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Upper House Election 2016 / ‘Stagnant recovery’ hangs over Fukushima

june 11 2016 interim storage facilities.jpg


From The Yomiuri Shimbun, a pro-government Japanese newspaper

Large black bags piled up like stone walls are a common sight in Fukushima Prefecture.

The bags are filled with contaminated soil left over from the decontamination work carried out in the wake of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The bags of soil are being provisionally stored at about 130,000 spots throughout the prefecture, including in schoolyards and parks.

It has been more than five years since the Great East Japan Earthquake, yet these “temporary” storage sites can even be found in the city of Fukushima.

On May 28, Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki, 66, of the Liberal Democratic Party held a meeting for his supporters at a hotel in the city center. Iwaki represents them in the House of Councillors.

I want to tell the whole world how safe and secure Fukushima is. The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in four years are a big chance. I want to show how Fukushima has recovered from the major damage it received,” he said at the meeting, drawing applause from about 250 supporters.

Posters hung around the venue read, “Running flat out toward a true recovery.”

There were about 10.3 million cubic meters of contaminated soil as of the end of last year, enough to fill eight Tokyo Domes. The government wants to move as much as 60 percent of this to interim storage facilities being built in Okuma and Futaba by the time the Olympics are held in Tokyo in fiscal 2020, to give an impression the recovery is making progress.

However, only about 2 percent of the land needed for the sites has been acquired. House of Councillors member Teruhiko Mashiko, 68, of the Democratic Party criticized the delay in moving the contaminated soil at the opening of a campaign office in Koriyama, also on May 28.

“Is the way the LDP is handling things acceptable? Contaminated soil is just being left to sit in schoolyards and parks and beside private houses,” he said.

Mashiko does not dispute the need for interim storage facilities, but since negotiations with about 2,000 landowners are moving slowly, he has proposed nearly doubling the current number of staff from 110 to at least 200 workers.

The number of House of Councillors seats to be contested in the Fukushima constituency this time was cut from two to one in 2013, pitting Iwaki and Mashiko, who currently each hold a seat, against each other. In the 2010 upper house election, Iwaki won a seat but finished second, about 2,700 votes behind Mashiko. This time, Mashiko is set to run as “a joint candidate” backed by opposition parties, so there is a much stronger sense of crisis among Iwaki’s campaign team.

At a meeting on June 5 of the LDP’s prefectural election committee, the chairman of the Election Strategy Committee, Toshimitsu Motegi, urged members of the prefectural assembly and others to join the fray.

“When two sitting lawmakers go up against each other, one must lose his seat. Treat this campaign like it is your own election,” he said.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the recovery from the disaster is one of its highest priorities. Abe himself visited Fukushima on June 3. If one of his Cabinet members were to be defeated in such a key electoral district, “It would be seen as a rejection of the recovery policies the government has promoted,” a veteran member of the prefectural assembly said.

The DP has its burdens as well. When the disaster struck, the DP’s predecessor, the Democratic Party of Japan, was in power, and the administration’s scattershot response confused operations on the ground. At the launch of his campaign, Mashiko apologized for the party’s track record.

“We put everything we had into the recovery, but the path was steep. I’m terribly sorry,” he said.

In a survey of 200 Fukushima Prefecture residents who were evacuated, conducted in March by The Yomiuri Shimbun, 80 percent said the recovery was behind schedule. “Even if decontamination is completed, the mountains of contaminated soil remain. Many residents say they don’t want to return,” said Norio Kanno, mayor of Iitate, which had to be fully evacuated after the nuclear disaster.

Will either party be able to accelerate the recovery that is still not being felt in many areas hit by the disaster? Voters will likely view both the LDP and the DP with a critical eye.

Final disposal within 30 years

Decontamination has been completed for almost 90 percent of the about 420,000 houses and other buildings targeted for clean-up in Fukushima Prefecture. The evacuation orders for most of the city of Minami-Soma and two villages in the prefecture are expected to be lifted in June or July. However, it has yet to be decided when the evacuation orders will be lifted for Okuma and Futaba, where the damaged nuclear plant is located, and other municipalities with high radiation levels. Storage facilities for the contaminated soil generated by the decontamination effort are intended to be only an interim solution. Legislation has been passed demanding that a final solution outside the prefecture be found within 30 years.

Numerous other issues also need to be dealt with, including decommissioning the damaged nuclear reactors.

Work on developing robots that can collect the melted nuclear fuel in the reactors has only just begun, meaning the decommissioning process could take as long as 40 years. Work on building an “ice wall” by freezing the ground around the reactor buildings is almost completed. This is expected to stop the inflow of groundwater into the site, which should reduce the amount of contaminated water that is generated.

June 11, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment