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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.”
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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.
To read more:

 

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.
Read more:

April 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Evacuation Order to be lifted in Okuma, the Fukushima Daiichi Plant Town

In total denial of the existing radiation risks the Japanese government will lift on April 10 the evacuation order in Okuma, one of two towns where the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is located. The Japanese government thus continues its so-called ‘reconstruction’ campaign, which in reality in nothing else but a disinformation campaign of denial orchestrated without any real care for the lives of the people, nor for their basic human right to live a normal life protected from radiation, all which is being done in the name of  the Japanese government’s holy economics and the coming  recovery showcase 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
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A geiger counter attached to a fence near the Daiichi power plant measures radiation in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture A geiger counter attached to a fence near the Daiichi power plant measures radiation in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture
March 26, 2019
The government plans to lift the order for part of Okuma town on April 10…
“We have determined the radiation level in the environment has fallen sufficiently as a result of decontamination work,” said Yoshihiko Isozaki, the head of the government’s nuclear emergency response headquarters…
… The evacuation order will remain in place for so-called difficult-to-return zones still registering high radiation levels..
… As of the end of February, only 374 people out of the previous 10,000 residents were registered as residents of the targeted areas…
… Japan’s government has lifted evacuation orders across much of the region affected by the meltdown – allowing residents to return – as Tokyo has pressed an aggressive decontamination programme involving removing radioactive topsoil and cleaning affected areas….
… But not everyone has been convinced, with a poll conducted in February by the Asahi Shimbun daily and Fukushima local broadcaster KFB finding that 60 per cent of Fukushima region residents still felt anxious about radiation….
… “People have the freedom to go back if they want to, but personally I am against living in areas where there are no children and no places to work,” said a 72-year-old man, who has relocated to the nearby city of Iwaki.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen when they remove (nuclear) debris” at the crippled plant, co-hosted by the towns of Okuma and Futaba, he added…
… No one is officially recorded as having died as a result of radiation from the accident, but last year, the government for the first time acknowledged the death from cancer of a man involved in the clean-up….
… As of the end of February, around 52,000 people remain displaced because of evacuation orders or because they are unwilling to return, according to Japan’s Reconstruction Agency.
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This March 10, 2018 photo shows barricades installed in Okuma, a Fukushima Prefecture town near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, designated as an evacuated zone.

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

Okuma, the host town of crippled nuke plant to lift evacuation order

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February 20, 2019
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–An evacuation order will be lifted for two districts here as early as April, eight years after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant spewed massive amounts of radioactive substances into the air.
It would be the first time for Okuma, which co-hosts the plant, to see the evacuation order lifted, albeit partially.
The entire town, with a population of 11,500, was ordered to evacuate after the onset of the nuclear crisis following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
The lifting of the order is expected to cover the Ogawara and Chuyashiki districts, both southwest of the plant.
Together the districts account for about 40 percent of the town’s acreage. The town’s records showed that 374 residents, or about 4 percent of the current population, are registered in the districts, as of the end of January.
As of Feb. 7, 46 people have returned to live there as an advance group.
In Ogawara, about 700 employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, live in the company’s dormitory built in 2016 as a special case and commute to the nuclear complex to engage in decommissioning work.
At the Feb. 19 meeting, a member of the town’s committee that assesses the progress of decontamination said, “Radiation levels have declined sufficiently.”
However, the psychological barriers are high for Okuma evacuees, as the town now hosts an interim storage site for radioactive waste produced from decontamination operations in the prefecture.
Preliminary results of a survey conducted last year to gauge the sentiment of residents showed that only 10 percent of respondents expressed a desire to return. About 60 percent said they had no plans to return.
The town government of Futaba, the neighboring town that co-hosts the nuclear plant, aims to have its evacuation order partially lifted around spring 2020.
Read more:

February 23, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Police officer stays on duty in empty town near Fukushima plant

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Satoru Saeki, a resident police officer at the Okuma police substation, goes on patrol in the difficult-to-return zone in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.
 
 
 
January 1, 2019
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–On his rather lonely rounds, Satoru Saeki looks for anything out of place in an empty town center marred by broken windows, uncollected litter and overgrown weeds.
A calendar dated March 2011 is still pinned on a wall of a dilapidated shop.
Saeki, 39, is the only police officer in Okuma, a town that remains largely deserted since an evacuation order was issued following the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.
On his daily patrols alone in Okuma, which co-hosts the stricken nuclear plant, Saeki is mainly on the lookout for looters.
Saeki works out of the Futaba Police Station in the neighboring town of Tomioka.
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Officer Satoru Saeki talks to a resident who has temporarily returned home in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.
 
 
On Dec. 4, Saeki, whose hobby is working out, eased his well-built physique into a minicar, his police cruiser. He soon arrived in front of the gate to the “difficult-to-return zone,” one of the areas most heavily polluted by radiation that is still essentially off-limits even to residents.
Saeki showed his ID to a security guard before going through the gate. Driving at a speed under 30 kph, the officer looked right and left for unfamiliar cars or any changes to the uninhabited houses.
He arrived at the Okuma town center in about 15 minutes and walked around a shopping district.
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Satoru Saeki patrols an empty shopping district in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture
Okuma had a population of about 11,000 before the nuclear disaster. Now, it resembles a ghost town.
Construction trucks can be seen going in and out of the town for work to tear down the houses of residents who have decided not to return to Okuma.
Saeki walked some more and found a car parked in front of a house.
“Hello. Has anything changed here?” the smiling officer said to a man in a garden at the home.
“I came back to pick up some things I need because this house is set for demolition,” Hikaru Murai, 69, said.
Murai said he temporarily returned from Aizu-Wakamatsu, also in Fukushima Prefecture, where he has lived since evacuating Okuma, to tidy up his house.
It was only the third time for the two to meet, but they seemed to know each other quite well.
The officer asked Murai what time he started tidying up.
“I got here early because the expressway was so smooth,” Murai replied.
Before the disaster struck, two police officers were assigned to the substation in the Okuma town center. But since it was located in the difficult-to-return zone, the posts were left vacant for a while.
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Officer Satoru Saeki stops by at the unused Okuma police substation in the difficult-to-return zone.
However, evacuees have started staying overnight in their Okuma homes in some areas since spring to prepare for their permanent return. To enforce law and order in the town, Saeki becoming the resident police officer in March this year.
Saeki commutes to the Futaba Police Station from Iwaki, also in the prefecture, where he lives with his family.
A string of break-ins and other crimes have been reported in Okuma.
In 2011, the number of criminal cases in areas under the Futaba Police Station’s jurisdiction was 1,015, more than twice the figure before the nuclear disaster. The number has since been decreasing and stood at 194 in 2017.
“A single case is enough to make residents concerned,” Saeki said.
The officer is adamant about closely liaising with town officials and private security guards, and sharing information no matter how trivial it might seem.
Saeki was born and raised on Shodoshima, an island with a population of about 28,000, in Kagawa Prefecture.
After graduating from college in Kanagawa Prefecture, Saeki became a vocational training school instructor and was assigned to an institution in Iwaki. He married a woman he met in the city and became a member of the Fukushima prefectural police in 2009.
Saeki was on duty when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck and spawned the tsunami that inundated the No. 1 nuclear plant.
He was involved in the search for bodies along the coast.
“It was really hard,” Saeki said. “I made up my mind to support people who made it through even if it means just a little.”
As Saeki continued his patrol in the difficult-to-return zone on Dec. 4, he found many “yuzu” citrus fruit growing on a tree in the garden of a house.
“Oh, it tastes great when you squeeze the juice and pour it into a glass of cocktail,” Saeki said to a resident in the garden.
Citrus fruits are widely cultivated on Shodoshima island.
“Okuma and Shodoshima are similar in the sense that both are rich in nature with the ocean and mountains,” Saeki said.
He said his daily patrols in the town show that recovery will be difficult. But he shared one hope-inspiring event that occurred in early September when the trees started taking on fall colors.
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Satoru Saeki, a resident police officer stationed at the Okuma substation
While on patrol in the Ogawara district, where evacuees have started staying overnight at their homes to prepare for their permanent return, a voice called out to Saeki: “Officer, over here.”
When Saeki looked over, he found about 80 evacuees who had returned to the town to enjoy a barbecue party.
“Let’s take a picture together,” one of them said.
With a slightly shy smile, Saeki joined the group for the photo shoots.

 

January 3, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Decontamination work begins in Okuma, Fukushima

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Decontamination work begins in Fukushima town
March 14, 2018
Media have been allowed to watch decontamination work at a post-disaster reconstruction hub inside the no-entry zone set up after the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
 
Reporters were invited on Wednesday to a kindergarten in the town of Okuma, about 7 kilometers from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
 
Work began there last Friday to remove radioactive substances from the kindergarten’s 7,000-square-meter playground. Workers will weed grass as tall as an adult, and replace contaminated topsoil with new earth.
 
The central government has recognized an 860-hectare zone around the railway station in Okuma as a reconstruction hub based on the local administration’s plan.
 
Utilities and other infrastructure will be rebuilt and some houses will be demolished at the request of residents to provide them with a livable environment.
 
Okuma was designated as an area where residents could not return due to high radiation levels. Authorities plan to lift the evacuation order in about 4 years.
 
Okuma is the second municipality in the prefecture after the town of Futaba where decontamination work has begun at reconstruction hubs.
 
Similar projects are set to kick off in other municipalities in the fiscal year starting in April.

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

7 years after 3/11 / Public servants face massive workload

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Officials of the town government of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, work past 10 p.m. on March 2.
March 10, 2018
The work of local government officials of municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture has significantly changed in the seven years since the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. This is because a large number of residents and officials in the affected municipalities were forced to evacuate.
 
The government officials have struggled with unprecedented types of duties — such as those concerning the return of residents, which has not progressed smoothly — and dealing with other accumulated tasks all at the same time. However, the future of their hometowns remains unclear.
 
In Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, later this month it will be one year since an evacuation order was lifted.
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In the central part of the town, where the evacuation order was lifted, a small number of residents have slowly trickled back. However, the number of residents as of the end of January was only 490. This is 2.3 percent of the town’s population before the nuclear accident, which numbered 21,000.
 
In addition, about 100 of the current residents are local officials who live in apartments rented by the municipal government. Many of them live alone, separated from their families, who have become accustomed to living in the places they evacuated to.
 
The officials live this way partly because they need to be able to quickly respond to emergencies, such as new natural disasters. There is also a huge volume of work, which they cannot handle if they commute to the government offices from outside the town.
 
Five industrial complexes are concurrently being developed in the town. To encourage more residents to return home, it is necessary to create a large number of jobs.
 
This project is a task the officials have never undertaken before, as Namie is a small municipality whose core industries were agriculture and fishing.
 
One of the officials said, “Even one such project would have been a huge task that we might experience only once in a decade or two, [but] we are doing this work in as many as five locations.”
 
Another official said, “This would never have happened before the nuclear plant accident.”
 
The town government officials travel around the nation for purposes such as negotiating with evacuated landowners to purchase their land plots, and asking companies to set up business bases in the town.
 
The officials are also dispatched to eliminate wild boars, the number of which has rapidly increased while residents have been absent. They also need to arrange repairs to damaged roads, public facilities and agricultural water systems.
 
At night, lights are seen only in the windows of the town government office, while most of the town is in darkness.
 
The fiscal condition of the town government is almost totally different from before the nuclear disaster. Its finances rely almost entirely on the central government’s budget.
 
As many of the town’s residents have not been able to sufficiently rebuild their daily lives, measures to reduce or exempt them from residential tax have continued. Therefore, the percentage of the town government’s municipal tax revenues against its total revenue fell drastically, from 25 percent to 1 percent.
 
Administrative work in municipalities where the number of residents continues to be zero also presents a special situation.
 
In the case of Okuma in the prefecture, where an evacuation order remains in place across the whole town, the town government relocated its offices to nearby municipalities. For example, its section in charge of reconstruction policy is in a satellite office in Aizuwakamatsu in the prefecture. Its section for welfare-related work is in a satellite office in Iwaki in the prefecture, as about 4,600 town residents live in Iwaki as evacuees.
 
Town government officials in the satellite office in Iwaki, who are usually busy assisting elderly residents who live in temporary housing units, make 300-kilometer round trips to Aizuwakamatsu every week for meetings with other officials and other work purposes.
 
There are times when officials head to the town of Okuma to observe decontamination work to remove radioactive substances. In these job reports, the officials write “Okuma” as the destination of their business trips. An official in his 50s expressed the sadness he feels when he writes such reports, saying, “I wonder which municipal government I belong to.”
 
There are municipalities where the wounds caused by the tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake have still not healed.
 
In Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, 36 town government officials, including experienced public servants working in the personnel section, died or went missing.
 
In addition, the records of government officials’ qualifications, credentials and job evaluations were lost. An official in charge of this issue lamented that “managing the organization [of the town government] became difficult, and it has been adversely affecting the morale of our workplaces.”
 
In Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, the town government lost 39 people to the disaster. They included the mayor and eight senior officials at the section chief level.
 
Though younger town government officials were promoted, they do not have experience in supervising junior staff. Currently, those who joined the town government after the Great East Japan Earthquake account for half of all officials.
 
One of the senior officials said, “If we fail in fostering human resources, it will directly result in delays in reconstruction.” Many other senior officials share the same sense of crisis.
 
Civil engineering and construction work that began in the year of the disaster, such as raising land heights, relocating residential areas to higher ground, and building coastal levees, has progressed in visible ways.
 
However, survivors and local government officials in disaster-hit areas have the feeling that these reconstruction projects are somehow frustrating and lopsided.
 
A labor union conducted a survey of employees of municipal governments that were affected by the nuclear plant accident, with spaces in which respondents were asked to freely write down their feelings.
 
The written replies included, “For the past seven years I have never once felt free from unease,” and “I don’t know when our reconstruction efforts will end.”
 

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

Former students return to school 7 years after nuclear disaster

March 4, 2018
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Yuki Kokatsu, left, smiles as she finds her Japanese dictionary in Ono Elementary School in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 2. She was a second-grader of the school at the time of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
 
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Seven years after being forced to leave her belongings behind, Yuki Kokatsu returned to her second-grade elementary school classroom here for the first time.
Yuki, now 15, spotted her melodica instrument on the floor, and said, “I found it.”
The third-year junior high school student also found 30 other items she had left when her family was forced to evacuate due to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including a Japanese dictionary and a jump rope. She put them all into her cloth bag to take home.
“I feel that I was able to recover my lost possessions. I will keep and treasure them,” said Yuki, who had evacuated to Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.
Yuki and other former Ono Elementary School students at the time of the disaster returned to their school on March 2 to retrieve their belongings.
After the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011, which was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, all the residents of Okuma town evacuated to other areas.
Ono Elementary School is located in an area that remains designated as a difficult-to-return zone. However, the radiation level around the school has been lowered due to decontamination work. Because of that, former students and related people have asked the Okuma town government to allow them to enter the school building.
According to the Okuma town government, six groups visited Ono Elementary School on March 2. A total of 39 groups are expected to do so through March 4.

 

March 5, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment