011, Fukushima has been saddled with the staggering burden of the meltdown’s aftermath that, despite government PR, will encumber and stigmatise its citizens for at least several decades.
• Peter Wynn Kirby is a nuclear and environmental specialist at the University of Oxford

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

Vietnamese trainee paid US$19 a day to do decontamination work near crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan

15 March, 2018,
Japan introduced the training programme for foreign workers in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme has drawn criticism for giving Japanese companies a cover to import cheap labour
15 march 2018 vietnamese worker decontamination.jpg
A Vietnamese man who came to Japan under a foreign trainee programme was made to engage in radioactive decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture without his knowledge, a foreign workers support group heard.
At an event organised by the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan, the 24-year-old man, who declined to be named, said he would have “never come to Japan” if he had known he would be doing that work near where a nuclear disaster occurred in 2011.
The Vietnamese said a construction company in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, hired him as a trainee, but did not tell him the work involved removing decontaminated material from around where the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the days after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan in March 2011.
Japan introduced the training programme for foreign workers in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme, applicable to agriculture and manufacturing among other sectors, has drawn criticism at home and abroad for giving Japanese companies a cover to import cheap labour.
15 march 2018 vietnamese worker decontamination2
According to the network, the Vietnamese man arrived in Japan in September 2015, and his contract only stated he would be engaging in work involving “construction machinery, dismantling, and civil engineering.”
Without any explanation about decontamination, he was told to remove the surface soil from roads and nearby residences in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, between October 2015 and March 2016.
He also took part in dismantling buildings in the town of Kawamata in the prefecture between September and December in 2016 before an evacuation order for the area was lifted.
15 march 2018 vietnamese worker decontamination3
The man became suspicious about the work after seeing someone measuring radiation levels at the work sites, and he discovered the nature of the work after contacting the Zentoitsu Workers Union, an organisation helping foreign workers in Japan.
He also received only 2,000 yen (US$19) a day for decontamination work, less than a third of the 6,600 yen set as the standard by the Environment Ministry, in addition to his monthly salary of about 150,000 yen as a foreign trainee.
According to the union, this is the first known case of a foreign trainee’s involvement in decontamination work.
The Justice Ministry’s immigration bureau and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare released statements on Wednesday, saying decontamination work does not fit the purpose of the trainee programme.
“If the content of training is significantly different from the plan, it can be illegal,” the immigration bureau said.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima’s Diplomatic Fallout, 7 Years After the Nuclear Disaster

March 14, 2018
Japan faces questions from abroad about its handling of the lingering aftereffects of the triple disaster.
March 11 marked the seventh anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami disaster that devastated Japan’s northeast coastal regions in 2011. While the resulting accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to cause a great deal of disruption within the country, it also poses ongoing challenges for Japan’s diplomacy.
The Japanese government recently came under pressure in a United Nations human rights forum over the adequacy of its support for people who fled the disaster zone – and faced scrutiny about radiation levels in places where evacuees have returned. At the same time, Japanese diplomats have been waging a long battle to persuade other countries to ease import restrictions on food from the surrounding areas.
The Fukushima prefectural government says that the number of evacuees peaked at 164,865 in 2012, the year after the disaster, but that figure has now fallen to about 50,000 with decontamination work progressing and the lifting of evacuation orders in a number of towns.
Several countries took up the issue of the rights of Fukushima residents and evacuees as part of the UN’s universal periodic review of Japan. Austria, for example, urged the government to continue to provide housing support to so-called voluntary evacuees. These are people who had been living outside officially designated evacuation zones but fled because of their fears about radiation. Their housing aid ended about a year ago. Portugal, meanwhile, called on Japan to ensure women and men had equal participation in decision-making processes about their resettlement and Mexico urged the government to guarantee access to health services.
Germany’s representatives focused on radiation levels. Under Japanese government policies, evacuation orders can be lifted if the level of exposure for residents is estimated to be below 20 millisievert (mSv) per year. Germany called on the government to “respect the rights of persons living in the area of Fukushima, in particular of pregnant women and children, to the highest level of physical and mental health, notably by restoring the allowable dose of radiation to the 1 mSv/year limit, and by a continuing support to the evacuees and residents.” Incidentally, the International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends that the level for people in contaminated areas should be in the lower part of the 1 to 20 mSv/year range, with a long-term post-accident target of 1 mSv/year.
In a response dated March 1, the Japanese government said it accepted these four recommendations for follow-up, while arguing that it was providing necessary support to affected people under the relevant laws. The minister for reconstruction, Masayoshi Yoshino, subsequently told foreign journalists and diplomats that the government was effectively already committed to the long-term target advocated by Germany. “We have proceeded with decontamination efforts and as a long-term goal the government has indicated 1 mSv per annum,” he said during a briefing at the Foreign Press Center Japan on March 7.
The problem, according to environmental activists, is that the time-frame for achieving that goal is vague. Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, said the raising of the issue in the UN process was important for evacuees as the recommendations could not simply be ignored. “The German government’s intervention on behalf of tens of thousands of Japanese citizens is absolutely welcome,” he said during a visit to Tokyo. Burnie and others plan to closely monitor how the recommendations are implemented.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government has been seeking to promote the safety of food products from Fukushima and other nearby regions, as a handful of places (including China and Taiwan) still impose import restrictions.
Tokyo last month enjoyed a significant win when a World Trade Organization dispute panel ruled that South Korea’s broad restrictions targeting eight prefectures were “unjustifiably discriminate.” Seoul is appealing the finding.
The Japanese government emphasizes the integrity of its food screening measures. In a recent report to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the government said 25,864 food samples were taken and analyzed in January 2018, of which 19 samples or 0.07 percent were found to be above the limits for cesium-134 and cesium-137.
Yoshino, the reconstruction minister, said vegetables, tea, and livestock products had not exceeded the standard limits over the past five years. No bags of rice produced in Fukushima prefecture had breached the limit since 2015, he added. Yoshino further described the “elimination of negative reputation” as the biggest challenge in promoting reconstruction of disaster-affected areas.
“Hoping that overseas consumers would also experience our delicious foods, I would be grateful if you would tell the people of your country about these initiatives for food safety that I have presented here today,” Yoshino said in a press briefing that was also attended by diplomats.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan: Foreign ‘interns’ doing radioactive decontamination work at Fukushima

14 march 2018 Foreign interns  decontamination work.jpg
March 14, 2018
Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan expressed concern that foreign ‘interns’ working in Japan under the Technical Intern Training Programme (TITP) were being made to engage in dangerous radioactive decontamination work at locations close to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. ‘A’, a Vietnamese national, had worked for over two years at decontamination sites before, fearing for his health, he escaped from his company dormitory. ‘A’ states he was never told he was engaged in decontamination work, and never received any special training. He was paid just above the minimum wage (JPY 145,000, or approximately USD 1,400 per month), apparently less than what Japanese nationals doing the same work were receiving. In addition, the company he worked for paid him only one third of the JPY 6,000 (approximately USD 60) daily bonus for decontamination work provided by the government, in violation of government policy.
Though ostensibly a programme to transfer advanced skills to developing countries, TITP has been widely criticized as a means for Japanese companies to exploit cheap labour. Domestic and international human rights NGOs, UN human rights bodies, and even the US State Department has expressed concern that the programme results in human trafficking. ‘A’ paid USD 15,000 to brokers and other middle men in Vietnam before arriving in Japan on the TITP, ensuring that he was in debt bondage from the outset.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Decontamination work begins in Okuma, Fukushima

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

Fukushima Flounder Promotion Event Cancelled in Thailand Due to Consumers Concerns

March 12, 2018
Event promoting Fukushima fish cancelled
An event in Thailand promoting flounder from Fukushima has been cancelled amid concerns from consumers.
The event was being held at a Japanese restaurant and scheduled to run through the end of the month. The export of flounder caught in waters off Fukushima was resumed on March 1st for the first time since the 2011 nuclear accident.
The Fukushima prefectural government says a consumer group raised concerns about the safety of the fish. The group said the fish were caught in contaminated waters and dangerous to eat.
The group also reportedly demanded the Thai government announce the name of a local restaurant that sold the fish.
Consumers took to social media to voice their concerns.
Organizers say they cancelled the event to avoid confusion.
Nearly 130 kilograms of flounder have been exported from Fukushima to Thailand but close to half remains untouched. Exports are essentially halted.
A Fukushima government official said the prefecture will continue to promote the safety of the fish in hopes of once again resuming the exports.
Fukushima governor rues cancellation
Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori has called the cancellation “regrettable.”
He noted that Thai health authorities have said the flounder was rigorously screened and deemed safe. He also said the fish was favorably received at a local Japanese restaurant.
The head of a fisheries association in Fukushima said news of the cancellation came just as he felt pleased about the resumption of exports.
He said a robust screening system has been in place to ensure that the fish are safe.
He added that Thai consumers and environmental activists should be invited to Fukushima to witness safety procedures.
Meanwhile, a representative of a Thai environmental group told NHK that the names of local stores selling marine products from Fukushima should be made public. The group is critical of the Thai government’s handling of the issue.
The official said it is known that Japan has strict safety standards, but that trusting them is another matter.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Seven years after meltdown, Fukushima’s recovery still decades away

March 12, 2018
by Charles Digges
Seven years ago, on the afternoon of March 11, 2011, one of the biggest earthquakes ever measured sent a wall of water rolling toward Japan’s northeastern coastline and into the six reactors of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
In the seven years since, the name of the plant has become synonymous with Chernobyl for connoting disaster, radioactive contamination, massive human migration and other calamities of biblical proportion – a name that requires no further description to understand the scale of the disaster it connotes.
It’s become another point on the compass at which the world can contemplate its own end – a catastrophe that still casts more shadows than light, continues to beg confounding questions, and which will continue to press the limits of understanding for decades to come.
On Sunday, Japan marked the anniversary with a nationwide moment of silence at 2:46 pm, the moment when, on that Friday in 2011, the waters breached the Fukushima plant and triggered a triple nuclear meltdown.
In the days that followed the quake, uranium fuel melted down inside three of the six reactors. Hydrogen explosions burst through the roofs of three of the reactor buildings, sending radioactive iodine, cesium and other fission by-products belching into the environment. Millions of liters of water were pumped from the ocean to cool the overheating reactors, cascading contamination into the sea.
The meltdowns forced the evacuation of 160,000 people from the rural and agrarian prefecture, 73,000 of whom have yet to come anywhere near home again. Food and livestock were poisoned. In the aftermath, Japan shut down its 42 remaining nuclear reactors, only three of which have come back online under the country’s stringent new safety codes, which were rewritten nearly from scratch in the disaster’s aftermath, severing a source of 30 percent of Japan’s power.
Seven years on, troubling questions about the plant’s condition remain, and addressing them will mean decontaminating an area almost as big as Hawaii without unleashing yet more radiation into the environment.
As this year’s anniversary approached, Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco, which owns the plant, reported that that the reactors at Fukushima are now stable, but many are having trouble believing that. Since the beginning of the disaster, Tepco delayed and obfuscated reports on the state the plant, costing critical evacuation days, and the company is now struggling to overcome a lack of public trust as it forges forth in the cleanup.
The sheer vastness of the cleanup operation seems nearly impossible to bring to heel. At the plant alone, it’s estimated to take another 50 years before decontamination and clean up is complete. Tepco, estimates it will finish the job by 2050. Others in the government admit the cleanup could go on far beyond that.
Meanwhile the extent of the toll on human health remains unknown. Of the 20,000 workers who were exposed to radiation in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, only about 7,000 have received any sort of ongoing health testing and observation.
And people are reluctant to return to homes that fell within the evacuation zone. Japanese broadcasters report that some 70,000 continue to live in government supported evacuation housing, leery of retiring to areas where radiation levels are only debatably safe.
While the Japanese government said last year that decontamination costs would reach $75.7 billion, think tanks in Japan have said the final bill could be more than eight times that – closer to $470 billion to $660 billion, according to Japan’s Center for Economic Research,
Whatever the amount, Japan is paying for daring engineering to handle thousands of damaged and melted nuclear fuel rods and tons of mangled reactor debris.
One of the main problems is what to do with millions of tons of water, which is coursing through the reactors to keep them cool. This water, once contaminated, collects in tanks Tepco has built at the site to hold it. There are 1,000 of these tanks, but the volume of irradiated water they have to handle grows by 100 tons daily.
What will become of that water, Tepco has not yet decided, and efforts to clean it of radioactive isotopes have been only partially successful. While Tepco says it can scrub it of cesium, strontium and 50 other radionuclides, it can’t remove its tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
Other issues are posed by rain water seeping into the ground at the stricken plant. It is feared this water could drain contamination into the sea, and Tepco last year built a wall of frozen soil to contain it. But this year they reported it wasn’t working as hoped, and that because of this failure, some 500 tons of water is being contaminated daily at the site.
Yet the biggest challenges remain with the stricken reactors themselves.
During the disaster, uranium fuel overheated and dripped through the bottoms of the No 1, 2 and 3 reactors, forming molten pockets beneath them. Radiation levels inside the reactors are searing. Inside reactor No 2, for instance, levels still reach reach 7 to 42 sieverts per hour – enough to kill humans after just a short period of exposure. Only robots can reach the fuel.
The robots are trying to map the location of the melted fuel, sending out 3-D imaging allowing workers to discern the location of pebbly deposits thought to be molten uranium. Yet even when the fuel is found, operations to remove it won’t come before 2021 – when engineers will devise a way to get out.
When that begins, it will add to the 200,000 tons of nuclear waste that is in in storage at the disaster site. Japan has not yet agreed on where all of this will finally be buried, and popular resistance to hosting the waste fuels that uncertainty.
While Tepco did manage to remove all 1,533 fuel bundles from the plant’s unit No. 4 reactor before December 2014, it still has to do the same for the hundreds of rods stored at the other three units.
This will mean clearing rubble, installing shields, dismantling the building roofs, and setting up platforms equipment to remove the rods. In February a 55-ton dome roof was installed on unit No. 3 to facilitate the safe removal of the 533 fuel bundles that remain in a storage pool there. And while removal of fuel at reactor No 3 may being before April of 2019, the fuel at units No. 1 and 2 will not be ready for transfer before 2023.
What Fukushima may look like decades from now, Tepco will not venture to guess. In some reports, the company is quick to say it won’t go the same route as Chernobyl, where an enormous containment structure now covers the remains of its exploded No. 4 reactor. But the road to totally rehabilitating Fukushima, and making it inhabitable again, still appears to be longer than anyone might have guessed.

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

Remembering Hitoshi Yoshioka, who fought gov’t nuclear policy from inside

March 12, 2018
“I feel sorry for the next generation that they must take on the burden of Fukushima. What we have been doing is something we must feel embarrassed about,” said Hitoshi Yoshioka at a symposium following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Those words still linger in me.
Yoshioka was a strong opponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policy. At 43 years old he took a spot on the committee that decided the government’s nuclear policy. He was a unique presence in that he continued to criticize the government from the inside, raising questions over Japan’s policy of forging ahead with nuclear power. Perhaps his regret that he was unable to prevent the Fukushima disaster before it unfolded was behind his statement above.
Yoshioka passed away on Jan. 14, 2018, of a hepatic neuroendocrine tumor. He was 64. He studied physics at the University of Tokyo, but upon meeting Tetsu Hiroshige, a history of science expert known for his criticism of the sciences, Yoshioka shifted his focus to the history of science as well.
From the late 1980s, Yoshioka devoted himself to research on nuclear energy. He continued raining down scalding criticism of the civilian use of nuclear energy as a power source, saying that Japan’s system was “second-class at best and undeveloped” and that “what the government really wants (with nuclear power) is to maintain the structure of vested interests and the potential capabilities for nuclear weapons.” Yoshioka’s book “Genshiryoku no Shakaishi” (The social history of nuclear energy) remains as a sort of bible to those related to the industry.
“Public policies (like nuclear power) do not belong solely to politicians and bureaucrats,” Yoshioka would expound. “I would like everyone to do their own investigative research and participate in policy formation.” He hoped for the effort of every single citizen to reform government policies. Even when I, someone he barely knew, came to him asking for advice about wanting to summarize my experiences covering the Fukushima nuclear disaster into a dissertation three years ago, he readily provided me with guidance.
As the chairman of the Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy, Yoshioka fought for the reconstruction of the lives of those in Fukushima affected by the disaster as the nation’s top priority. Also concerned about the global unrest surrounding nuclear weapons, Yoshioka said that nuclear power was just the outer moat, and the total elimination of nuclear arms was the castle keep.
Aiming for a future coexisting with science that could create a “fair society,” Yoshioka fought to the very end as an opponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policies.
(By Shinji Kanto, Saga Bureau)

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

‘You’re Contaminated’: The Stigma Against Japan’s Fukushima Survivors

Mar 12 2018
A 2011 quake and tsunami led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, killing thousands and displacing more. Two ‘nuclear refugees’ explain why returning home is more complicated than it seems.
Akiko Kamata and Keiko Owada.
This month marks the seventh anniversary of the triple disaster that hit the east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, when a 9.1 magnitude quake and tsunami led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Almost 16,000 people were declared dead.
While the nuclear disaster is becoming a distant memory for most Japanese, for some others it is their everyday reality. Nuclear refugees and evacuees face discrimination, separation from loved ones, and in some cases, they are even forced to return to the former evacuation zone.
The government, worried about people getting exposed to radiation, declared a 20-km evacuation zone around the plant and uprooted close to 165,000 people. As of today, there are still 50,000 people who haven’t returned to Fukushima.
Keiko Owada, 66, is one of them. When I meet her in Tokyo, she refers to the Japanese capital as her home for the past seven years. That will soon change due to the government’s decision to withdraw her free housing subsidies.
Because decontamination work has made progress and food declared safe from radiation, it has been deemed safe to return to most villages within the evacuation zone. The same goes for Owada’s village Naraha, where the evacuation order was lifted two years ago.
Owada is not excited about the prospect of returning to Naraha. “Would I continue to get financial support for my apartment here in Tokyo, I would have stayed here, yes. I’ll tell you why: there is no hospital in Naraha, only a small hospital for first aid. There is no supermarket, only a small convenience store. And the reason is simple: only a few people have returned.”
Life as an evacuee hasn’t always been easy, Owada explains. “It wasn’t like people were treating me any different, but my neighbors never greeted me. I think it’s because of the compensation I received and the free housing. They knew I was from Fukushima, that’s why.”
According to Owada, some of the other evacuees in Tokyo she knows have faced harsher treatment. “I know of others whose cars were damaged on purpose because they had a Fukushima license plate. That’s why I never parked my car in the middle of the parking lot, but always in a corner, so no one could see it.”
If anything, Owada’s story illustrates how many evacuees continued to live in fear. Displaced from their homes, dropped in a new community—the disaster is anything but over for them.
As an evacuee in Tokyo, Owada went back to Fukushima on numerous occasions. She can still recall her first time back in June 2011. The town of Naraha was still a no-go-area, and she and her family only had one hour to visit. “We wore protective clothes against radiation, with only a small plastic bag for gathering some personal belongings. We had too little time, and the bag was too little for our entire family. But I can remember the smell—[there were] rats everywhere and small animals’ feces.”
Keiko Owada.
Of course, there are things she misses about her old town, like growing vegetables and fruits on her land. But it doesn’t take away the concerns she has about the dangers of radiation exposure, despite the government’s reassurance that it is safe to live there.
“Even though the streets and houses are decontaminated, they didn’t even touch with mountains and forests. Radiation hasn’t been cleaned everywhere. My house is right next to the mountains, so my house might get contaminated.”
Akiko Kamata, 66, still remembers how she was surprised by the alarm warning for a tsunami in her village of Odaka. When I meet her at a Tokyo café, she recalls how she sheltered in Fukushima the first few weeks after the disaster. “I still remember taking my first bath after 10 days, it felt so good.”
When Kamata got in touch with relatives living in other parts of Japan, she was shocked to hear one sister-in-law’s initial response. “After the disaster, I wanted to flee to Chiba [a prefecture next to Tokyo], my sister-in-law picked up the telephone and told me I didn’t have to come to their house. ‘You’re contaminated,’ she told me.”
An aerial view of damage to Sukuiso, Japan, a week after the earthquake and tsunami devastated the area.
Eventually she did manage to find a place in Chiba, the region she grew up in as a child. “People were nice to us in Chiba. But still I noticed some skepticism. After I asked the regional authorities for financial support their answer was, ‘No, people in Chiba are victims of the earthquake as well.’”
Kamata did receive a one-off compensation payment from TEPCO: 7 million yen per person, or just over $65,600. Her husband received a similar amount.
Although Kamata is thankful for the financial support, they have not been compensated for the loss of income from their family business in Odaka. “I’m thinking about calling in the help of an organization that specializes evacuees with these type of claims,” she says.
Kamata has decided not to return to Odaka. Her husband’s illness (he suffers from a nerve disease that makes him reliant on Kamata’s support) got worse during the evacuation. She fears that it might worsen if they move back to Fukushima.
As Kamata remembers what life was like back in Fukushima, she uses a handkerchief to wipe a tear from her cheek. She barely speaks to her friends anymore.
“The disaster divided our communities, both physically as well as mentally. People got separated. One friend of mine in Chiba is thinking about divorcing her husband. He wants her to come back to Fukushima, but she doesn’t want this. One reason is exposure to radiation, but there are more reasons, such as her child’s school and the fact that they’ve gotten used to life in Tokyo.”
There is one more story she would like to share, Kamata says while crying. “One friend of mine is a farmer in Odaka. She had 10 cows. They evacuated to Chiba just like me and couldn’t go back to Fukushima to feed the cows. Once they could return for the first time to check on the animals, only three of them were still alive. The others died from starvation, and they were all looking at the same direction—the road the farmers would come from to feed them.”

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

Fukushima’s forgotten souls

Feb. 22, 2017 shows a warning sign at Okuma near the Fukushima Daiichi.jpg
Photo taken on Feb. 22, 2017 shows a warning sign at Okuma near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan
March 11, 2018
by Jon Day
TOKYO, March 11 (Xinhua) — “Everyone used to call her ‘Grandma.’ She was one of the sweetest, kindest and most generous people you could ever hope to meet, especially under such appalling circumstances in Fukushima,” Kana Fujimoto, a Tokyo-based volunteer recalled, sadly.
The 31-year-old volunteer for the Save Minimisoma Project referred to a senior widow, who she came across, in the project hosting the victims of the massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami and nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011.
However, “Grandma” has already passed away.
“She had a toothy smile that could warm you from the inside out, words of wisdom that would provide pause for thought in such a time of sheer turbulence and, there was always a handful of candy available to kids, whose lives had also been uprooted and turned upside down,” Fujimoto told Xinhua.
The project has run its course providing emergency relief supplies to the thousands who were somewhat unceremoniously dumped into small “temporary shelters” in Fukushima Prefecture comprising rows of camp-like wooden huts, since the disasters took place seven years ago.
A contingent of Tokyo-based volunteers like Fujimoto, joined with local outreach groups and continued their work since then.
In recent times, essentials such as food, fresh water and vegetables were no longer the priority and the majority of those placed in shelters had been moved into regular subsidized accommodation.
For the elderly victims of the disasters, however, the real crisis for them was still unfolding on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, with the ultimate conclusion being the very bleakest imaginable.
Many individuals and families from the hardest hit areas like Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima, even if they had to do a stint in temporary accommodation, through family and work connections had managed to restart their lives in other parts of the country.
“And while the disasters for many will forever haunt their memories, they’re safe in the knowledge that now, life is as normal as it can be and they are fully-functioning members of society,” anthropologist and sessional lecturer, Keiko Gono, told Xinhua recently.
“But for the elderly people who did not have the resources or the will, for that matter, to fully leave their hometowns and for some even on a psychological level, it meant they have been permanently displaced albeit physically and/or mentally,” Gono explained.
While it is hard to quantify because there is no pathology for “death by isolation,” “or death by loneliness,” she firmly believes that a staggering number of seniors passed away before their time simply due to a lack of social care, connection and sense of community.
For an 87-year old like “Grandma,” for example, to be told that she had no choice but to leave the home she built with her husband, the family farming business, the neighbors and broader community she so fondly associated with, and suddenly find herself in an emergency shelter resembling an internment camp, the psychological effects would be damaging beyond belief.
According to the latest statistics conducted between December and February this year, in the seven years after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, only 4 percent said they had recovered their community bonds, while just 15 percent from the hardest-hit areas said they had regained their communities, but only to some extent.
Gono explained that these numbers were probably just the tip of the iceberg, as typically speaking and as per Japanese culture and norms, Japanese seniors would be far less likely to complain about their situation if it meant a trouble to others.
This area has been one of the government’s biggest failings, and the phenomena of senior social isolation and death from loneliness have been allowed to slip through the cracks, said the anthropologist.
The fact that professional counseling and mental health services are woefully lacking for these seniors who have lost spouses, seen families relocate and barely visit, and, bluntly speaking, are utterly isolated with all dreams of ever returning to their homes dashed, is nothing less than shameful for the government here.
“Without serious intervention, these dear old people, through no fault of their own, will literally die alone,” Gono said.
The statistics underscore this seemingly forgotten social injustice.
The numbers of people who lost everything in the disasters and died alone after being placed in temporary housing hit a record-high just last year.
According to official accounts, 63 people living unattended lost their lives in temporary accommodation. Of those 52 were in Miyagi and 11 of the isolated deaths were in Iwate prefecture.
The number of unattended deaths, unfathomably, rose by 27 cases when compared to the previous year, according to the statistics.
Since the disasters in 2011, officials figures showed that 235 people died in complete isolation and more than 80 percent of these possibly preventable deaths happened to people aged over 60.
“Grandma did everything she could to help others. For a while she could do her own shopping and when her shopping arrived there was always an extra radish or some tangerines for her neighbors, snacks for the kids, and, perhaps, most importantly, a smile for everyone that seemed to say ‘you’ll be ok. We’ll be ok. We’re in this together’,” said Fujimoto.
“But the cruel irony of the situation was the older and more immobile Grandma became, the less people would see her. She was placed a long way from her friends, and if she didn’t have the energy to go to the local store, she could go weeks without any human interaction,” she explained.
Fujimoto added that there were a lot of good charities and outreach groups doing the very best they could to create inclusive environments, particularly for the youngest and the oldest who needed it most. But, funds were always short, and not all the volunteers lived in the area.
Fujimoto herself was commuting from Tokyo once or twice a week soon after the disaster, but had to scale back her volunteering due to the expense of traveling and her own family needs.
More recently, she managed to get there every other week as something was “different” about Grandma.
“She’d started saying things like she was lonely and wanted to be with her friends and that her husband had told her that she didn’t need to live like this and that he was waiting for her with a smile,” said Fujimoto.
“The last time I saw her, I could sense she could no longer battle the loneliness. From being such a vibrant community member to a forgotten soul was just not livable for her and heartbreaking for me,” she said.
A few minutes passed as Fujimoto wept silently for the loss of a life that had meant so much to her and many other people.
There should have been more care available. Similar-aged people could be housed together with carers helping them interact, she said.
“This country should have done better,” she said.

Feb. 22, 2017 shows a warning sign at Okuma near the Fukushima Daiichi.jpg

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Stark health findings for Fukushima monkeys

March 11, 2018
By Cindy Folkers
Seven years after the Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster began, forcing evacuations of at least 160,000 people, research has uncovered significant health impacts affecting monkeys living in the area and exposed to the radiological contamination of their habitat.
Shin-ichi Hayama, a wild animal veterinarian, has been studying the Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata), or snow monkey, since before the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Now, his research has shown that monkeys in Fukushima have significantly low white and red blood cell counts as well as a reduced growth rate for body weight and smaller head sizes.
Hayama, who began his macaque research in 2008, had access to monkeys culled by Fukushima City as a crop protection measure. He continued his work after the Fukushima nuclear explosions. As a result, he is uniquely positioned to discover how low, chronic radiation exposure can affect generations of monkeys.
Japanese Macaque monkeys share close DNA with humans
The macaque is an old world monkey native to Japan, living in the coldest climates of all of the non-human primates. Like humans, macaques enjoy a good soak in the mountain hot springs in the region. It is even said that they have developed a “hot tub culture” and enjoy time at the pools to get warm during winter.
However, snow monkeys and humans share more than a love of hot springs. Human DNA differs from rhesus monkeys, a relative of the snow monkey, by just 7%. While that 7% can mean the difference between building vast cities to living unsheltered and outdoors, for basic processes like reproduction, these differences begin to fade. Consequently, what is happening to the macaques in Fukushima should send a warning about the implications for human health as well, and especially for evacuees now returning to a region that has been far from “cleaned up” to any satisfactory level.
Hayama’s research group has published two studies, each comparing data before and after the nuclear catastrophe began, and also between exposed and unexposed monkey populations. In a 2014 study, researchers compared monkeys from two regions of Japan, one group of monkeys from the Shimokita region, 400 Km north of Fukushima, and a second group of monkeys from contaminated land in Fukushima.
The monkeys in Fukushima had significantly low white and red blood cell counts. Other blood components were also reduced. The more a radioactive isotope called cesium was present in their muscles, the lower the white blood cell count, suggesting that the exposure to radioactive material contributed to the damaging blood changes. These blood levels have not recovered, even through 2017, meaning that this has become a chronic health issue.
Changes in blood are also found in people inhabiting contaminated areas around Chernobyl. Having a diminished number of white blood cells, which fight disease, can lead to a compromised immune system in monkeys as well as people, making both species unable to fight off all manner of disease.
Some macaque babies in the Fukushima zone have smaller brains post nuclear disaster
Hayama followed up his 2014 study with another in 2017 examining the differences in monkey fetus growth before and after the disaster. The researchers measured fetuses collected between 2008 and 2016 from Fukushima City, approximately 70 km from the ruined reactors. Comparing the relative growth of 31 fetuses conceived prior to the disaster and 31 fetuses conceived after the disaster revealed that body weight growth rate and head size were significantly lower in fetuses conceived after the disaster. Yet, there was no significant difference in maternal nutrition, meaning that radiation could be responsible.
Smaller head size indicates that the fetal brain was developmentally retarded although researchers could not identify which part was affected. The mothers’ muscles still contained radioactive cesium as in the 2014 study, although the levels had decreased. These mothers had conceived after the initial disaster began, meaning that their fetuses’ health reflects a continuing exposure from environmental contamination. This study mirrors human studies around Chernobyl that show similar impacts as well as research from atomic bomb survivors. Studies of birds in Chernobyl contaminated areas show that they have smaller brains.
Although Hayama has approached radiation experts to aid with his research, he claims they have rejected it, saying they don’t have resources or time, preferring to focus on humans. But humans can remove themselves from contaminated areas, and many have chosen to stay away despite government policies encouraging return. Tragically, monkeys don’t know to leave, and relocating them is not under discussion, making study of radiation’s impact on their health vital to inform radiation research on humans, the environment, and any resettlement plans the government of Japan may have.
Hayama presented his work most recently as part of the University of Chicago’s commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the first man-made controlled nuclear chain reaction. His work follows a long, important, and growing line of research demonstrating that radiation can not only damage in the obvious ways we have been told, but in subtle, yet destructive ways that were unexpected before. The implications for humans, other animals, and the environment, are stark.
Cindy Folkers is the radiation and health specialist at Beyond Nuclear.

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

This woman is winning the fight for justice after Fukushima

11 March 2018
by Kazue Suzuki and Shaun Burnie
Evacuee and Fukushima survivor, Mrs. Kanno, returns to her abandoned house nearly seven years after the nuclear accident.
On the seventh anniversary of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear accident, our thoughts and deepest sympathies continue to be with the people of Japan.
Every one of the tens of thousands evacuees from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi triple reactor meltdown has a story to tell.
In our latest radiation survey we had the privilege to hear the experience of Mrs Mizue Kanno. As we entered the exclusion zone of Namie, Ms Kanno told us of the events seven years ago that were to change her life, her family and those of thousands of others.
Mrs Kanno was a social worker in Futaba less than 10 km from the nuclear plant. Eventually she made her way home after the devastating earthquake, and over the next few days thousands of people were evacuated to her home district of Tsushima. Families moved into her home. But soon they were warned by men in gas masks and protective clothing to get out immediately. The radioactive fallout from the nuclear plant, about 32 km away, had deposited high levels of contamination in this mountainous area of Namie.
Radiation Survey of Mrs. Kanno's House in Shimo-Tsushima
Evacuee and Fukushima survivor, Mrs. Kanno, watches Greenpeace radiation specialists Mai Suzuki and Laurence Bergot measure for contamination around her home located in the exclusion zone of Namie, Fukushima prefecture.
Mrs Kanno now lives in western Japan, many hundreds of kilometres from her home in Fukushima. While she is a victim of nuclear power, she isn’t passive observer – instead she’s a female activist determined to tell her story. She campaigns across the Kansai region against nuclear power and for renewable energy.
Like thousands of other evacuees, she has joined lawsuits filed against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), and the Japanese government. Already found guilty in multiple court proceedings of being criminally negligent in failing to take measures to prevent the meltdown, TEPCO and the government can expect many more rulings against them.
Because of the support of Mrs Kanno and her friends and neighbours, Greenpeace has been able to conduct a wide ranging survey inside the exclusion zone of Namie, published in our report, Reflecting in Fukushima.
While our survey report is filled with microsieverts and millisieverts, it’s far more about the lives and the land of Mrs Kanno her family, friends and neighbours.
Closed entrance to Shimo-Tsushima school in the exclusion zone of Namie, Fukushima prefecture, Japan.
Measuring thousands of points around homes, forests and farmland, it’s clear that this is an area that should not be opened to the public for many decades. Yet the government opened a main artery, route 114, while we were working in Namie.
One consequence is that people are stopping off and visiting areas high in radiation. At one house, radiation hot spots were over 11 microsieverts per hour (μSv/h) at one meter, and 137μSv/hat 10 centimetres. These levels are thousands of times the background level before the nuclear accident, and mean you’d reach your recommended maximum annual exposure in six days.
Yet, two people were working 10 meters away from the hot spot with no dosimeters or protective clothing. Mrs Kanno and our radiation specialists explained the levels of contamination and why it was necessary to take precautions.
In one zone in Obori, we measured radiation that would expose a decontamination worker to the 1 mSv/y limit in just 10 working days. The whole area is contaminated to varying high levels that will remain a threat into next century. How could the government be thinking of opening this area as early as 2023? More importantly, why?
It’s actually simple and wholly cynical. The Japanese government is desperate to restart nuclear reactors. Today only three are operating. Having areas of Japan closed to human habitation because of radioactive contamination is a very major obstacle to the government’s ambitions to operate 30-35 nuclear reactors. It’s a constant reminder to the people of Japan of the risks and consequences of nuclear power.
Yet, there are signs of positive change. Last month a panel of experts established by the Foreign Minister called for a mass scaling up of renewables, and warned of the risks from depending on coal plants and nuclear power. The voices of Mrs Kanno, the other thousands of Fukushima evacuees and the majority of people in Japan, and their demand for a different energy future, will be heard.
Radiation Survey in Obori
Greenpeace radiation specialist Laurence Bergot in Obori, Namie Town inside the highly contaminated exclusion zone in Namie, Fukushima prefecture, Japan
Throughout our time in Namie, as we visited the highly contaminated area of Obori and Tsushima – quiet, remote areas of natural beauty – Mrs Kanno told us about the life and traditions of families who for generations had supported themselves by farming. Now all of them are displaced and scattered across Japan. Yet the government is failing to even acknowledge their rights under domestic and international human rights law.
This week, we will be traveling to Geneva with mothers who are evacuees from Fukushima to the United Nations Human Rights Council session on Japan. The Japanese government has been under pressure to stop its violations of the human rights of Fukushima evacuees. Last week it accepted all recommendations at the UN to respect the human rights of Fukushima citizens. This included the German government recommendation to restore to a maximum annual public exposure of 1 mSv. This global safety standard has been abandoned by the Abe government.
The government’s decision is important, but now they need to be implemented if they are genuine in their commitments to the United Nations. On the 16 March this year, Mrs Kanno and other evacuees and their lawyers will attend the Tokyo high court for a ruling on Fukushima against TEPCO and the Government. One of the evacuee mothers, Akiko Morimatsu, together with Greenpeace, on the same day will speak at the United Nations to challenge the Japanese government to now fully apply the UN recommendations.
While we will be thousands of kilometers apart, we will be with Mrs Kanno on her day in court in Tokyo and she will be with us in Geneva. The Fukushima nuclear disaster has shattered lives but it has also brought us together determined to prevent such a terrible event from ever happening again and to transition Japan to a secure and safe energy future based on renewables.
Kazue Suzuki is an Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Japan and Shaun Burnie is a Senior Nuclear Specialist at Greenpeace Germany

March 15, 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
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.
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

‘Citizen scientists’ track radiation seven years after Fukushima

11th March 2018
Safecast now has around 3,000 devices worldwide and data from 90 countries
Japanese priest Sadamaru Okano is one of the ‘citizen scientists’ collecting radiation readings in the Fukushima region.
JAPAN – Beneath the elegant curves of the roof on the Seirinji Buddhist temple in Japan’s Fukushima region hangs an unlikely adornment: a Geiger counter collecting real-time radiation readings.
The machine is sending data to Safecast, an NGO born after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster that says it has now built the world’s largest radiation dataset, thanks to the efforts of citizen scientists like Seirinji’s priest Sadamaru Okano.
Like many Japanese, Okano lost faith in the government after the nuclear meltdown seven years ago.
“The government did not tell us the truth, they did not tell us the true measures,” he told AFP, seated inside the 150-year-old temple.
Okano was in a better position than most to doubt the government line, having developed an amateur interest in nuclear technology two decades earlier after learning about the Chernobyl disaster.
To the bemusement of friends and family, he started measuring local radiation levels in 2007, so when the disaster happened, he had baseline data.
“The readings were so high… 50 times higher than natural radiation,” he said of the post-disaster data.
“I was amazed… the news was telling us there was nothing, the administration was telling us there was nothing to worry about.”
That dearth of trustworthy information was the genesis of Safecast, said co-founder Pieter Franken, who was in Tokyo with his family when the disaster hit.
Franken and several friends had the idea of gathering data by attaching Geiger counters to cars and driving around.
“Like how Google does Street View, we could do something for radiation in the same way,” he said.
“The only problem was that the system to do that did not exist and the only way to solve that problem was to go and build it ourselves. So that is what we did.”
A geiger counter operated by the Safecast group is attached to a fence near the stricken Dai-ichi power plant
Making informed choices
Within a week, the group had a prototype and began getting readings that suggested the 20 kilometre (12 mile) exclusion zone declared around the Fukushima plant had no basis in the data, Franken said.
“Evacuees were sent from areas with lower radiation to areas with higher radiation” in some cases, he said.
The zone was eventually redrawn, but for many local residents, it was too late to restore trust in the government.
Okano evacuated his mother, wife and son while he stayed with his flock.
But a year later, based on his own readings and after decontamination efforts, he brought them back.
He learned about Safecast’s efforts and in 2013 installed one of their static counters on his temple, in part to help reassure worshippers.
“I told them: we are measuring the radiation on a daily basis… so if you access the (Safecast) website you can choose (if you think) it’s safe or not.”
Forty kilometres away, in the town of Koriyama, Norio Watanabe was supervising patiently as his giggling teenage pupils attempted to build basic versions of Safecast’s Geiger counter.
Dressed in blazers and tartan skirts, the girls pored over instructions on where to place diodes and wires.
Watanabe has been a Safecast volunteer since 2011, and has a mobile Geiger counter in his car.
In the days after the disaster evacuees flocked to Koriyama, which was outside the evacuation zone, and he assumed his town was safe.
“But after I started to do the measurements, I realised there was a high level of risk here as well,” he said.
Japanese teacher Norio Watanabe works with Safecast to teach his pupils how to measure radiation
‘You can’t ignore it’
He sent his children away, but stayed behind to look after his mother, a decision he believes may have contributed to his 2015 diagnosis with thyroid cancer.
“As a scientist, I think the chance that it was caused by the Fukushima accident might be 50-50, but in my heart, I think it was likely the cause,” he said.
His thyroid was removed and he is now healthy, but Watanabe worries about his students, who he fears “will carry risk with them for the rest of their lives.”
“If there are no people like me who continue to monitor the levels, it will be forgotten.”
Safecast now has around 3,000 devices worldwide and data from 90 countries. Its counters come as a kit that volunteers can buy through third parties and assemble at home.
Because volunteers choose where they want to measure at random and often overlap, “they validate unknowingly each other’s measurements,” said Franken, and anomalies or exceptions are checked by Safecast staff.
The NGO is now expanding into measuring air pollution, initially mostly in the US city of Los Angeles during a test phase.
Its radiation data is all open source, and has been used to study everything from the effects of fallout on wildlife to how people move around cities, said Franken.
He says Safecast’s data mostly corroborates official measurements, but provides readings that are more relevant to people’s lives.
“Our volunteers decide to measure where their schools are, where their workplaces are, where their houses are.”
And he believes Safecast has helped push Japan’s government to realise that “transparency and being open are very important to create trust.”
“The power of citizen science means that you can’t stop it and also that you can’t ignore it.”

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment