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Cleaning Up After the Nuclear Accident: The Changing Face of Interim Storage Facilities

February 06, 2023
The accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has spread an enormous amount of radioactive materials. Contaminated soil from the decontamination process in Fukushima Prefecture was delivered to an interim storage facility built by crushing farmland, forests, and residential areas in the towns of Futaba and Okuma. Nearly eight years have passed since operations began. The delivery, processing, and storage of the contaminated soil is now in its final stages, and the processing plants are being dismantled one after another, and hills made of the contaminated soil are appearing in various places. (Takeshi Yamakawa and Natsuko Katayama)

The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has spread an enormous amount of radioactive materials. Contaminated soil and other materials were stripped and collected from all over Fukushima prefecture into an interim storage facility built near the plant. The 1,600 hectares of land is turning into hills of contaminated soil. See the latest situation here.

A group of facilities on the Okuma side. Storage facilities, which look like open-pit mines, are being filled with contaminated soil one after another.

Futaba Town side. This side still has storage capacity. In the back is the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Treatment plant. Large sandbags filled with contaminated soil are broken and sifted. Stones and roots are removed.

Contaminated soil, which has been cleaned by the addition of a moisture-absorbing amendment, is transported by conveyor to a storage pit. Heavy equipment levels the soil.

The storage facilities are all huge. On the right side is the area where the storage continues. On the left side, contaminated soil has been piled up to 5 meters underground and 10 meters above the ground, and the soil has been shielded, covered, and covered with grass seeds to keep the soil in place. When the site reaches capacity, hills like this will appear in various locations.

On the Futaba Town side, there is a huge volume reduction and storage facility for highly contaminated materials. Roots and branches are also generated in large quantities during decontamination. They are burned at temporary incineration plants in various locations, and the ashes are burned at this facility at a high temperature of about 1,700 degrees Celsius. Radioactivity-enriched dust (around 300,000 becquerels per 1,000,000 tons) is packed in steel containers and stored in a dedicated facility.

Within the volume reduction facility is an incinerator that reduces the volume of ash. The ash is burned at 1,700 degrees Celsius.

Highly concentrated (about 300,000 becquerels/kg) dust separated from the burned ash is stored for a long time in this way.

Contaminated soil treatment plants that have finished processing are being dismantled, sorted into smaller pieces, and sold as scrap iron.


February 13, 2023 Posted by | Fuk 2023 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima: Director Makoto Shinkai of “Suzume no Togome”: “If I don’t depict the scenery of Futaba-gun, I will be telling a lie”

C)2022 “Suzume no Togome

The protagonists stop their car at a coastal area in the prefecture along Route 6 and get off at a hill overlooking the beautiful sea. As they look around, they see a village with overgrown grass. Director Makoto Shinkai (49)’s latest animated film, “Suzume no Togome” (The Sparrow’s Doorstep),” depicts the Great East Japan Earthquake as one of its themes, as well as Fukushima Prefecture and other affected areas. In an exclusive online interview with Fukushima Minpo, Shinkai said, “I felt that if I did not depict the scenery of Futaba County, I would be telling a lie with ‘Suzume no Togomei’ (Suzume’s Door Closed).


 The film features Suzume, a 17-year-old high school student living in Kyushu. The film is an adventure story in which Suzume and her friends are trying to close the “door” that leads to disaster in abandoned buildings in various parts of the country where people no longer live.

 Suzume and his friends drive down National Route 6, passing by a sign that reads “Difficult-to-return zone. While the road has been cleaned up, the houses on both sides of the road remain abandoned. The view from the top of the hill where they arrived at the site shows buildings reminiscent of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

 Two summers ago, Shinkai visited the area and experienced firsthand the current situation in the hard-to-return zone. It is meaningful to indirectly convey to the audience that this kind of scenery exists in Japan,” he said. He was determined not to let the disaster fade away.

 There are many scenes that faithfully reproduce the scenery of various parts of Japan. However, in depicting Fukushima Prefecture, the shapes and layouts of the houses were fictitious while maintaining the atmosphere of the area. There are many people who want to return. I couldn’t just paint someone’s house without their permission.”


 In Shinkai’s works, background art plays an important role in the story. Many viewers are drawn to the sparkling sea and colorful grasslands. Memories of people who once spent their lives in abandoned schools and hot spring resorts float in the air. The film is a directing collaboration between Shinkai and the director of the hit film “Kimi no na wa. The art director of this film, Takumi Tanji, who has been working with Shinkai for about 20 years, including on the hit film “Kimi no na wa. He is like a ‘Superman’ to me,” he says.

 Tanji is responsible for setting up fictional locations such as hot spring resorts and amusement parks based on real landscapes. Even if I ask him to do something a little difficult, he smiles and says, “Well, we’ll figure it out. He has the full confidence of all the staff, including myself, that we can leave everything in his capable hands.


 Twelve years will soon pass since the disaster. An increasing number of people of that generation do not know what it was like at the time of the disaster. He analyzes that more than one-third of the audience is younger than the disaster victims and says, “If I could create an opportunity for people to learn about the disaster, I would like to think that it was only possible because it was an animation.

 About three months have passed since the release of the film. He has given stage greetings throughout Japan and visited Fukushima Prefecture on January 28. He received many letters through the theaters and was encouraged by the warm response, smiling and saying, “I felt that it was good that this film exists.

 There has been criticism of the depiction of the disaster in entertainment films, and he accepts that “there can never be a film that everyone agrees with, and I can’t easily say that it was a success. Still, he also believes that if films only avoid depicting the painful parts of the disaster, they will not move people’s hearts.

 I hope that animated films can play a role in society, and not just be interesting,” he said. He believes in the power of film and intends to continue to face this challenge.

February 13, 2023 Posted by | Fuk 2023 | , , | Leave a comment

Report: Tour of Interim Storage Facility and Date City Biomass Power Plant

Posted on December 18, 2022 by Aoki

On December 10-11, we went on a research tour to Fukushima. The objectives of the tour were as follows

(1) Observation of the current status of the interim storage facility
(2) Field survey of biomass power generation in Yanagawa Town, Date City, and a lecture at a study session for local residents
(3) Investigation of the actual contamination situation in Date City and soil sampling

 The interim storage facility is a vast facility that spans the towns of Okuma and Futaba and is located in the shape of the town of Fukuchi. The tour was guided by JESCO (Japan Interim Storage and Environmental Safety Corporation), which operates the facility.

Interim Storage Facility Location

After watching a 10-minute information video and a briefing at the Interim Storage Construction Information Center, we took a JESCO microbus around the site. The previous tour (in April 2021) circled around the Futaba Town side, but this time the course circled around the Okuma Town side.

 The first thing that surprised me when I entered the site was that most of the “removed soil” (i.e., contaminated soil) had already been brought in and processed. Most of the receiving flexible container bag dismantling facility, soil classification facility, combustible material incinerator, and 1.5 km long conveyor line that had been constructed for processing had already been dismantled and removed.

 Landfill work for contaminated soil is also nearly complete.

Contaminated soil landfill site (green sheet is rain protection) Cover this with soil

Dose at the observatory for visitors 1.18 μSv/h

According to JESCO, there are 20-30μSv/h in the forests by the roads.

 About 7% of the vast area that stretches across the towns of Okuma and Futaba has not yet been contracted, so that area has been left untouched as an enclave. Of the remaining 93%, about 10% is under lease and 90% is being purchased by the government.

 Even if all the contaminated soil could be moved out of the prefecture after 30 years, it would still be a vast area of state-owned land (the portion purchased by the government), with private land scattered throughout. It is hard to imagine that normal life or effective personal use would be possible on the scattered private lands.

 The Ministry of the Environment is desperate to dispose of the waste in various locations outside of the prefecture, claiming that “volume reduction,” “reuse,” and “soil is an important resource,” according to the Japan Environmental Safety Corporation (JESCO) Act, which states that “final disposal will be completed outside of Fukushima Prefecture within 30 years after the start of interim storage. The recently announced “reuse” demonstration tests in Tokorozawa City, Shinjuku Gyoen, and other locations are a preparation for such tests.

 Even if there were to be a place that would accept the soil, there would be enormous costs involved in digging up the huge amount of contaminated soil again and transporting it to the receiving site, as well as the risk of spreading the contaminated soil due to accidents during transportation.

 It would be most reasonable now to revise the law and use an interim storage facility as the final disposal site.

Okuma Town Day Service Center for the Elderly (in the same condition as when evacuated immediately after the accident)

Cars in the day service center parking lot also remain in place.

January 4, 2023 Posted by | Fuk 2023 | , , , | Leave a comment

Decontamination work to start in more parts of Fukushima in FY 2023

Dec. 16, 2022

The Japanese government says decontamination work will start next fiscal year in more parts of Fukushima Prefecture that remain off limits following the March 2011 nuclear accident.

Authorities designated the areas as “difficult-to-return zones”, and evacuation orders remain in effect.

On Friday, Reconstruction Minister Akiba Kenya said the decontamination work includes parts of Okuma and Futaba towns.

A detailed schedule remains undecided, but the work will begin in the fiscal year starting next April.

The government plans to fund the work with 6 billion yen, or nearly 44 million dollars, from the state budget.

Some parts of the “difficult-to-return zones” have already been cleaned up so that people can return.

The ruling coalition has been urging the government to decontaminate more areas.

December 19, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

Return to Fukushima: Decontaminated town reopens to residents, but is anybody living there?

October 24, 2022

If you ever wanted to live in a post-apocalyptic zombie film, now’s your chance.

Back in 2020, our Japanese-language reporter Tasuku Egawa visited two towns in Fukushima Prefecture that were affected by the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which occurred at the time of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

▼ Tasuku visited Futaba and Tomioka, which are five kilometres (three miles) and 11 kilometres, respectively, from the nuclear power plant.

Being within the 20-kilometre exclusion zone, both towns were evacuated after the accident, turning them into ghost towns for two years. In 2013, the government opened some areas of the towns for daytime access only, with other areas remaining closed off due to elevated radiation levels, right up to 2020 when Tasuku visited.

At the time of Tasuku’s previous visit, new decontaminated areas around both stations had opened up, with old blockades being removed as a sign of the land becoming habitable once again.

The decontaminated Prefectural Route 165 and National Route 6 outside Tomioka’s Yonomori Station, as it looked in March 2020.

The west exit side of the station had returned to normal while the east side remained blocked. However, side streets on both sides remained cordoned off from the public, with permission required for anyone entering the other side of the blockade, including journalists like Tasuku.

Like all visitors, Tasuku was required to wear special protective wear due to the high radiation levels.

Back in 2020, nothing but the main roads and station buildings could be entered, and the only sign of life in the area was that of security guards at empty intersections and reconstruction-related vehicles and workers.

Both towns had their work cut out for them in terms of cleanup and redevelopment, especially as the local governments planned to repopulate the areas with thousands of residents in the next seven years.

Tasuku had high hopes they would achieve this goal, so when resettlement of the towns began in earnest earlier this year, he made a return trip to Tomioka and Yonomori Station to see what developments had taken place in the two years since he last visited.

So let’s take a look at his collection of photos chronicling the difference between 2020 and now, starting with Prefectural Route 165 and National Route 6 mentioned earlier.

Now, the barricades have totally disappeared, and the intersection looks like any other, complete with a cluster of vending machines on one street corner.

Continuing straight down this road, we come to a branch of the Yamazaki convenience store chain, located on the ground floor of a residential building.

Today, the barricades have gone, but the shutters remain closed and the curtains drawn, making it look like a scary house in a ghost town.

Heading south down National Route 6, Tasuku recalled a brightly coloured apartment block he’d photographed on his last visit.

Sure enough, the building was still there, and though the weeds and barricades had been cleared, the road, and the blinds on the store window on the left, looked a little worse for wear.

The more Tasuku walked around, the more he felt as if he were walking through a post-apocalyptic world, like the character of Jim in the British zombie flick 28 Days Later. Only this was no film set, it was a real-world town that once housed  around 4,000 people.

With curtains drawn on the windows of so many buildings he walked past, the place looked like it was inhabited…but it was eerily quiet, and deep down inside, Tasuku knew there was nobody behind those curtains, as these residences had been abandoned as a matter of emergency eleven years ago.

▼ Still he kept up hope that he would see signs of life somewhere, other than this road where he spotted a wild boar and a plump male pheasant.

After walking for a while, Tasuku finally breathed a sigh of relief when he came across this new apartment building, which was advertising for tenants, where he saw fresh laundry hanging on a balcony, suggesting that someone had already moved in.

Close by, there was a demountable building which looked to be the prefabricated office of a construction company, and it too appeared to be inhabited by people, likely here on temporary assignment for reconstruction-related work.

While the two main roads had been cleared and were open to traffic, Tasuku came across some salient reminders that the entire town wasn’t yet back to normal, with other areas like the local park blocked off as a restricted location.

Yonomoritsutsumi Park , as it’s known, is closed for good reason — according to the dosimeter on the other side of the fence, radiation levels here are 0.413 microSieverts per hour. The Ministry of the Environment’s requirements for decontaminated areas is 0.23 microSieverts per hour.

The high radiation levels in the park would put the public at risk of health problems, which is a great shame, seeing as it looks like it would’ve been a nice place to unwind and relax before the disaster.

It’s a vast space, though, which would make decontamination work difficult, and looking at the expanse from a nearby hill shows it’s become wild and overgrown, with what once must’ve been a lake (marked in blue below) now covered in grass and weeds.

Before coming to the town, Tasuku had been hoping to meet up with the owner of a beauty salon who used to live here but was moved to nearby Koriyama after the earthquake. She had joined Tasuku on his previous visit to Yonomori and once she’d heard the evacuation orders were being lifted this year, she said she was looking forward to moving back here.

However, the government ban on living in the area is still in effect over a large portion of the town, with only one designated zone on one side of the station open to residents from April this year. With only around a dozen or so people applying to live in the town so far, it would be a long while yet before Tasuku’s friend would be able to re-open her hair salon here.

▼ The former site of the hair salon is now an empty lot.

It’s hard to live in a ghost town, let alone run a business there, so the government hopes to make a larger area inhabitable by spring next year, in an effort to entice more residents to support local businesses.

Business owners will need a lot of support from the government, though, as a lot of them will be starting from scratch. This York-Benimaru supermarket, for instance, has since been totally demolished in the two years since 2020, and is now an empty parking lot.

If he’s being honest, the town hadn’t progressed as far as Tasuku had hoped in the past two years. Despite reopening part of the town, the place still had a real ghost-town feel to it, and the waiting room at the unstaffed station was particularly eerie, with nothing inside but a bathroom and chairs.

By comparison, the waiting room at Futaba Station, where Tasuku visited next, was a lot more inviting, with a sense of vibrancy and life to it.

Yonomori is famous for its cherry blossom trees, which line one particularly beautiful street, and while there were fears the trees would die out in the decade that humans were prohibited access to the area, the street was finally opened to visitors this year, who were able to enjoy them for the first time since 2011.

▼ The local “standard tree” by which the Meteorological Agency declares the official start of the cherry blossom season, is still alive and well.

At the moment, Yonomori is mostly home to ruins, wild boars and fat pheasants, which makes it less than appealing to potential residents. However, with the cherry blossoms still blooming, there’s hopes that the the area will soon bloom too.

Now with the station open and trains operating, it’s the start the town needs to get back on its feet, and we look forward to visiting in another two years’ time, when hopefully Tasuku’s friend’s hair salon will be open, along with other blossoming businesses.

October 26, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Plants Showing ‘Unusual Growing Patterns’ as Residents Return

One more spin doctor well at work: despite biologist Tim Mousseau’s many fieldtrips to study very precisely the Fukushima radiation’s effects on flora and fauna, an unknown radiobiologist Carmel Mothersill comes out on Newsweek to minimize the risks of the well existing radiation effects on location stating that ‘there is a low risk to people and pets.’

An artwork titled “FUTABA”, a part of the Futaba Art District project is seen on a wall of a shuttered store on August 31, 2022, in Futaba, Fukushima, Japan.

August 31, 2022

Japan’s Fukushima, the site of the world’s second-worst nuclear disaster, is showing “unusual growing patterns” among vegetation in the area because of the radiation contamination.

In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant lost power during a tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan’s Pacific coast. This caused systems in three reactors to fail and the cores to overheat. Nuclear material then bored holes in each reactor, causing radiation to leak. This resulted in a series of explosions and a catastrophic nuclear disaster. The event is second only to Chernobyl as the worst nuclear disaster.

Over 300,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes, and an exclusion zone had to be created. Slowly, following remediation, areas have opened up again, meaning people can return. Recently, the town of Futaba lifted its evacuation order.

Tim Mousseau, a professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina and a radiation expert, told Newsweek that a “vast region near the power plant” is still “significantly contaminated” but that levels are much lower than they used to be. However, the effects of radiation continue to be seen in the plants in the area, he said.

“There have been a few studies of the plants showing effects of the radiation. For example, it has been shown that Japanese fir trees show unusual growth patterns similar to that observed for pine trees in Chernobyl,” Mousseau said. “Such effects are still open for study, as they are preserved in the growth form of the plant/tree as long as it is still living.”

He continued, “Many areas are still contaminated above levels that most would consider safe for people to live, although most of the region is now relatively safe for short visits.”

Carmel Mothersill, a radiobiologist and the Canada research chair in environmental radiobiology, said that remediation efforts have also affected the area’s vegetation.

“The biggest disruption to the environment was the remediation effort where all vegetation was removed and up to a meter of soil was also taken off to clean it up. But the damage to forests and meadows is terrible,” she said.

“The disruptions to everyday life caused by the accident were permanent for many of the residents, and this is unlikely to change soon for the most affected regions of Fukushima,” Mousseau said. “This is not so much because of persistent radiation per se but also because much of the infrastructure was damaged or destroyed and has deteriorated over the past decade.”

Mousseau also said that the ongoing effects of the contamination and “other human disturbances” remain largely unknown, as “research in the region has dropped off dramatically in the past years because of COVID and Japan’s restrictions on visitors from outside the country.”

“Assuming Japan removes travel restrictions, more research will be conducted,” he said.

While some areas are opening back up to the public, most of the Fukushima area remains evacuated, Mothersill said.

“People are nervous and not happy to go back,” she said. But where people are living, radiation levels are very low, ‘meaning there is a low risk to people and pets.’

September 4, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Midnight countdown held as evacuation order on Fukushima town lifted after 11 yrs

One of the organizers of the “okaeri project” event waves his hand after opening a door set up in front of JR Futaba Station in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, on Aug. 30, 2022.

August 30, 2022

FUTABA, Fukushima — People shouted, “Welcome back!” at the stroke of 12:00 a.m. on Aug. 30 to celebrate the lifting of evacuation orders here, 11-plus years after townspeople were barred from returning following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdowns.

The town of Futaba was one area designated as “difficult to return” due to fallout from the plant, which the town cohosts with the neighboring municipality of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture. All Futaba residents were forced to evacuate to other parts of Japan after the March 2011 nuclear disaster at the power station run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.

After 11 years and five months, the town has been deemed habitable once more, with the establishment of a “Specified Reconstruction and Revitalization Base.” And to celebrate, resident volunteers organized the “okaeri (welcome back) project” event in the town center in front of Futaba Station, on the JR Joban Line. A countdown was held, and when the clock struck 12, organizers opened a pink wooden “door of hope” as the people there yelled, “Welcome back!”

About 2,000 candles were lit at the venue on the night of Aug. 29, creating a magical atmosphere. Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa told the crowd, “I will dedicate myself to reconstruction work, so that it (Futaba) will become a town where people will be happy to come back to.”

September 4, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , | Leave a comment

Evacuation order finally lifted for Fukushima nuclear plant town

The town of Futaba, which hosts the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. An evacuation order for the town was lifted on Tuesday for the first time since the March 2011 disaster.

Aug 30, 2022

Fukushima – An evacuation order in a town hosting the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was lifted Tuesday for the first time since the March 2011 disaster 11 years and five months ago, as the municipality prepares for the return of some of its residents.

The order for the Fukushima Prefecture town, which hosts the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. complex, was imposed after the massive earthquake and tsunami hit the country’s northeast, triggering reactor meltdowns and making the area uninhabitable due to high radiation levels.

Futaba is the last municipality to see an evacuation order lifted among 11 municipalities subject to such orders in the wake of the disaster. Although residents are now allowed to return home, over 80% of the municipality, by acreage, remains designated as “difficult-to-return” zones.

The parts reopened for habitation are located near JR Futaba Station in the town’s previously downtown area and its northeast, where many commercial and public facilities, such as the Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum, are located.

With relatively low radiation levels, people had been allowed to enter the northeastern area since March 2020 but not to reside there.

As of late July, 3,574 people from 1,449 households, or over 60% of the town’s population, were registered as residents of the two areas accounting for just 15% of Futaba’s total area.

But the number of residents who participated in a preparatory program started in January, allowing them to return temporarily, totaled just 85 people from 52 households.

Following the disaster, most of the town’s residents were evacuated outside the prefecture, along with the town office’s functions. A number of them have since settled outside the town.

While Futaba aims to increase its population to 2,000 by around 2030, a survey of residents last year found that 60.5% had decided not to return, far exceeding the 11.3% who expressed a desire to return.

As for areas other than those that are reopening or scheduled to reopen, the government plans to decontaminate individual locations after confirming that residents intend to return. Futaba and Okuma, a neighboring town to the south that also hosts the crippled power station, are expected to start such work in fiscal 2024.

Although the government said last August it is aiming for the return of residents to areas outside reconstruction and revitalization bases by the end of the decade, the prospects are unclear as areas covering over 300 square kilometers in seven municipalities of the prefecture are designated as difficult-to-return zones.

In Okuma and Futaba, the return of such residents is likely to occur around fiscal 2025 or 2026 at the earliest, considering the time needed for infrastructure building, according to a government official.

Earlier this month, Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa asked industry minister Yasutoshi Nishimura to “show a road map toward decontamination of the entire area” when he visited Fukushima after assuming the ministerial post.

Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori also pointed out that “the steps and scope of decontamination, as well as how to treat the homes and land of those who do not wish to return, have not been worked out.”

The evacuation order was lifted a day after Futaba celebrated the reopening of a residential police box located approximately 3 km northwest of the nuclear plant in the municipality.

The police box, which will house one officer, was shuttered immediately after the nuclear disaster.

“I would like to support the town by keeping the peace here so residents can return feeling secure,” said Hirotaka Umemiya, 40, as he began his duties in the town.

A separate ceremony was held Saturday for the opening of Futaba’s new town office, which was temporarily located in the neighboring city of Iwaki, with its operations set to start Sept. 5.

Three nuclear reactors on the Okuma side of the Fukushima No. 1 complex suffered meltdowns, while the two reactors on the Futaba side was unscathed.

September 4, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , | Leave a comment

3/11 Fukushima disaster evacuee has been ‘wandering’ for 11 years while growing vegetables

Hisae Unuma is seen in the city of Kuki, Saitama Prefecture, on Sept. 22, 2021.

March 10, 2022

KUKI, Saitama — It will soon be 11 years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. A woman who lived near the nuclear plant continues to live as an evacuee in Saitama Prefecture, saying, “I am still in temporary housing and wandering around with no place to return to.”

Hisae Unuma, who leads a displaced life in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, works hard every day as a vegetable farmer, something she had no experience doing before the disaster.

The 68-year-old woman’s home was located in the Fukushima prefectural town of Futaba, 2.5 kilometers from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. She was a farmer who bred the Japanese Black cattle and grew rice. She was particular about the grass she used to feed the cattle, and recalled that the conception rate of her cows was “one of the top three in the county of Futaba.” The farmer believes that “land is the source of life,” and she had put compost in her rice paddies and also made efforts to grow delicious rice. All of this was lost in an instant.

After the disaster, Unuma evacuated to the city of Kazo, where the Futaba town hall was also temporarily moved. In order to “build up her strength for when she returns to Futaba,” she learned to grow vegetables from scratch and rented farmland to start growing them.

Unuma now delivers vegetables she grows to local schools for lunches and sells them at a market. Her husband, whom she shared her life with, passed away from cancer in 2017. People tell her, “We are waiting for your vegetables,” and that is a big support for her.

Her home in Futaba is located in a “difficult-to-return” zone with high radiation levels, and she is only allowed to return home on a temporary basis. When she visited in February, it looked as if her home would collapse at any moment.

“Even if I wanted to go back, I can’t. I am not young enough to want to go back,” Unuma said.

March 13, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , | Leave a comment

Last Fukushima town to reopen welcomes back its first residents

Three people have moved back to Futaba, which aims to attract about 2,000 over the next five years

Yoichi Yatsuda plays with his dogs in Futaba, Japan.

February 16, 2022

Late last month, Yoichi Yatsuda slept in his own home for the first time in more than a decade.

As a resident of Futaba, a town in the shadow of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, there was a time when simply spending the night in his family home had seemed an impossible dream.

The 70-year-old was one of tens of thousands of people who were forced to flee and start a life in nuclear limbo when the plant had a triple meltdown in March 2011.

As Japan reeled after the earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people and triggered the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, Yatsuda and his wife, Analisa, and an estimated 160,000 other residents of Fukushima prefecture packed a few belongings and left, believing they would be back within weeks.

“If you had told me at the beginning that I would have to wait this long to come home, I would have given up straight away,” said Yatsuda, a retired professional keirin cyclist who has lived in more than 10 places since the disaster.

Today, the couple are attempting to rebuild their lives in Futaba, the last of dozens of towns and villages to have ended their status as no-go zones after radiation levels were deemed low enough for people to return.

Futaba is the last of dozens of towns and villages to have ended their status as no-go zones.

They made periodic visits to repair and refurbish their house, which was once overrun by wild boar, and have been allowed to stay overnight on a trial basis since late January. Local authorities hope more people will follow when the evacuation order is officially lifted in parts of the town later this year.

Yatsuda’s homecoming has been bittersweet. Before the disaster, Futaba was home to about 7,000 people. Just 15 residents applied to take part in the trial, and to date only three, including Yasuda and his wife, have moved back permanently.

Many of his former neighbours have found jobs and built new lives in other parts of the region and across Japan. In a poll by the reconstruction agency, just 10% of Futaba’s former residents said they would like to return, while 60% had no plans to go back.

Those with young children are the most reluctant to contemplate returning to a town that has no schools, shops, restaurants, hospitals or public services. Those with homes that survived the tsunami – which killed 50 people in Futaba – have had them demolished, leaving the town dotted with empty plots of land.

Yatsuda’s only neighbour – although he lives a short drive away – is Yasushi Hosozawa, who lives in a tiny room above a parking space and a shed filled with his beloved fishing rods.

“I was born here, and I always felt that if I was ever given the chance to return, then I would take it,” said Hosozawa, whose wife and son run a restaurant in another Fukushima town farther inland. “I love fishing and have my own boat moored here … that was a big factor in deciding to come back.”

Yasushi Hosozawa: ‘There used to be lots of people here. But look at it now … it’s a wasteland.’

The 78-year-old, a former plumber and cafeteria owner, returned late last month to find that his water supply had yet to be reconnected, meaning he had to drive to the railway station to use the toilet. “There used to be lots of people here,” he said, pointing at patches of grass where his neighbours’ homes once stood. “But look at it now … it’s a wasteland.”

Like many Fukushima residents, Yatsuda has little positive to say about Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the company that operates the nuclear plant, where decommissioning work is expected to last decades. “I believed Tepco when they said that something like the 2011 disaster could never happen,” he said. “It’s all about trust. When I returned to Fukushima 40 years ago, I was assured that this was a safe place to live.”

While no one expects life in Futaba to ever return to its pre-disaster normality, local officials believe more people will resettle. The town has set a target of attracting about 2,000 people, including new residents, over the next five years, and new public housing for 25 households will open in October.

The town currently has no open schools, shops, restaurants, hospitals or public services, but aims to attract 2,000 people over the next five years.

“Very few people want to come back, so can you really say that the town has recovered?” said Yatsuda, who will plant flowers in his garden this spring and, he hopes, reopen the gym behind his home where he trained aspiring keirin racers before the disaster.

“The problem is people can’t see physical signs of recovery with their own eyes. Unless the authorities do more to create jobs and attract new residents, I can’t see things improving much in the next 10 years.”

The stress of life as an evacuee has taken a toll on his mental and physical health, but he has no regrets about returning to a town that, its three current residents aside, still resembles a nuclear ghost town. “This is our house. This is where we played with our children when they were little,” he said.

While the couple have no concerns about radiation, they have accepted that, for now, they must travel outside the town to spend time with their eight grandchildren.

“We used to enjoy seeing friends and playing with our grandchildren here,” said Analisa. “It would be great if younger families moved here … I desperately want to see and hear children again.”

February 20, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima man returning home wants to tell sons about his ‘error’

A slogan for promoting the use of nuclear power, worked out by Yuji Onuma, is seen on a signboard installed in the downtown area of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, in March 2015. The signboard was removed in 2016.

February 14, 2022

FUTABA, Fukushima Prefecture–The town where Yuji Onuma in his youth dreamed up a slogan promoting the “bright future” that nuclear power promised remains deserted and a shell of its former self.

But Onuma, 45, is now hoping to pass along a different message to his sons of the dangers of nuclear power, as he plans to continue visiting his former home after more than a decade away. 

Evacuees from this town, cohost to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, are being allowed to stay overnight at their homes for the first time in 11 years since the nuclear disaster.

The temporary stays are ahead of a full return envisaged in the limited area of Futaba in summer this year. Futaba is the only municipality where all residents remain evacuated.


An Asahi Shimbun reporter accompanied Onuma, his wife and their two sons as they returned home from Jan. 29 through 30 on a “preparatory overnight stay” program that started on Jan. 20. 

Around noon on Jan. 29, Onuma was in the Konokusa district of Futaba, 6 kilometers to the northwest of the nuclear plant, with his wife and two sons.

The district is designated a “difficult-to-return” zone, where an evacuation order remains in place because of the high levels of radiation from the triple meltdown at the plant, and is outside the area for the preparatory stay program.

Houses in the district were seen with entrances closed off with barricades.

“Damage from the nuclear disaster is not always easy to see, but I still want you to know something about it,” he told his family as they walked along a street.

Onuma pointed to a barbershop that he used to go to as a young boy. He also pointed to the home of a classmate and a road he would take to go to a driving school.

“There were people’s livelihoods in every single one of these houses before we were evacuated,” he told his family members in the midst of the totally deserted landscape.


The abrupt shout came from Yusei, the oldest of Onuma’s sons. Right before the eyes of the 10-year-old was a house that was flattened by the massive tremor of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which triggered a tsunami and the nuclear disaster, on March 11, 2011.

A rainwater drainage pipe covered with moss was seen lying on the ground. A tree was spotted growing through an opening between the tiles of the house’s roof.

Difficult-to-return zones account for more than 90 percent of the landmass of Futaba, where no one has yet returned to live. Ties with fellow townspeople have grown so thin that Onuma learned about the deaths of his neighbors and a classmate only through an information bulletin of the town government.

“It’s so sad,” Onuma said. “I could have offered incense for them if only it had not been for the nuclear disaster.”

The preparatory overnight stay program started in the area designated a “specified reconstruction and revitalization base,” where the evacuation order is expected to be lifted in June.

In the designated area, many houses have been demolished. Onuma’s home stands alone, surrounded by empty lots.

Onuma also had planned to have his home demolished, as no elementary school or junior high school was likely to be reopened any time soon.

What the youngest of his sons said changed his mind. Onuma quoted 8-year-old Yusho as saying, when the family was visiting Futaba last March, “I like Futaba. I want to come to Futaba again.”

Encouraged by his son’s remarks, Onuma in April began improving the living conditions at his home, including tidying it up and decontaminating it.

He said he hopes to keep returning here with his family during summer vacations and on other occasions so he can see how the community will continue changing in the future.


An overhead signboard once greeted visitors to a central shopping street in Futaba’s downtown area. It carried a slogan saying, “Nuclear power is the energy of a bright future,” which Onuma submitted when he was an elementary school pupil to win a local competition.

Being the author of the iconic slogan was, for some time following the nuclear disaster, a source of distress for Onuma.

He once thought that atomic energy could be entrusted to provide people’s power needs for the future. However, in the twinkling of an eye, the nuclear accident changed the lives of so many people.

Onuma said he has a different view of nuclear power now.

“I have to tell my children everything, including my own ‘error,’ so the same thing will never be repeated,” Onuma said.

He planted pansies, which can mean “remembrance” in the language of flowers, on a flower bed outside his home.

“I hope to convey pre-disaster remembrances of Futaba to my children,” he said. “And I also hope to go on creating new ‘remembrances’ in this town, where the clocks have stood still for 10 years and 10 months and counting.”


Futaba was home to 7,140 residents when the quake and tsunami struck. The town remains totally evacuated due to the nuclear disaster that resulted, and its residents are taking shelter across 42 of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

Part of Futaba’s difficult-to-return zones has been designated a specified reconstruction and revitalization base. The town government is hoping to have the evacuation order lifted in the reconstruction base area in June.

The preparatory overnight stay program, which allows evacuees who want to return to spend the night at their homes in advance to prepare for their lives there, started in Futaba on Jan. 20.

Many townspeople of Futaba, in the meantime, have rebuilt their lives in other communities to which they have evacuated. Only 19 individuals from 13 households had applied for a preparatory overnight stay by Jan. 27, with Onuma’s two sons being the only minors among them.

The town government has set the goal of having 2,000 residents, including new settlers, five years after the evacuation order is lifted.

When parties including the Reconstruction Agency and the town government took a survey last year, however, some 60 percent of Futaba’s residents said they had decided against returning, and only about 10 percent said they wished to return.

February 17, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Trickle of residents return to Fukushima’s last deserted town

Futaba, whose population of around 5,600 was forced to flee over radiation fears, had been the final deserted municipality in the Fukushima region

Jan. 21, 2022

TOKYO – Five former residents of the last remaining uninhabited town near Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant returned on Thursday to live there for the first time since the 2011 disaster.

Following extensive decontamination, numerous areas around the plant in northeast Japan have been declared safe after a huge earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown over a decade ago.

TV footage showed the returnees inspecting the buildings, with one testing a tap outside his house.

“It’s out! This is the first time in 10 years and 11 months that running water comes out,” he said.

Futaba, whose population of around 5,600 was forced to flee over radiation fears, had been the final deserted municipality in the Fukushima region.

But restrictions were lifted in a small part of the town in March 2020 and the government is preparing to lift the cordon on a wider area later this year.

A local official told AFP that five people from four households are returning to live in Futaba on a trial basis, the first of just 15 people who have applied to a scheme, working towards a permanent return to the town.

The group had already been back to visit Futaba, but Thursday marks the first time they will stay overnight.

They can live there as part of the trial until at least June, when the wider cordon is expected to be lifted and their residence can become permanent, the official said.

The scheme “aims to ensure that residents will be able to live without problems, by, for example, checking if the sewers function well and there are facilities to support everyday life”, a cabinet office official in charge of supporting Fukushima residents told AFP.

More than 18,400 people died or remain missing after the 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 which sparked the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The government has undertaken an extensive decontamination programme in the region, literally scraping layers of topsoil, among other methods to remove radiation.

It has gradually declared areas safe for residents to return, with just 2.4 percent of the prefecture still covered by no-go orders as of last year.

But in some places, evacuees have been reluctant to return even after measures are lifted, worried about persistent radiation or fully resettled in other places.

January 24, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima town prepares for return of residents

Jan. 4, 2022

Tuesday marked the first business day of 2022 in Japan. Officials in Fukushima Prefecture’s Futaba Town are planning to welcome residents back later this year.

The town’s residents have not returned since an accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant forced them to evacuate. Part of the plant is located in the town. The accident occurred in March 2011. Futaba is the only municipality that evacuees have not returned to. The town had a population of about 7,000 before the disaster.

After years of decontamination efforts, the residents are expected to be allowed to return to some areas, starting in June.

Futaba Town officials held a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the first day of the year. The event took place at a town office in Iwaki City. Iwaki is located about 60 kilometers south of the center of Futaba Town.

Futaba Town Mayor Izawa Shiro told about 40 officials that this is going to be a very busy year, as the residents are expected to return.

Izawa said he will be on the frontlines of the town’s reconstruction efforts. He also asked the officials to join him.

Beginning on January 20, residents will be permitted to stay overnight in the town, in order to start preparing for their return. The evacuation order is expected to be lifted in June.

January 6, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t criticize government or TEPCO, guides in Fukushima told

A guide gives a demonstration talk at a preview event held on Sept. 5 at the Fukushima memorial museum.

A Fukushima memorial museum staff member presents a talk on Sept. 20 when the facility opened.

The Fukushima memorial museum in Futaba is devoted to passing on the lessons from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

September 23, 2020

Tour guides are bristling at instructions not to criticize the central government or Tokyo Electric Power Co. when speaking to visitors at a recently opened memorial museum to the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The instructions have left some Fukushima residents who signed up to be guides feeling perplexed and sparked anger in others.

The museum in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, opened on Sept. 20 with the objective of passing on to visitors the lessons learned from the nuclear disaster triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

It was constructed by the Fukushima prefectural government in the town of Futaba, which co-hosts the nuclear plant. Evacuation orders issued for residents following the disaster were recently partially lifted.

About 150 items chosen from the 240,000 or so materials collected from around the nation are on display at the facility operated by the Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework Promotion Organization. The central government effectively paid for the 5.3 billion yen ($50 million) that went into completing it.

The museum has 29 registered guides who either survived the 2011 disaster or underwent a training program for the work. They rotate on a daily basis and talk to visitors about their experiences, which include how they lived while living as evacuees and losing their homes in the tsunami.

Each session lasts for a maximum one hour and the guide is paid 3,500 yen for each session.

Training sessions were held in July and August for the guides in which a manual was distributed that included wording to avoid “criticizing or defaming specific organizations, individuals or other facilities.”

One question raised was what to say if a visitor asked what the guide felt about TEPCO’s responsibility, according to several guides who took part in the training sessions.

The guides were told to not directly respond to such questions, but to leave the matter up to facility staff who would be sitting in on the sessions.

Each guide was also asked to write down a script of what they intended to say. The draft was checked and revised by facility staff.

The guides were also told that if they did criticize a specific organization, their talks would be stopped immediately and they would be dismissed as a registered guide.

The manual also included instructions to contact and consult with facility staff if the script was to be changed or if the guide was contacted by media representatives for an interview.

With regard to the manual and instructions, one guide said, “While defamation is out of the question, I think it is wrong that as a victim I am unable to criticize the central government or TEPCO, which is responsible for the damage.”

A second guide had the script revised after pointing out the responsibility of the central government and TEPCO.

Another speculated that the Fukushima prefectural government was not trying to ruffle feathers since the central government had paid for the facility.

“I suffered psychological anguish from TEPCO and I’m also angry with the central government,” one tour guide said.

“To me, that is the truth. The facility has asked us to speak the truth so it is not in a position to say ‘Don’t say such things.’ I will quit as a guide if expressing my feelings is considered being critical.”

A prefectural government official admitted that the central government and TEPCO would be covered by the “specific organizations” clause in the manual.

“We believe it is not appropriate to criticize a third party such as the central government, TEPCO or the Fukushima prefectural government in a public facility,” said another prefectural government official now on the facility staff.

Committees set up by the Diet and central government to investigate the cause of the Fukushima nuclear disaster issued reports that called it a “man-made disaster” and said TEPCO never considered the possibility that the Fukushima plant would lose all electric power sources in the event of an earthquake or tsunami because it stuck to a baseless myth that the plant was safe.

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

2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster museum to open in Futaba town

A theater at the museum of Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear disaster that will open to the public on Sept. 20 in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture

Whiteboards and other items that reveal the tense post-accident situation are on display at the new museum of the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear disaster in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture.

An exhibit about decontamination work after the 2011 accident at the new museum of the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear disaster in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture

September 7, 2020

FUTABA, Fukushima Prefecture–A new 5.3 billion yen ($50 million) museum here is entrusted with the mission of keeping lessons from one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters alive.

The museum of the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear disaster in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, which co-hosts the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, is now complete and waiting to welcome visitors on Sept. 20.

It will feature firsthand accounts from survivors of the massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant accident, which devastated areas of Japan’s Tohoku region in March 2011, and an array of artifacts reflecting the events.

The museum’s collection includes roughly 150 items selected from the 240,000 items that the prefectural government collected after the triple disaster.

Exhibition floors are divided into six zones by themes such as “responses to the nuclear accident” and “challenges for reconstruction.”

A video detailing the natural disaster and subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., will be shown on a giant screen.

Toshiyuki Nishida, an actor from the prefecture, narrates the video, in which he encourages viewers to reflect on lessons from the disaster.

Items left abandoned at a local elementary school after residents evacuated are on display, including a bookbag, a glove and a folding umbrella.

Another item, a can of food left behind at a deserted house, conveys just how dire the post-disaster situation was: a wild boar seeking sustenance tore it open.

A large photo of a now infamous signboard that used to be on display in the center of Futaba town to promote the safety myth of nuclear power is also among the exhibited items.

Twenty-nine people who survived the disaster in and out of the prefecture are scheduled to share their experiences with visitors at the museum.

The central government, in principle, was responsible for financing the museum’s construction, including funds spent on collecting items and curating materials.

Akira Imai, a former public policy professor at Fukushima University, lamented something missing from the museum.

“It seems there are not many exhibits focusing on the lack of preparedness before the nuclear accident,” he said.

In order to carry out its mission, “the museum should enhance its investigative and research division and reflect the cautionary tale of the accident in its exhibits,” Imai said.

(This article was written by Shoko Rikimaru and Shinichi Sekine.)

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