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Controversy grows over proposed use of Tohoku funds to cover defense spending

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a news conference in October

Dec 13, 2022

The government and the ruling parties are frantically hunting for financial resources to cover the planned increase in defense spending, with one proposal being to use the special tax designed to finance reconstruction costs for areas affected by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

The special income tax for reconstruction adds a 2.1% levy to individual income tax through 2037, generating about ¥400 billion ($2.9 billion) in revenue for the government each year. The plan is to use a total of ¥200 billion from the tax revenue for defense spending.

Policymakers are also considering extending the 2037 deadline for the tax by another 20 years to make sure there are enough funds.

But critics are already voicing opposition: Why use the reconstruction tax for defense spending?

“This is a tax hike for reconstruction purposes,” said Japanese Communist Party Secretary-General Akira Koike during a news conference Monday. “It’s a complete misappropriation of the tax.”

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida aims to spend a total of ¥43 trillion between fiscal 2023, which begins in April, and fiscal 2027. The government plans to secure funding by cutting other areas of spending and utilizing some surplus money and nontax revenue, but it is expected to fall short by ¥1 trillion from fiscal 2027.

The focus is on how to cover the gap, and the plan under consideration is to:

  • Increase corporate taxes (bringing in about ¥700 billion to ¥800 billion).
  • Increase the tobacco tax (raising about ¥200 billion).
  • Increase the special income tax for reconstruction (yielding about ¥200 billion).

The possibility of funding the construction of Self-Defense Forces facilities using the government’s construction bonds has also been floated, but this would mark a shift from not using those bonds for military purposes.

The financial law stipulates that construction bonds are used to cover the cost of long-lasting roads and bridges that would also benefit future generations. The government has excluded SDF facilities, saying they may be attacked by enemies and would not last long.

In 1966, then-Finance Minister Takeo Fukuda said in parliament that the government would not issue construction bonds for military facilities because they are “like expendables.”

The defense budget for fiscal 2023, the first year of the five-year period in which it will be doubled, will likely increase to ¥6.5 trillion from ¥5.2 trillion for fiscal 2022, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi said Monday. The government plans to raise it to ¥9 trillion in fiscal 2027.

Complicating matters, the discussions appear to be causing a rift between Kishida and the largest LDP faction, which used to be headed by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe had long argued that government bonds should be used to stimulate the economy, and LDP executives and Cabinet ministers who are opposed to a tax hike — LDP policy chief Koichi Hagiuda, industry minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and economic security minister Sanae Takaichi — are either in the faction or were close to the former prime minister.

Kishida, meanwhile, comes from the Kochikai faction, which has traditionally placed greater importance on fiscal sustainability and wants to avoid issuing government bonds for defense spending.

“Defense capability, which will be drastically strengthened over the next five years, will need to be maintained and strengthened even further. … To do that, it is imperative to secure stable funding sources,” Kishida said during a news conference Saturday.

“We must not rely on government bonds, considering our responsibility toward future generations.”


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

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

October 24, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reconstruction of hard-to-return zones from the perspective of structural violence

Symposium “Anthropology of Tribulation and Hope from Fukushima”

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

Japan Still Facing Challenges in Reconstructing Fukushim

Reconstruction without full decontamination is nothing else but a pipe dream, mostly made out of PR and propaganda…

July 19, 2022

Tokyo, July 19 (Jiji Press)–Reconstruction of areas in Fukushima Prefecture hit by the March 2011 nuclear accident has shown progress, but a number of challenges have yet to be overcome, including construction of essential facilities for everyday life and creation of jobs to bring back residents who evacuated to other prefectures.
The decommissioning of the meltdown-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. should also be pushed forward.
With evacuation orders in afflicted areas having been lifted in stages, the number of evacuees outside the northeastern prefecture has now fallen to some 30,000 from the peak level of over 160,000.
Most recently, it has been decided to remove Aug. 30 the evacuation order for the so-called specified reconstruction zone in the town of Futaba, which co-hosts the Fukushima No. 1 plant, crippled by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and is the only remaining completely evacuated municipality.
After the central and Futaba town governments reached the agreement to lift the order for the area around Futaba Station on the JR Joban Line, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno visited nuclear accident-hit areas for two days through Saturday.

July 22, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

New research institute to open near Fukushima plant next year

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a meeting of the Reconstruction Promotion Council at the prime minister’s office on March 29.

April 17, 2022

The area devastated by the Fukushima nuclear accident will host an international research and education institute in April next year, which would significantly boost the population around the crippled nuclear power plant.

Hundreds of researchers are expected to work on five areas, including energy, robotics for reactor decommissioning, and agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

The government’s Reconstruction Promotion Council, presided over by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, decided on the outline of the organization on March 29.

The institute will be located in the eastern part of Fukushima Prefecture known as Hamadori as part of the reconstruction efforts from the 2011 nuclear accident.

The government will finalize the site by September after consulting with local officials and residents, but the facility will likely be built around Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, sources said.

The project cost, however, remains unclear.

The institute will have dozens of employees when it opens.

The organization will provide investments and technical assistance to startups and other enterprises to create local jobs, while it will work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to nurture human resources.

An estimate presented by the Reconstruction Agency at an expert meeting in May 2020 shows the local population will increase 30 to 40 percent due to the migration of some 5,000 people in connection with the institute.

Some have questioned whether the institute is needed, given that many existing national research and development centers are already studying similar topics.

In response, researchers working on selected subjects, such as radioactive materials, at the prefectural offices of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the National Institutes for Quantum Science and Technology and the National Institute for Environmental Studies will be redeployed to the new center together with related research equipment and facilities.

Discussions will also begin over consolidation of another robot research facility set up by the industry ministry and the prefecture into the institute.

April 23, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , | Leave a comment

11 years on: Fukushima governor wants all evacuation orders to be lifted

Mar 11, 2022

Fukushima – The government should lift all evacuation orders issued after the March 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture, Gov. Masao Uchibori said in an interview.

Uchibori welcomed the central government’s pledge to ensure that all evacuees from the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant may return home by the end of the decade, if they wish.

“However, there are many challenges such as handling land and housing of residents who do not intend to return, and working out details of decontamination methods,” Uchibori said Monday.

“The situation differs by area. We will urge the central government to carefully listen to the intentions of each municipality and act in a responsible way to lift evacuation orders in all difficult-to-return areas and reconstruct such zones,” he said.

When asked about the central government’s plan to release treated radioactive water from the nuclear plant into the ocean, he said that he will urge the government to carefully give explanations to all people concerned and to give out more information to prevent any more harmful rumors.

“There are opinions in Japan and abroad opposing the water release and calling for the careful handling of the matter,” he said.

On the handling of contaminated soil from Fukushima, Uchibori said that it is the central government’s obligation to move it out of the prefecture for final disposal by 2045.

On last summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics dubbed the “Reconstruction Games,” the governor said that the event became a legacy although there were some restrictions.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was different from what we had imagined, but the prefecture’s products, such as peaches, were highly evaluated by people related to the Games,” he said.

“By utilizing the connections we gained at the Games, we will work to expand exchanges through sports, such as by hosting large-scale events and having children and athletes interact with each other.”

“We also want to further share Fukushima’s attractiveness both domestically and internationally through exchanges,” he added.

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

11 years later, fate of Fukushima reactor cleanup uncertain

One of the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO) employees holds a radiation counter as they take AP journalists to the area under the Unit 5 reactor pressure vessel, which survived the earthquake-triggered tsunami in 2011, at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, run by TEPCO, in Futaba town, northeastern Japan, Thursday, March 3, 2022. The government has set a decommissioning roadmap aiming for completion in 29 years.

By Mari Yamaguchi, March 11, 2022

OKUMA, Japan — Eleven years after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was ravaged by a meltdown following a massive earthquake and tsunami, the plant now looks like a sprawling construction site. Most of the radioactive debris blasted by the hydrogen explosions has been cleared and the torn buildings have been fixed.

During a recent visit by journalists from The Associated Press to see firsthand the cleanup of one of the world’s worst nuclear meltdowns, helmeted men wore regular work clothes and surgical masks, instead of previously required hazmat coveralls and full-face masks, as they dug near a recently reinforced oceanside seawall.

Workers were preparing for the planned construction of an Olympic pool-sized shaft for use in a highly controversial plan set to begin in the spring of 2023 to gradually get rid of treated radioactive water — now exceeding 1.3 million tons stored in 1,000 tanks — so officials can make room for other facilities needed for the plant’s decommissioning.

Despite the progress, massive amounts of radioactive melted fuel remain inside of the reactors. There’s worry about the fuel because so much about its condition is still unknown, even to officials in charge of the cleanup.

Nearly 900 tons of melted nuclear fuel remain inside the three damaged reactors, and its removal is an unprecedented challenge involving 10 times the amount of damaged fuel removed in the Three Mile Island cleanup following its 1979 partial core melt.

The government has set a decommissioning roadmap aiming for completion in 29 years.

The challenge of removing melted fuel from the reactors is so daunting that some experts now say that setting a completion target is impossible, especially as officials still don’t have any idea about where to store the waste.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa said recently that extra time would be needed to determine where and how the highly radioactive waste removed from the reactors should be stored.

Japan has no final storage plans even for the highly radioactive waste that comes out of normal reactors. Twenty-four of the country’s 60 reactors are designated for decommissioning, mostly because of the high cost needed to meet safety standards set up in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake caused a tsunami 17 meters (56 feet) high that slammed into the coastal plant, destroying its power supply and cooling systems, causing reactors No. 1, 2 and 3 to melt and spewing massive amounts of radiation. Three other reactors were offline and survived, though a fourth building suffered hydrogen explosions.

The spreading radiation caused some 160,000 residents to evacuate. Parts of the surrounding neighborhood are still uninhabitable.

The melted cores in Units 1, 2 and 3 largely fell to the bottom of their primary containment vessels, together with control rods and other equipment, some possibly penetrating or mixing with the concrete foundation, making the cleanup extremely difficult.

Probes of the melted fuel must rely on remote-controlled robots carrying equipment such as cameras and dosimeters — which measure radiation — because radiation levels in those areas are still fatally high for humans.

In February, a remote-operated submersible robot entered the Unit 1 primary containment vessel, its first internal probe since a failed 2017 attempt. It captured limited images of what are believed to be mounds of melted fuel rising from the concrete floor.

Probes have moved ahead at Unit 2, where TEPCO plans to send in an extendable robotic arm later this year to collect melted fuel samples.

TEPCO Chief Decommissioning Officer Akira Ono said in a recent online interview that robotic probes at Unit 1 and 2 this year are a major “step forward” in the decades-long cleanup.

“It’s like we have finally come to the starting line,” Ono said. “Before, we didn’t even know which way we were supposed to go.”

Ono said the Unit 2 melted fuel test removal will start from a granule or two, all of which will be sent for lab analysis, meaning a storage facility won’t be necessary until larger amounts are hauled out. Even a tiny amount would provide valuable data for research and development of fuel and debris removal technology for all three reactors, he said.

Hideyuki Ban, the co-founder of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center who previously served on government nuclear safety panels, proposes the underground burial of solidified treated water for stable long-term storage, while entombing the three reactors for several decades — like Chernobyl — and waiting for radioactivity to decrease for better safety and access for workers instead of rushing the cleanup.

Since the disaster, contaminated cooling water has constantly escaped from the damaged primary containment vessels into the reactor building basements, where it mixes with groundwater and rainwater that seep in.

The water is pumped up and treated, partly recycled as cooling water, with the remainder stored in 1,000 huge tanks crowding the plant. The tanks will be full at 1.37 million tons by next spring, TEPCO says.

The government has announced plans to release the water after treatment and dilution to well below the legally releasable levels through a planned undersea tunnel at a site about 1 kilometer offshore. The plan has faced fierce opposition from local residents, especially fishermen concerned about further damage to the area’s reputation.

TEPCO and government officials say tritium, which is not harmful in small amounts, is inseparable from the water, but all other 63 radioactive isotopes selected for treatment ‘can be reduced to safe levels’, tested and further diluted by seawater before release.

Scientists say the health impact from consuming tritium through the food chain could be greater than drinking it in water, and further studies are needed.

At one of the water treatment facilities where radiation levels are much higher, a team of workers in full protective gear handled a container filled with highly radioactive slurry. It had been filtered from the contaminated water that’s been continuously leaking from the damaged reactors and pumped up from their basements since the disaster. Large amounts of slurry and solid radioactive waste also accumulate in the plant.

Radiation levels have fallen significantly after decontamination since the disaster, and full protection gear is only needed in limited areas, including in and around the reactor buildings.

On a recent visit, AP journalists used cotton gloves, goggles, a head cover and surgical masks to tour low-radiation areas.

Additional protection, including hazmat coveralls and double rubber gloves, was required when the journalists entered the Unit 5 primary containment vessel and stood on the grating of the pedestal, a structure beneath the defueled core, where officials explained the concept of using robotic probes in No. 1 and 2 reactors.

TEPCO has emptied spent fuel from the No. 3 and No. 4 reactor pools, but removal at the No. 1 and 2 reactors has been delayed several years because of high radiation and contaminated debris, posing concerns of a spent fuel meltdown in case another major quake caused water loss and overheating.

Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa says the Fukushima Daiichi plant must be safely and fully decommissioned “to make our hometown a safe and livable place again.” Izawa said he wants the government to “wipe out the (region’s) negative image” by tackling the safe cleanup, which is a prerequisite for the town’s reconstruction.

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

11 years after meltdown, Fukushima towns to welcome back residents

Housing complexes are being built in the town of Futaba, which will be decontaminated and reopened to residents. The Fukushima plant can be seen on the horizon.

March 11, 2022

TOKYO — Eleven years after a major earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Japan will reopen part of the surrounding area to residents starting this spring as a new hub for the region’s revival.

The government considers the five years that began in April 2021 as the “second phase” of recovery efforts in northeastern Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture. But with costs ballooning and tens of thousands still unable to return home, rebuilding communities there remains an uphill battle.

The death toll from the triple disaster, which occurred March 11, 2011, totaled 15,900 as of the beginning of this month. The search for the 2,523 missing continues to this day.

Another 3,784 deaths are associated with the disaster. A total of 38,139 evacuees had not returned to their homes as of Feb. 8, including 26,692 from Fukushima who now live outside the prefecture.

As the next step in the region’s recovery, Japan is decontaminating a 27-sq.-km area that was evacuated following the disaster, including the towns of Futaba and Okuma. Evacuation directives will be lifted in aand allowing residents will be allowed to move back there starting this spring and into 2023. The government plans to press ahead with nurturing industries to help disaster-hit areas grow on their own.

Another 310 sq. km around the Fukushima plant will remain off-limits to the public. Japan plans to eventually decontaminate residential areas as needed to give all former residents the option to return by the end of the 2020s.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings, operator of the Fukushima plant, aims to start removing nuclear debris from the damaged reactors on an experimental basis in the latter half of the year. The utility looks to complete the decommissioning of the plant by 2041 to 2051.

An interim storage facility for contaminated soil in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture. It remains unclear where the material will ultimately be disposed.

But recovery efforts in Fukushima face mounting financial and logistical hurdles.

Contaminated soil and other waste from the disaster are supposed to be stored within the prefecture for 30 years before they can be moved elsewhere. But the government has yet to secure a final disposal site, and the total cost of the process remains unclear.

In terms of decontamination, “there’s no clear guideline on how far into the mountains and woods our efforts would extend,” said an official at the Environment Ministry.

Japan estimates the total costs associated with the Fukushima disaster, including damages paid to victims, at 22 trillion yen ($190 billion). But the final tally could end up far higher, given how much of the recovery process still needs to be ironed out. One private-sector estimate places the figure beyond 35 trillion yen.

“Should costs continue to mount, our budget for other energy-related policies, like promoting renewable sources, could take a hit,” a government source said.

Though the rebuilding of infrastructure is nearly complete in neighboring Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, personal connections within communities have weakened further, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 680 people living alone have died in the three prefectures since the disaster. Japan still faces the issue of people becoming isolated, which was highlighted following the 1995 earthquake in the Kobe area.

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

Fukushima aims to attract new residents

A sign gives notice of decontamination and building demolition in areas categorized as difficult-to-return zones within Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture.

September 20, 2021

FUKUSHIMA – The central and local governments have begun encouraging people from outside Fukushima Prefecture to move into areas surrounding Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, hoping that new residents will revive the areas.

The central government plans to lift evacuation orders in all areas categorized as difficult-to-return zones so that residents wishing to return to their homes can do so within the 2020s. However, in areas where such an order has already been lifted, residents have been slow to return.

300 newcomers sought

I’ve long wanted to contribute to the reconstruction of Fukushima, said Daisuke Yamamoto, 49, an engineer who moved from Sapporo to the city of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, in August.

Yamamoto said he aimed to set up his own business there.

The central government’s financial support system, which began in July, encouraged him to move in. The system grants up to 2 million Yen to those who move into 12 municipalities near the nuclear plant from outside the prefecture. Additional funds of up to 4 million Yen will be paid if they launch a business there. The government’s goal is to bring in 300 new people this fiscal year alone.

Local municipalities are preparing for new residents. In July, the Fukushima prefectural government set up a joint support center with the 12 municipalities. In Minami-Soma, vacant houses will be renovated into rental housing. In the village of Katsurao, eight units of municipal apartment housing will be constructed.

10% want to return

Behind the move is the slow return of residents to areas where the evacuation orders were lifted. The Reconstruction Agency and others surveyed the residents of five towns, including Futaba and Okuma, and found that only about 10% wanted to return.

The town of Namie, where the evacuation order was partially lifted in 2017, now has a population of 1,717. In fiscal 2019, 70 people in 49 households moved into the town from outside the prefecture, thanks in part to the presence of factories opened by 10 companies, but the population is still only about a tenth of its pre-disaster size.

The only way to keep the town going is to further increase the number of new arrivals, a town official said.

Commuting, restoring

Over 10 years after the nuclear accident, people who have rebuilt their lives in areas to which they evacuated will have the option of having residences in two locations, commuting to Fukushima Prefecture while carrying on with their present lives elsewhere.

A 66-year-old man who moved his family to Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, has a home in an area categorized as a difficult-to-return zone in Namie. In order to return to that home, he would need to repair the now dilapidated house. His children have found jobs in Ibaraki. The man’s life in Ibaraki, where he grows vegetables in rented fields, has become settled.

I have no choice but to spend two hours each way to get to and from Fukushima, he said.

In a survey conducted last fiscal year by the towns of Futaba, Okuma and Tomioka on their residents, about 60% said they wanted to maintain ties with their hometowns.

The evacuation order for Naraha was lifted in 2015, but the number of residents in the town now has leveled off at 50% of the population before the accident. The town aims to raise the figure to 60% by 2030, or 5,130 people, by subsidizing JR train fares for residents who live in two locations.

The town of Tomioka supports residents who have been evacuated outside the town in the hope of bringing about reconstruction by commuting. It opened social center and support office facilities in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, and Saitama City, which are two places where many evacuated Tomioka residents now live. In those facilities, staff check up on the health of the evacuees or give counseling.

Those who want to go home someday will become important people for the progress of reconstruction, said Yusuke Yamashita, a sociology professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University. The central and local governments should continue to provide assistance from the perspective of reconstruction by commuting.

September 20, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , | Leave a comment

Clear vision needed for future of still-evacuated Fukushima areas

Access is restricted to the “difficult-to-return zone” in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture.

September 16, 2021

More than a decade after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident, there remains more than 30,000 hectares of land where the evacuation order is still in place and is not expected to be lifted any time soon.

The government recently announced a plan to rebuild ravaged communities in these areas near the crippled plant with high levels of radiation, known as “kitaku konnan kuiki” (difficult-to-return zone).

Under the plan, the government will decontaminate the land and houses of local residents who want to return to their homes so that the order can be lifted by the end of the 2020s.

Initially, the evacuation order covered more than 110,000 hectares. The measure was lifted for some 80,000 hectares by March last year.

In 2017 and 2018, the government thrashed out a plan to designate some 2,700 hectares of land in six municipalities within the zone as reconstruction priority areas eligible for preferential policy support to help improve the living environment. The plan requires the government to make intensive decontamination efforts in the areas and lift the evacuation order by the spring of 2023.

The local administrations involved asked the national government to make clear when the order will be lifted for the remaining areas in the difficult-to-return zone.

The latest plan unveiled by the government may represent a step forward as it offers a specific timeframe for lifting the measure, albeit for only those who wish to return to their homes. The blueprint has brought a ray of hope to local residents who have been facing a distressingly uncertain future outlook. 

But the fact remains that the government has yet to offer a realistic road map to deliver on its promise to lift the evacuation order for the entire restricted zone sometime in the future, no matter how long it will take.

The government has pledged to tread carefully in this undertaking, holding multiple meetings with residents to ask about their desire to to return home as well as talks with local administrations on the range of areas to be decontaminated.

But it has yet to announce specifics about the decontamination, such as the areas to be covered or the method to be used. 

The residents in these areas have been living as evacuees for more than 10 years. Many of them are likely to find it difficult to decide even if they want to return to where they once lived.

If the government proceeds with the latest plan, it needs to work out details of how it will tackle the challenge in a “careful” manner. The details should cover how the government will confirm the local residents’ wishes and ensure the level of decontamination that can reassure them of the safety of returning to their homes.

Moreover, the land and buildings that nobody wants to return to will not be covered by the plan to lift the order. This will remain a serious issue for the future.

The government has so far spent some 3 trillion yen ($27.45 billion) on decontaminating areas subject to the evacuation order. This effort has allowed some 14,000 residents, or 30 percent of the local population, to return home. It will cost taxpayers a huge additional amount of money to accelerate the cleanup work in the difficult-to-return zone, where nearly 22,000 people are still registered as residents.

The government says the necessary funds will be budgeted from the Fukushima reconstruction special account and other appropriate financing sources. But it admits the total amount of money required cannot be estimated since it depends on the number of local residents who want to return.

In other words, it has no clear and viable plan to raise the necessary funds.

The 2011 special law to deal with contamination by radioactive materials from the Fukushima plant stipulates that it is the government’s “obligation” to deal with radiation pollution caused by the accident.

The government has a duty to offer as soon as possible a clear future vision for tackling this formidable challenge, specifying when and how the evacuation order will be lifted and what kind of policy support will be provided to residents including those who choose not to return to the areas.

September 17, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima, a ‘coordinator’ for the nuclear-stricken area, takes a cue from the U.S. to break away from reconstruction dependent on the government

March 6, 2021, 18:07 (Kyodo News)
 On March 6, a private organization called Fukushima Hamadori Tridec was established to serve as a coordinator between industry, government and academia in the areas affected by the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. In order to promote the reconstruction that the coastal residents of Fukushima Prefecture desire, the organization aims to unite the demands of the region and take the brunt of negotiations with the government and other parties.
 The 43 founding members include local business people, researchers, and politicians. The organization will be incorporated as a general incorporated association and will invite individual and corporate members. Takayuki Nakamura, vice president of East Japan International University (Iwaki City), who will serve as the secretariat, said, “We will break away from our traditional stance of depending on the government. We will decide our own fate,” he said of the founding principles.

March 23, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima, a ‘coordinator’ for the nuclear-stricken area, takes a cue from the U.S. to break away from reconstruction dependent on the government

March 6, 2021, 18:07 (Kyodo News)
 On March 6, a private organization called Fukushima Hamadori Tridec was established to serve as a coordinator between industry, government and academia in the areas affected by the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. In order to promote the reconstruction that the coastal residents of Fukushima Prefecture desire, the organization aims to unite the demands of the region and take the brunt of negotiations with the government and other parties.
 The 43 founding members include local business people, researchers, and politicians. The organization will be incorporated as a general incorporated association and will invite individual and corporate members. Takayuki Nakamura, vice president of East Japan International University (Iwaki City), who will serve as the secretariat, said, “We will break away from our traditional stance of depending on the government. We will decide our own fate,” he said of the founding principles.

March 6, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , | Leave a comment

Farmers in Fukushima plant indigo to rebuild devastated town

March 2, 2021

MINAMISOMA, Japan — Because of radiation released by the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster a decade ago, farmers in nearby Minamisoma weren’t allowed to grow crops for two years.

After the restriction was lifted, two farmers, Kiyoko Mori and Yoshiko Ogura, found an unusual way to rebuild their lives and help their destroyed community. They planted indigo and soon began dying fabric with dye produced from the plants.

“Dyeing lets us forget the bad things” for a while, Mori said. “It’s a process of healing for us.”

The massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, caused three of the reactors at the nuclear plant to melt and wrecked more than just the farmers’ livelihoods. The homes of many people in Minamisoma, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the plant, were destroyed by the tsunami. The disaster killed 636 town residents, and tens of thousands of others left to start new lives.

Mori and Ogura believed that indigo dyeing could help people in the area recover.

Mori said they were concerned at first about consuming locally grown food, but felt safe raising indigo because it wouldn’t be eaten. They checked the radiation level of the indigo leaves and found no dangerous amount.

Ten years after the disaster, Mori and Ogura are still engaged in indigo dyeing but have different missions.

To Mori, it has become a tool for building a strong community in a devastated town and for fighting unfounded rumors that products from Fukushima are still contaminated. She favors the typical indigo dyeing process that requires some chemical additives.

But Ogura has chosen to follow a traditional technique that uses fermentation instead as a way to send a message against dangers of modern technology highlighted by nuclear power.

Mori formed a group called Japan Blue which holds workshops that have taught indigo dyeing to more than 100 people each year. She hopes the project will help rebuild the dwindling town’s sense of community.

Despite a new magnitude 7.3 earthquake that recently hit the area, the group did not cancel its annual exhibition at a community center that served as an evacuation center 10 years ago.

“Every member came to the exhibition, saying they can clean up the debris in their houses later,” Mori said.

Ogura, who is not a member of the group, feels that a natural process is important because the nuclear accident showed that relying on advanced technology for efficiency while ignoring its negative aspects can lead to bad consequences.

“I really suffered during the nuclear accident,” Ogura said. “We escaped frantically in the confusion. I felt I was doing something similar again” by using chemicals.

“We seek too much in the way of many varieties of beautiful colors created with the use of chemicals. We once thought our lives were enriched by it, but I started feeling that wasn’t the case,” she said. “I want people to know what the real natural color looks like.”

Organic indigo dyes take more time and closer attention. Ogura first ferments chopped indigo leaves with water for a month and then mixes the result with lye which is formed on the surface of a mixture of hot water and ashes. It has to be kept at about 20 degrees C (68 degrees F) and stirred three times a day.

Part of the beauty of the process, Ogura says, is that it’s hard to predict what color will be produced.

With the support of city officials, Ogura started making silk face masks dyed with organic indigo.

She used to run an organic restaurant where she served her own vegetables before the disaster, but now runs a guesthouse with her husband in which visitors can try organic indigo dyeing.

Just 700 meters (2,300 feet) from Ogura’s house, countless black bags filled with weakly contaminated debris and soil are piled along the roadside. They have been there since after the disaster, according to Ogura’s husband, Ryuichi. Other piles are scattered around the town.

“The government says it’s not harmful to leave them there. But if they really think it’s not harmful, they should take them to Tokyo and keep them near them,” he said.

The radiation waste stored in the town is scheduled to be moved to a medium-term storage facility by March next year, a town official said.

March 6, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima poll: 74% say nuclear disaster work not promising

A cemetery in a district in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, on Jan. 20 is surrounded by solar panels installed on former farmland after the evacuation order was lifted.

February 24, 2021

Only 19 percent of residents in Fukushima Prefecture believe the work to decommission the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant is showing “promise” nearly 10 years after the triple meltdown, a survey showed.

Seventy-four percent of respondents in the telephone survey said the situation was “not promising” at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s nuclear plant.

The survey, jointly conducted by The Asahi Shimbun and Fukushima Broadcasting Co. on Feb. 20 and 21, is the 11th since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the nuclear disaster in March 2011.

The first was conducted in September 2011, followed by surveys on February or March every year from 2012.

The central government and TEPCO have set a goal of completing the decommissioning work “in 30 to 40 years,” but their efforts so far have been hit with various problems and delays.

Although evacuation orders have been lifted, many residents who fled the disaster have not returned to their homes near the plant. Still, the government plans to entice people to move into municipalities around the nuclear plant.

According to the survey, 21 percent of respondents viewed the new settlement policy as “promising” for revitalizing the area, compared with 72 percent who said it was “not promising.”

One constant problem in the decommissioning work is the continual stream of contaminated water that must be stored in tanks at the site of the plant.

With space running out, the government’s policy is to treat the water and dump it into the sea, even though the process will not remove all radioactive substances.

Thirty-five percent of respondents approved this policy, up from 31 percent in the 2020 survey, while 53 percent opposed the policy, down from 57 percent.

However, 87 percent of respondents said they were worried about damage caused by rumors over the dumping of the water into the sea, such as overexaggerated claims about the effects. Of them, 48 percent were “greatly” worried while 39 percent were worried “to a certain degree.”

The government continues to hold explanatory briefings about the water-dumping policy at local sites, but the effort has not reduced the people’s concerns.

The respondents were also asked whether the government should be held responsible for failing to prevent the nuclear disaster from occurring. Eighty-four percent agreed, including 33 percent who said the state has “great responsibility” and 51 percent who cited “a certain degree of responsibility.”

Forty-five percent of respondents in their 60s and 44 percent aged 70 or older said the government was “greatly responsible.”

Twenty-eight percent of respondents gave high marks to the government’s response so far to the nuclear disaster, while 50 percent had low evaluations.

As for TEPCO, 39 percent said the utility has acted responsibly over the 10 years since the accident, compared with 43 percent who said, “It hasn’t.”

And only 32 percent of respondents said the country has learned lessons from the nuclear accident, while 57 percent said it has not.

All nuclear reactors in Japan were shut down following the Fukushima disaster. Much tougher safety standards were established, and some reactors have been brought back online.

Sixteen percent of the Fukushima residents approved restarts of nuclear plants while 69 percent said they should remain offline.

Nationwide, 32 percent were in favor of the restarts and 53 percent were against, according to a phone survey conducted on Feb. 13 and 14 that showed opposition is higher in Fukushima Prefecture.

Half of the Fukushima respondents said restoration of the prefecture was on track, including 3 percent who said “greatly” and 47 percent who said “to a certain degree.”

In the 2012 survey, 7 percent said restoration was on track. The ratio jumped to 36 percent in 2016.

In the 2019 survey, conducted a year after most of the decontamination work was completed in the prefecture, the figure increased to 52 percent, but it has since remained at around the same level.

Sixteen percent of respondents said they feel “great” anxiety over the effects of radioactive materials released in the accident on themselves and their families, while 48 percent felt a “certain degree” of anxiety.

The overall ratio of 64 percent was down from 91 percent in September 2011 and 68 percent in 2016. But the latest figure was up from 56 percent in 2020.

By sex, 69 percent of female respondents and 59 percent of males felt anxious about the radioactive fallout.

In addition, 79 percent of all respondents were worried that the public will lose interest in the plight of the victims of the nuclear accident. Of them, 34 percent were “greatly” worried and 45 percent were worried “to a certain degree.” Nineteen percent were not worried very much or not at all.

Fifty percent think the image of Fukushima Prefecture has been restored to the pre-disaster level, but only 4 percent “largely” believe this is the case.

The overall figure has improved from 30 percent in the 2016 survey.

But the nationwide survey on Feb. 13 and 14 showed that only 40 percent believe that Fukushima Prefecture’s image has been restored.

The survey used home phone numbers for voters in Fukushima Prefecture, excluding some areas, selected at random by computer. It received valid responses from 1,049, or 54 percent, of the 1,955 voters contacted.

February 25, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Ten years on, economic growth is faltering in disaster-hit areas

Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, was hit hard by the disaster on March 11, 2011, and an evacuation order remained in place for the subsequent six years

February 11, 2021

While Japan will soon mark the 10th anniversary of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the economy of affected areas is showing signs of faltering.

The prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate have been shored up economically by public investment involving reconstruction projects since being devastated by the disaster on March 11, 2011, and the subsequent nuclear power plant meltdowns.

The three prefectures, however, are seeing reconstruction demand pass its peak.

As the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant continues to cast a shadow over the coastal areas, the three prefectures now face the challenge of achieving autonomous economic growth orchestrated by firms and others in the private sector.

In the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, an evacuation order issued shortly after the nuclear accident was partially lifted in March 2017. Although industrial complexes have been built and restaurants have opened their doors to customers once again in Namie, there are also many empty plots of land in the town, which shows that some former Namie residents had their houses torn down after giving up on returning from where they had been evacuated.

“Sales halved from before the disaster,” said Yasushi Niizuma, who reopened his restaurant in the town.

Meanwhile, some companies that were not doing business in Namie prior to the disaster have made inroads into the town.

“I don’t expect immediate changes, but I think the situation will be quite different 10 to 30 years from now,” Niizuma said with a sense of hope.

Prefectural gross product data show that the economy has recovered in the three prefectures since the disaster.

In 2011, the year of the disaster, the combined prefectural gross product in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate plunged ¥788 billion from a year earlier in nominal terms. But public investment increased sharply from 2012, with many restoration and reconstruction projects being implemented in disaster-affected areas. As a result, the combined gross product in the three prefectures in 2018 increased some ¥3.9 trillion from the 2011 level.

Noting that the region’s economy has been pushed up by public investment over the last 10 years, Yutaro Suzuki, economist at Daiwa Institute of Research Ltd., said, “It was not a self-sustaining growth.”

The three prefectures are seen to have suffered negative economic growth in 2020, chiefly reflecting a decrease in public investments and the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“An industrial recovery is crucial” for further economic growth in the region, Suzuki said.

Coastal areas in the three prefectures hit hard by the disaster are facing a serious population outflow. This is, in areas around the Fukushima No. 1 plant, including the town of Futaba, primarily due to the evacuation order still placed on some locations with high radiation levels.

“There are many areas (within Fukushima) that are nowhere near being restored,” Risa Ueda, head of the Bank of Japan’s Fukushima Branch, said.

While the central government is currently attempting to attract new industries to the region, the effects of such an initiative on the local economy are still unknown.

“Corporate performance has not recovered to the levels prior to the disaster at half of affected businesses,” Sachio Taguchi, president of Bank of Iwate , said. “We are still halfway down the road to reconstruction.”

Hiromi Watanabe, chairman of the federation of chambers of commerce and industry in Fukushima Prefecture, called on the Japanese government to look at the actual state of local economies and introduce precise measures, rather than end its support measures altogether.

As the economy has yet to recover to levels before the disaster in many parts of Fukushima and the coronavirus pandemic is also hitting the prefecture hard, Watanabe said, “What we need the most are job opportunities.”

February 14, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment