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Evacuation of Okuma Town Lifted, a First in a Town where Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is Located

July 1, 2022
 At 9:00 a.m. on July 30, the evacuation order was lifted in Okuma Town, one of the hard-to-return zones still restricted due to radioactive contamination caused by the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (Okuma and Futaba Towns, Fukushima Prefecture). Eleven years and three months have passed since the accident, and this is the first time that people have been able to live in the difficult-to-return zone in the municipality where the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is located. The town is moving forward with the attraction of companies related to the decommissioning of the plant and the construction of housing, but it is not clear how many people will be able to live in the area.
 The reconstruction site is mainly located in the residential area around Ono Station on the JR Joban Line and covers approximately 860 hectares, or 10% of the town’s land area. At the time of the nuclear accident, more than half of the population (11,505) lived there. Even now, approximately 5,900 people are registered residents, accounting for 60% of the total. The town has set a target of 2,600 residents in five years.
 Mayor Atsushi Yoshida said at a crime prevention patrol ceremony held in front of Ono Station, “It takes time to get back to the bustling town we once were. We have finally made a start.
 In April 2019, the evacuation order will be lifted in the southwestern part of Okuma Town, where about 380 residents are now living after the entire town was forced to evacuate due to the nuclear accident.

Specified Reconstruction and Revitalization Zone (Reconstruction base): A zone designated by the government after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident as a “difficult-to-return zone” with high radiation levels, where government funds are being used to decontaminate the area in advance to enable residents to resume their lives. Of the seven municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture that remain in the difficult-to-return zones, six, with the exception of Minamisoma City, are located in these zones. The reconstruction base in Katsurao Village was lifted on June 12. The base in Futaba-cho, where the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is located, is expected to be lifted in July or later.


◆There are many issues to be addressed, and the future will be tough.
 In Okuma Town, Fukushima Prefecture, where the evacuation order has been lifted, there are still some areas that have not been fully decontaminated, and some houses that have not been demolished and decontaminated yet. The situation remains inconvenient with no stores or hospitals, and residents who wish to return to their homes said, “There are a lot of issues. The future will be tough,” said one resident.
 About 6 km southwest of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Mitsuhide Ikeda, 61, a part-time farmer, keeps 17 head of cattle in his pasture. On March 30, while feeding his cows with his wife Mikiko (64), Ikeda said, “I am happy to be able to go back to my home freely. I hope to resume livestock farming someday and also produce rice, vegetables, and fruits to show that it is possible to grow food in the area that was once a hard-to-return zone.

Mitsuhide Ikeda, who said he wants to return to livestock farming in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 30.

Eleven years ago, on the morning of March 12, Ikeda and his wife refused to dispose of their cattle, even after the sudden evacuation, saying, “We cannot take away the lives of our cows, our precious family members who have supported our lives. Once they caught the cows that had fled, they continued to care for them while commuting from Hirono Town, Fukushima Prefecture, where they had evacuated from, about 25 km south of the town.
 Two years ago, he built an office where he can sleep on the site of his former home adjacent to the pasture, but even after the evacuation order was lifted, he continues to commute from Hirono Town. Even after the decontamination of his property, he found areas where the radiation level was 15 microsieverts per hour, well above the government’s long-term target of 0.23 microsieverts per hour, and had to have the area re-decontaminated. There were many such places throughout the neighborhood. Mitsuhide said, “The government could have bought up all the areas with high radiation levels and not decontaminated them.
 Mikiko does not want to live in Okuma because “shopping is inconvenient. Mitsuhide also said, “There is no one around for hundreds of meters, so when something happens, there is no one to shout out. It would be difficult to live there right now,” he spilled. Still, he is determined to fulfill his desire to be a cattle breeder on his ancestral land.


◆It’s just a transit point
 A woman, 60, who evacuated to Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, feels that the lifting of the evacuation order is “just a passing point. After her house was placed in a recovery center, she asked the town what would happen to her house after the evacuation order was lifted, but she did not know.
 I couldn’t see what was going to happen to the town,” said the woman. Her house has been demolished, but the surrounding area has been ransacked by burglars and animals, and there are still buildings that have not been decontaminated. I like Okuma because I can feel the four seasons and smell the grass being cut,” she said. But even if I was told I could go home, I would not be able to lead a settled life in a place where the living environment is not well maintained.”
 The woman would like to build a house and live with her husband if the town’s environment is improved, but she cannot make up her mind right now. In a survey of residents’ intentions, 20% said they could not decide whether or not to return, but these people are the most likely candidates to come back. If we don’t take good care of them, they won’t come back.
https://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/186757?fbclid=IwAR1u_nJYuzfyBZH8Odmy_i0qmX4AWdYsaBiAkFpCud4I7HbevwaFA7efvxE

July 3, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan OKs return to nuclear plant host town for 1st time in 11 yrs

Photo taken June 16, 2022, shows a zone in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, specified as a reconstruction and revitalization base, where an evacuation order will be lifted at 9 a.m. June 30. (Kyodo)

June 28, 2022

The government decided Tuesday to lift an evacuation order on part of a town hosting a crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, allowing residents to return home for good this week for the first time since the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

Restrictions in a zone specified as a reconstruction and revitalization base in Okuma will be lifted at 9 a.m. Thursday, the first such case for a municipality hosting Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeastern Japan.

“Ending restrictions on an area, which used to be downtown (Okuma) before the disaster, will be a significant first step in reconstruction,” Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda said.

“We will create an environment where residents can return home without worries,” Hagiuda said at a press conference.

Restrictions in the specified reconstruction and revitalization base zone of the town of Futaba, which also hosts the Fukushima Daiichi plant, are also expected to end soon.

Okuma will be the second municipality in Fukushima Prefecture, after the village of Katsurao, to see people coming back to an area once designated as difficult to return to due to high levels of radiation.

Restrictions in part of the village were lifted on June 12.

With decontamination work reducing radiation levels and infrastructure being prepared in Okuma, restrictions will end in the 8.6-square-kilometer area that was once the center of the town.

Residents have been able to stay overnight in the area since December in preparation for their full-scale return.

A total of 5,888 people in 2,233 households, accounting for about 60 percent of the town population, were registered as residents of the area as of Monday, according to the Okuma town government.

Three other municipalities where residents are still not allowed to return — Tomioka, Namie and Iitate — are expected to see restrictions lifted around next spring.

https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2022/06/e96af5c6ecfb-japan-oks-return-to-nuclear-plant-host-town-for-1st-time-in-11-yrs.html

July 3, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Govt. to lift evacuation order for part of Fukushima’s Okuma Town

June 28, 2022

The Japanese government has officially decided to lift its evacuation order in part of Fukushima Prefecture’s Okuma Town.

About 60 percent of Okuma Town was designated as a “difficult-to-return” zone after the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The plant is located in the town.

The evacuation order will be lifted in about 20 percent of Okuma Town’s “difficult-to-return” zone on Thursday. The decision was made on Tuesday.

The government decontaminated the area after it was designated as a special zone for reconstruction and revitalization.

The area will be the second “difficult-to-return” zone that residents can go back to.

The government made a similar decision for part of Katsurao Village earlier this month. Katsurao Village is located near the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20220628_19/

July 3, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

A lonely evening at home for Fukushima man retracing past

Mitsuhide Ikeda pours sake while seated in front of photos of his deceased parents at his home in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.

December 11, 2021

OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Settling in for the night, Mitsuhide Ikeda poured sake into a glass and raised a toast to framed photos of his deceased parents: “I finally made it back home. Let’s drink together.”

The last time the 60-year-old cattle farmer spent a night at home was 10 years and nine months ago.

Large parts of this town that co-hosts the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were declared “difficult-to-return” zones after the triple meltdown triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Ikeda’s parents died after the nuclear accident.

The Shimonogami district where the Ikeda’s home is located lies about five kilometers southwest of the Fukushima nuclear facility.

As part of efforts to rebuild the areas around the plant, the government recently began letting residents return home for an overnight stay as a means of preparing for the day when they can do so permanently.

Unsurprisingly, concerns about radiation levels are still on the minds of many former residents. His wife, Mikiko, 64, refused to accompany him for that reason. Ikeda was the only individual in his neighborhood who took up the offer to return home.

Dangerously high radiation levels registered immediately after the disaster that made it impossible for anybody to live in the area have gradually fallen. The government spent vast sums on the time-consuming process of decontaminating topsoil as a way of reducing radiation levels.

It intends to lift the evacuation order for some parts of Okuma in spring. That would be the first step for setting the stage for residents to return home.

The temporary overnight stay program began in Katsurao on Nov. 30 and is gradually being expanded to five other municipalities, including Okuma.

A check for radiation in November on the Ikeda plot found one spot with a reading of 3.8 microsieverts per hour, above the level deemed safe enough for the government to lift the evacuation order.

Even though the Environment Ministry is planning additional decontamination work, Mikiko was unsettled by the reading and concluded it would be impossible to pick up the threads of their past life in Okuma.

Other changes in the close to 11 years since the nuclear disaster make a return to Okuma unrealistic.

While a large supermarket, hospital and bank branch remain standing in the town, there is no indication when those facilities might resume operations.

In the interim, the Ikedas plan to commute to Okuma from the community they moved to as evacuees.

The overnight stay program is restricted to an area close to what was once the bustling center of the town. About 7,600 residents lived there before the nuclear disaster.

The town government envisions that as many as 2,600 people will reside in the town within five years of the evacuation order being finally lifted if plans proceed to rebuild social infrastructure.

But the writing is on the wall for many people.

According to the Environment Ministry, about 1,150 homes in the district had been torn down as of the end of September.

And as of Dec. 8, only 31 residents in 15 households applied for the overnight stays.

Even Ikeda admits that Okuma will likely never return to the community he knew before 2011.

“Too much time has passed,” he said.

https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14500400

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

A lonely evening at home for Fukushima man retracing past

Unsurprisingly, concerns about radiation levels are still on the minds of many former residents. His wife, Mikiko, 64, refused to accompany him for that reason. Ikeda was the only individual in his neighborhood who took up the offer to return home.

Mitsuhide Ikeda pours sake while seated in front of photos of his deceased parents at his home in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.

December 11, 2021

OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Settling in for the night, Mitsuhide Ikeda poured sake into a glass and raised a toast to framed photos of his deceased parents: “I finally made it back home. Let’s drink together.”

The last time the 60-year-old cattle farmer spent a night at home was 10 years and nine months ago.

Large parts of this town that co-hosts the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were declared “difficult-to-return” zones after the triple meltdown triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Ikeda’s parents died after the nuclear accident.

The Shimonogami district where the Ikeda’s home is located lies about five kilometers southwest of the Fukushima nuclear facility.

As part of efforts to rebuild the areas around the plant, the government recently began letting residents return home for an overnight stay as a means of preparing for the day when they can do so permanently.

Unsurprisingly, concerns about radiation levels are still on the minds of many former residents. His wife, Mikiko, 64, refused to accompany him for that reason. Ikeda was the only individual in his neighborhood who took up the offer to return home.

Dangerously high radiation levels registered immediately after the disaster that made it impossible for anybody to live in the area have gradually fallen. The government spent vast sums on the time-consuming process of decontaminating topsoil as a way of reducing radiation levels.

It intends to lift the evacuation order for some parts of Okuma in spring. That would be the first step for setting the stage for residents to return home.

The temporary overnight stay program began in Katsurao on Nov. 30 and is gradually being expanded to five other municipalities, including Okuma.

A check for radiation in November on the Ikeda plot found one spot with a reading of 3.8 microsieverts per hour, above the level deemed safe enough for the government to lift the evacuation order.

Even though the Environment Ministry is planning additional decontamination work, Mikiko was unsettled by the reading and concluded it would be impossible to pick up the threads of their past life in Okuma.

Other changes in the close to 11 years since the nuclear disaster make a return to Okuma unrealistic.

While a large supermarket, hospital and bank branch remain standing in the town, there is no indication when those facilities might resume operations.

In the interim, the Ikedas plan to commute to Okuma from the community they moved to as evacuees.

The overnight stay program is restricted to an area close to what was once the bustling center of the town. About 7,600 residents lived there before the nuclear disaster.

The town government envisions that as many as 2,600 people will reside in the town within five years of the evacuation order being finally lifted if plans proceed to rebuild social infrastructure.

But the writing is on the wall for many people.

According to the Environment Ministry, about 1,150 homes in the district had been torn down as of the end of September.

And as of Dec. 8, only 31 residents in 15 households applied for the overnight stays.

Even Ikeda admits that Okuma will likely never return to the community he knew before 2011.

“Too much time has passed,” he said.

https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14500400

December 12, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021, Japan, PERSONAL STORIES | , , | Leave a comment

State funds to be juggled to cover cleanup costs from Fukushima

okuma storage facilityInterim storage facilities for radioactive waste from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster are shown in the foreground in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture. Seen in the background is the nuclear complex.

 

March 18, 2020

The government has moved to revise a law to allow for the diversion of budgetary funds set aside for the promotion of renewable energy to help cover ballooning costs related to the storage of radioactive waste produced during cleanup work after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Tax revenues appropriated for renewable-related projects are not permitted to be used for nuclear power programs under the special account law, which governs budgets allocated for specific purposes.

Earlier this month, however, the government submitted a bill to the Diet to revise the law to make the diversion of funds legal. It plans to enact the legislation during the current Diet session and put the revised law into force in April 2021.

This would be the first time for a revenue source earmarked for a specific expenditure to be diverted to a different purpose.

But the revision bill is likely to draw criticism from the public as it concerns the divisive issue of nuclear power and raises further questions about the government’ longstanding insistence that nuclear power is an inexpensive energy source.

Energy-related expenditures are booked under the government’s special account, separately from the general account.

These expenditures are grouped into more categories, such as one for nuclear energy and another for renewable energy sources.

About 300 billion yen ($2.78 billion) a year is allocated for programs associated with nuclear energy, including grants to local governments hosting nuclear power plants, while 800 billion yen or so is set aside to promote renewable energy, energy saving efforts and ensuring a stable energy supply.

Revenues for nuclear energy-related programs are collected under the promotion of power resources development tax, which are levied on electricity rates. Those for renewables are collected from businesses importing petroleum and coal under the petroleum and coal tax.

They are project-specific tax revenues, meaning they cannot be used for other purposes. The amount of those budgets remains at similar levels each year. 

The government’s move was prompted by runaway costs to process a vast volume of contaminated waste due to the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and maintain them in interim storage facilities in Fukushima Prefecture.

The government decided to shoulder some of the costs to help Tokyo Electric Power Co, operator of the stricken plant, and gained Cabinet approval to do so in December 2013.

Since fiscal 2014, it has set aside about 35 billion yen annually for the interim storage facilities. The funds come from revenues earmarked for nuclear energy-related projects in the special account.

But expenditures concerning the storage facilities are running a lot higher than initially envisaged.

An estimate released in late 2016 by the Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry showed that the project will eventually cost 1.6 trillion yen, compared with an initial projection of 1.1 trillion yen.

The government has allocated an additional 12 billion yen annually for the storage facility project since fiscal 2017.

Government officials say the price tag could further increase in coming years, likely leaving the government with scant financial resources to cover the project.

The revision bill has a clause stipulating that funds diverted to nuclear energy-related programs must eventually be returned to renewable energy project-specific tax revenues.

But it remains unclear if the clause will ease objections from opponents of nuclear energy, even if the fund diversion is a temporary measure.

Yoshikazu Miki, former president of Aoyama Gakuin University and a specialist of the tax system in Japan, called on the government to justify its proposed fund diversion by providing a full explanation of the issue.

A special account budget has rarely been scrutinized during Diet debate, unlike the general account,” Miki said. “The revision bill requires special attention as it is related to a nuclear power plant. Some members of the public may raise objections to the revision. The government needs to explain the matter to taxpayers to defend its need to act in this way.” 

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/13225190

March 20, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Symbol of failure in dealing with Fukushima crisis to be demolished

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This second floor room at the off-site center was used for meetings among the various officials based there to deal with the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
July 30, 2019
An abandoned two-story building in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, with overgrown weeds symbolizes the government’s overconfidence and failure in dealing with a nuclear power plant emergency.
This off-site emergency center for the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, located about 5 kilometers southwest of the crippled facility, appears headed for demolition by April 2020.
The government seemingly would like to erase this embarrassing reminder of its ineptitude in handling the 2011 nuclear disaster.
The crisis center was to serve as a base of operations for central and local government officials, as well as those at Tokyo Electric Power Co. in charge of the nuclear plant, in the event of a major accident striking the plant.
However, the lack of adequate measures to ensure airtightness in the facility led to its abandonment four days after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami inundated the Fukushima No. 1 plant and crippled its cooling systems.
And while the 150 or so individuals who had gathered at the off-site center were swiftly evacuated to a safer location, the same did not occur for the 90 or so patients at Futaba Hospital, located about 1 kilometer away.
Officials in charge of dealing with the nuclear disaster left the evacuation of patients up to the Self-Defense Forces, but delays and other factors led to the eventual deaths of about 50 of those patients, either while still at the hospital, en route to an evacuation site or later at the gymnasium where the patients were evacuated to.
Most of Okuma was initially classified by the central government as a “difficult-to-return” zone because of high radiation levels. But decontamination efforts were implemented in the central part of the town to turn it into a base for rebuilding and resuscitation of the community. The plan is to lift the evacuation order for that base in the spring of 2022.
The off-site center is situated within that base area and Okuma town officials had asked the central government, which owns the building housing the off-site center, and the Fukushima prefectural government, which manages the building, to demolish it to allow for construction of a residential district in the area.
The local office of the Environment Ministry plans to complete demolition of the building by the end of the current fiscal year. Some items from the building that are considered worthy of preservation will be removed to another exhibition facility now under construction.
However, one expert criticized the move to simply erase what could be considered a blot on the government’s handling of the nuclear disaster.
Naoya Sekiya, an associate professor at the Center for Integrated Disaster Information Research at the University of Tokyo, touched upon the fact that off-site centers around Japan were constructed after the 1999 nuclear criticality accident at the JCO Co.’s uranium-processing plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, which killed two workers and exposed hundreds of residents to high levels of radiation.
“While I can understand the need for the town to rebuild, the off-site center serves as a symbol that conveys how optimistic were the expectations about nuclear disasters even in the wake of the JCO accident,” Sekiya said. “Demolishing the building appears to be an attempt to erase that lesson and is not helpful in terms of thinking about preventing future accidents at nuclear plants.”
SEVEN YEARS LATER
The off-site center was visited on June 25 to observe the interior as well as such facilities as the shower room that employees exposed to radiation used before re-entering the building.
The doors on the building were similar to those found at most commercial buildings. The center served as a base of operations for 150 officials from the economy and science ministries, the SDF, the Fukushima prefectural government and TEPCO soon after the March 11, 2011, nuclear disaster.
But blackouts and disconnecting of communications channels meant officials at the off-site center could neither collect or transmit information about the fast-developing nuclear disaster.
Moreover, radiation levels within the building reached 200 microsieverts per hour, more than 50 times the level at which evacuation orders are issued. On March 15, 2011, all officials at the off-site center were evacuated.
The last time the off-site center was open to the media was in March 2012.
On June 25, the radiation level at the entrance to the building was 2 microsieverts per hour. That meant special protective gear was not needed to look around the building.
Seven years ago, one item that caught the eye of reporters was a whiteboard that contained jottings about the developing nuclear disaster.
One note said that the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 plant had exploded. Another said that 48 patients remained at Futaba Hospital as of 10:50 a.m. on March 13, 2011. But that last note showed just how incomplete the data gathering was because at that time there were still about 90 patients at the hospital.
While a Fukushima prefectural government official said that items deemed worthy of preservation had already been moved to another location, there were still dozens of computers and copiers left behind in the office.
Although efforts were made to seal the windows and doors of the building after the nuclear disaster, the rapid rate at which radiation levels increased showed how futile such measures were.
PRESERVING LESSONS OF MISTAKES
Yotaro Hatamura served as chairman of the government’s Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of Tokyo Electric Power Co. He was a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and was known for his work on the “science of failure.”
He said recently that the government had set aside money in its budget to deal with radiation exposure, but that the former Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) “just ignored those funds because it was convinced by the thinking that a nuclear accident would never occur.”
Hatamura added, however, that just preserving various items and displaying them after cleaning them would not have any real meaning in terms of learning lessons from the accident.
Debate has occurred in a number of communities over preserving relics from the 2011 nuclear and natural disasters to serve as monuments about what should not be forgotten.
In some communities, extended discussions have been held between residents about whether to preserve local government buildings heavily damaged by the tsunami.
However, Okuma town officials admitted that no such forum for debate had been provided local residents regarding the off-site center.
One official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry who once worked at NISA said, “Since NISA no longer exists, there are few bureaucrats within the ministry who want to pass on the failures involved in dealing with the nuclear disaster.”

July 31, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | | Leave a comment

Restoring crops and a sense of pride

The mayor of Okuma, home of the damaged nuclear power plant, has been in exile for eight years – here he writes about finally returning
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Okuma residents plant rice in an experimental field in May this year.
June 22, 2019
The residents of Okuma were among more than 150,000 people who were forced to flee their homes after the March 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. As one of the wrecked plant’s two host towns, Okuma was abandoned for eight years before authorities declared that radiation levels had fallen to safe levels, allowing residents to return. Even now, 60% of Okuma remains off limits, and only a tiny fraction of the pre-disaster population of 11,500 has returned since their former neighbourhoods were given the all clear in April. A month later, Okuma’s mayor, Toshitsuna Watanabe, and his colleagues returned to work at a new town hall. In his final diary for the Guardian, Watanabe reveals he has mixed feelings about being able to return to his family home.
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Okuma’s mayor, Toshitsuna Watanabe, stands outside his family home. He will move back soon after renovations are completed.
 
Toshitsuna Watanabe, mayor of Okuma
My family home is in the Ogawara neighbourhood of Okuma. The radiation levels there were deemed low enough for the government to lift the evacuation order for that part of the town in April this year, eight years after every single resident was forced to leave. My house, which stood empty for all that time, is being refurbished and I will be able to move back in August.
It’s a big old house and needs a lot of work. All of the walls and roof have to be removed as they were badly damaged in the earthquake. Other parts will have to be renovated. The workmen will also strengthen its foundations and rebuild the outer walls. It would have been cheaper and quicker to demolish the house and build a new one on the same plot of land. But I decided against that as I was determined to keep at least some of the house that my father built 60 years ago.
My father was always eager to learn. He studied new farming methods at university in Tokyo, and tried his hand at poultry farming and aquaculture, which were almost unheard of in those days. As his eldest son, I was expected to follow in his footsteps and work in agriculture. It seemed only natural to me that that’s what I would do.
I spent two years away from Okuma when I studied at an agricultural college in Sendai. My father and I had disagreements when I was young, but I eventually came round to his way of thinking about the importance of protecting our home and keeping it in the family. Now I say exactly the same thing to my son.
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Sunflowers grow in fields in Okuma that were used for crops before the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Photograph: Okuma town office
I like the Japanese saying seiko udoku – which means working in the fields when the sun is shining and staying at home reading when it rains. So when I finally return to my own home in Okuma, I’m going to get involved in farming again, but this time as a hobby.
Sunflowers grow in fields in Okuma that were used for crops before the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
 
The fields we own have been decontaminated, but because they haven’t been used for eight years they need to be restored to a state fit for growing crops. Eventually I’d like to keep chicken and sheep, and grow mushrooms. I get secretly excited whenever I think about it.
But the painful truth is that less than 4% of Okuma’s population can dream like that. The area where the other 96% of the population lived is still classed as “difficult to return to” because of radiation levels. It could take years to lift the evacuation order there, or it might not be lifted at all.
It breaks my heart to think that our residents have been divided into those who can come home and those who can’t. The latter must be tempted to think that they have been left behind while other people are able to return to their clean homes.
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Residents of Okuma dance during the O-bon summer festival in 2018, when they were able to visit their hometown but not stay there overnight.
 
A conversation I had with someone I know in the town left a real impression on me. She had been told that she could, in fact, return as long as she moved to a neighbourhood where the evacuation order had been lifted. But she said: “I don’t just want to return to Okuma; I want to return and live in my old house in Okuma.”
I know exactly how she feels, and so do the other people who want to return to Okuma. When I think about people in that predicament I can’t feel completely happy about my own situation.
From now on, we will try to revive our hometown in two ways. First, every single resident, including those who may have given up on ever living in Okuma again, will be able to return whenever they like. And second, we will build a town that will attract people who have never lived here.
We have always taken great pride in the hard work everyone put into building Okuma into a great place to live. I am sure that the same sense of pride will continue to help us as we rebuild our town and make it an even better place.
I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to get our old town back. My seiko udoku hobby can wait if necessary.

June 27, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

At Fukushima’s ground zero, a town slowly comes back to life

The orchestrated delusion that people can live with radiation
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Akiyoshi Fushimi and his wife, Teru, carry a painting of hollyhocks into a new housing unit for evacuees in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on June 1.
June 16, 2019
Shigeru Niitsuma moved back into Okuma’s Ogawara district on June 1 — the first day residents were allowed to move into disaster-relief housing since the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant forced them to leave town in 2011.
“I feel at home in Ogawara, where I was born and raised,” said the 70-year-old, who carried a washing machine and TV set into his new home.
It makes him smile to water the marigolds and other flowers in his new garden.
The evacuation order for the neighborhood was lifted in April after decontamination work lowered radiation levels there.
Before the crisis, he was a farmer who grew rice and vegetables. Now he lives in the unit alone while his family remains in Takahagi, Ibaraki Prefecture, where they fled during the nuclear crisis.
The house where he used to live in Ogawara had to be demolished because of damage caused by boars, dogs and mice.
Niitsuma still visits it from time to time to tend to his flowers and vegetables and participate in neighborhood watch duties.
“It will be best if young people come back, which will revive the town,” he said. “In the meantime, I want to show everybody that it’s safe to return.”
Akiyoshi Fushimi, 68, and his wife, Teru, 66, moved into their disaster-relief unit from Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture. The Great East Japan Earthquake struck just three months after they had built a house in Okuma, which co-hosts the now-defunct power plant.
Though they can’t return to their former home, which remains in a no-go zone, it still brings them joy to live nearby.
As they entered their new home, the couple brought in a painting of hollyhocks made by Teru, taking a moment to appreciate the work.
The couple said it was difficult to be happy while thinking about those unable to return, but they agreed it was important for those able to return to do so.
The disaster-relief housing in Ogawara includes 40 shared units and 50 two- or three-bedroom units with kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms. Workers were still coming and going on June 1 to get them ready and help people move in.
As of Friday, the town was still recruiting potential residents for the shared units.
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In the meantime, to cater to residents and construction workers in the area, a convenience store opened on June 3 right in front of Okuma’s new town hall.
Yamazaki Shop sells about 700 products including bread, bento, instant noodles, snacks, alcohol, cigarettes, general supplies and newspapers. With about 30 sq. meters of floor space, the tiny store is intended be a makeshift facility until a commercial complex under construction in Ogawara is finished.
For now, the store is scheduled to operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturdays. It will be closed on Sundays except for special events.
On the first day, residents and construction workers came in to search for lunch.
“I want to build up this store together with customers,” said the manager, Takashi Akama, 29. “If there’s a product people want, they should feel free to let me know.”
This section features topics and issues from Fukushima covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture.

June 19, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Olympics: Tokyo 2020 torch relay may include Fukushima reactor town

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, attends a ceremony held on April 14, 2019, in Okuma, a Fukushima Prefecture town hit by the 2011 tsunami-quake disaster and subsequent nuclear crisis to celebrate the opening of the newly constructed town government building.
May 28, 2019
TOKYO (Kyodo) — The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games torch relay may pass through a town in northeastern Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture that was devastated by nuclear meltdowns following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, sources said Tuesday.
The Olympic torch relay course could include the environs of the No. 1 reactor at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in Okuma as part of the organizers’ efforts to promote the games as the “reconstruction Olympics,” the sources said.
The government lifted its mandatory evacuation order over parts of Okuma last month, but most of the town still remains a no-go zone. The relay will pass through the parts of Okuma and the surrounding area where the evacuation order has been lifted.
After declaring that problems containing radioactive water accumulating at the No. 1 reactor were “under control” during the 2020 Olympic bid process, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the government have used the games to showcase Japan’s recovery from the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 and ensuing nuclear disaster.
But in districts of Okuma where the evacuation order has been lifted — which covers 40 percent of the town’s total land — only a tiny percentage of residents have returned, with some saying they have been left behind while more emphasis is placed on showing off the progress of recovery.
Organizers announced in July 2018 that Fukushima would be the starting point for the relay. In March, organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori revealed the relay will begin some 20 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi at the J-Village national soccer training center, which was used as an operational base for handling the crisis.
The Olympic torch will arrive in Japan on March 20, 2020, and the flame will be taken to Ishinomaki Minamihama Tsunami Recovery Memorial Park in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which was devastated eight years ago.
It will then travel by train through Miyagi and Iwate prefectures — the two other prefectures hit hardest by the powerful earthquake and tsunami — before making its way to Fukushima.
The Japan leg of the relay will begin on March 26, 2020, two weeks after the flame lighting ceremony in Greece, and will travel across all 47 prefectures in Japan over a period of 121 days.
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to be held between July 24 and Aug. 9, followed by the Paralympics from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.

June 10, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Rice planting resumes in Fukushima town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fukushima Japan nuclear fallout: Okuma residents encouraged home

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

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

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

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

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

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