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Seven years after meltdown, Fukushima’s recovery still decades away

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March 12, 2018
by Charles Digges
 
Seven years ago, on the afternoon of March 11, 2011, one of the biggest earthquakes ever measured sent a wall of water rolling toward Japan’s northeastern coastline and into the six reactors of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
 
In the seven years since, the name of the plant has become synonymous with Chernobyl for connoting disaster, radioactive contamination, massive human migration and other calamities of biblical proportion – a name that requires no further description to understand the scale of the disaster it connotes.
 
It’s become another point on the compass at which the world can contemplate its own end – a catastrophe that still casts more shadows than light, continues to beg confounding questions, and which will continue to press the limits of understanding for decades to come.
 
On Sunday, Japan marked the anniversary with a nationwide moment of silence at 2:46 pm, the moment when, on that Friday in 2011, the waters breached the Fukushima plant and triggered a triple nuclear meltdown.
 
In the days that followed the quake, uranium fuel melted down inside three of the six reactors. Hydrogen explosions burst through the roofs of three of the reactor buildings, sending radioactive iodine, cesium and other fission by-products belching into the environment. Millions of liters of water were pumped from the ocean to cool the overheating reactors, cascading contamination into the sea.
 
The meltdowns forced the evacuation of 160,000 people from the rural and agrarian prefecture, 73,000 of whom have yet to come anywhere near home again. Food and livestock were poisoned. In the aftermath, Japan shut down its 42 remaining nuclear reactors, only three of which have come back online under the country’s stringent new safety codes, which were rewritten nearly from scratch in the disaster’s aftermath, severing a source of 30 percent of Japan’s power.
 
Seven years on, troubling questions about the plant’s condition remain, and addressing them will mean decontaminating an area almost as big as Hawaii without unleashing yet more radiation into the environment.
 
As this year’s anniversary approached, Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco, which owns the plant, reported that that the reactors at Fukushima are now stable, but many are having trouble believing that. Since the beginning of the disaster, Tepco delayed and obfuscated reports on the state the plant, costing critical evacuation days, and the company is now struggling to overcome a lack of public trust as it forges forth in the cleanup.
 
The sheer vastness of the cleanup operation seems nearly impossible to bring to heel. At the plant alone, it’s estimated to take another 50 years before decontamination and clean up is complete. Tepco, estimates it will finish the job by 2050. Others in the government admit the cleanup could go on far beyond that.
 
Meanwhile the extent of the toll on human health remains unknown. Of the 20,000 workers who were exposed to radiation in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, only about 7,000 have received any sort of ongoing health testing and observation.
 
And people are reluctant to return to homes that fell within the evacuation zone. Japanese broadcasters report that some 70,000 continue to live in government supported evacuation housing, leery of retiring to areas where radiation levels are only debatably safe.
 
While the Japanese government said last year that decontamination costs would reach $75.7 billion, think tanks in Japan have said the final bill could be more than eight times that – closer to $470 billion to $660 billion, according to Japan’s Center for Economic Research,
 
Whatever the amount, Japan is paying for daring engineering to handle thousands of damaged and melted nuclear fuel rods and tons of mangled reactor debris.
 
One of the main problems is what to do with millions of tons of water, which is coursing through the reactors to keep them cool. This water, once contaminated, collects in tanks Tepco has built at the site to hold it. There are 1,000 of these tanks, but the volume of irradiated water they have to handle grows by 100 tons daily.
 
What will become of that water, Tepco has not yet decided, and efforts to clean it of radioactive isotopes have been only partially successful. While Tepco says it can scrub it of cesium, strontium and 50 other radionuclides, it can’t remove its tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
 
Other issues are posed by rain water seeping into the ground at the stricken plant. It is feared this water could drain contamination into the sea, and Tepco last year built a wall of frozen soil to contain it. But this year they reported it wasn’t working as hoped, and that because of this failure, some 500 tons of water is being contaminated daily at the site.
 
Yet the biggest challenges remain with the stricken reactors themselves.
During the disaster, uranium fuel overheated and dripped through the bottoms of the No 1, 2 and 3 reactors, forming molten pockets beneath them. Radiation levels inside the reactors are searing. Inside reactor No 2, for instance, levels still reach reach 7 to 42 sieverts per hour – enough to kill humans after just a short period of exposure. Only robots can reach the fuel.
 
The robots are trying to map the location of the melted fuel, sending out 3-D imaging allowing workers to discern the location of pebbly deposits thought to be molten uranium. Yet even when the fuel is found, operations to remove it won’t come before 2021 – when engineers will devise a way to get out.
 
When that begins, it will add to the 200,000 tons of nuclear waste that is in in storage at the disaster site. Japan has not yet agreed on where all of this will finally be buried, and popular resistance to hosting the waste fuels that uncertainty.
 
While Tepco did manage to remove all 1,533 fuel bundles from the plant’s unit No. 4 reactor before December 2014, it still has to do the same for the hundreds of rods stored at the other three units.
 
This will mean clearing rubble, installing shields, dismantling the building roofs, and setting up platforms equipment to remove the rods. In February a 55-ton dome roof was installed on unit No. 3 to facilitate the safe removal of the 533 fuel bundles that remain in a storage pool there. And while removal of fuel at reactor No 3 may being before April of 2019, the fuel at units No. 1 and 2 will not be ready for transfer before 2023.
 
What Fukushima may look like decades from now, Tepco will not venture to guess. In some reports, the company is quick to say it won’t go the same route as Chernobyl, where an enormous containment structure now covers the remains of its exploded No. 4 reactor. But the road to totally rehabilitating Fukushima, and making it inhabitable again, still appears to be longer than anyone might have guessed.
 
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March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

40% of local leaders doubt 3.11 disaster area recovery by 2020 due to Fukushima crisis

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Many trucks are seen engaged in land redevelopment work in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, on March 9, 2017.

About 40 percent of 42 local leaders along the coasts of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures doubt their areas will recover from the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake by the time of the 2020 Tokyo Games due to the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis, a Mainichi Shimbun survey shows.

A large majority of the pessimistic local chiefs represent cities, towns and villages in Fukushima Prefecture where many residents were forced to evacuate following the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. The survey results show that these municipalities have yet to recover from the meltdowns.

The central government has categorized a five-year period from fiscal 2011 as an intensive recovery period, and another five-year period from fiscal 2016 as a recovery and building period. It plans to spend as much as 32 trillion yen over a 10-year period ending in fiscal 2020 to complete recovery operations and abolish the Reconstruction Agency. It aims to support Fukushima and other disaster-stricken prefectures, but has no clear budget provision.

The Mainichi Shimbun received written responses from all 12 city, town and village mayors it queried in Iwate Prefecture, and from all 15 mayors queried in each of Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

While only two municipal chiefs in Iwate and one in Miyagi did not anticipate an end to recovery efforts by fiscal 2020, 13 local leaders in Fukushima Prefecture — including those in evacuation zones — shared this view. Only the Shinchi town mayor replied that recovery will be possible by fiscal 2020, while the mayor of Soma said he did not know.

Many local leaders in Fukushima Prefecture say they do not expect recovery operations to be completed by fiscal 2020 due to negative effects from the nuclear disaster. The town of Namie says it does not anticipate an end to recovery operations in three years, pointing out that the recovery speeds in areas hit by tsunami versus the nuclear disaster are obviously different.

The town of Futaba, 96 percent of which is designated as a difficult-to-return zone, says post-disaster restoration has not even started. Kawauchi village, which has already seen its evacuation order lifted, laments that its population is set to drop drastically due to a very low birthrate and a rapidly aging citizenry.

Rikuzentakata and Otsuchi in Iwate, and Yamamoto in Miyagi, responded that they are unlikely to witness a full recovery by fiscal 2020. Rikuzentakata explained that its new city hall isn’t scheduled to be completed until fiscal 2021. The town of Otsuchi cited a delay in a land redevelopment project and other reasons. The town of Yamamoto said that community formation at mass relocation sites and psychological recovery take a long time.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170310/p2a/00m/0na/007000c

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Survey: Many dissatisfied with 3/11 recovery

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NHK conducted a survey of survivors and nuclear evacuees of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and a majority of respondents were dissatisfied with recovery efforts so far.

The survey was conducted from November to February, ahead of the 6th anniversary of the disaster on Saturday.

NHK got responses from 1,437 people from the hardest-hit northeastern prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.

Asked about recovery efforts in the areas where they lived before the disaster, 26 percent of the respondents replied they don’t feel any sense of progress, and 36 percent said they’ve seen slower-than-anticipated recovery.

On the other hand, 34 percent said they’ve seen progress at a reasonable pace, and 2 percent said they’ve seen faster-than-expected recovery.

But even among those who gave positive answers, most of them apparently felt there has been little improvement to regional economies and standards of living. Only 4 percent of them said they think the regional economy is better than before the disaster, and 8 percent said they feel their community is more vibrant.

Associate Professor Reo Kimura of the University of Hyogo says the challenge ahead is to provide support for daily life, and come up with ideas on how to make those regions more attractive.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20170307_02/

March 8, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

Rebuilding Fukushima through Soccer

To expose children to possible radioactive nanoparticles without any protection just for the sake of propaganda to show that everything is safe and back to normal in Fukushima is irresponsible and criminal! All in the name of the recovery and reconstruction campaign organized by the Japanese  government to welcome all the tourists to come to “clean” beautiful Japan for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics! Olympics to which Fukushima produce will be used to prepare the meals fed to the visiting athletes! All in the name of promotion and economic reconstruction! Alternate facts, total denial of reality being substituted to real facts and dangers. A total insanity!

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A former soccer training facility close to Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant has been used as a staging point for recovery work since the 2011 nuclear disaster, but that’s about to change.

Temporary dormitories for workers stand where there used to be a soccer field at the facility, called J-Village. The area is filled with memories for Shigenari Akashi, who worked as a coach for a junior youth team there for more than 10 years.

“National tournament finals used to be held here. Children from all over the country would practice hard, aspiring to play here,” Akashi says.

J-Village was Japan’s first national soccer training center. It opened in 1997 and over the years saw more than a million visitors. The complex was even used to train the national teams of Japan and Argentina.

But the nuclear disaster changed everything. The facility is just 20 kilometers from the plant, so Tokyo Electric Power Company rented it to set up an operational base for containing the accident.

“I was in shock and at a loss for words when I saw the Self-Defense Forces’ tanks here, and the gravel laid on the natural turf for the parking lot,” says Akashi.

At the end of last year, the moment he had been waiting for finally arrived as TEPCO began work to return the facility to its original form.

Fukushima Prefecture has even bigger plans — tt wants to build Japan’s first “all-weather soccer field” at the site. Part of the facility is scheduled to open in the summer of 2018.

The Japan Football Association has given the project its full support. The Japanese national team will use the new J-Village as its training base for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But there are bigger challenges than rebuilding. There are fears over radiation levels — in some areas they’re still higher than international standards recommend. So the J-Village operator has a plan.

“The construction work will focus on largely replacing the soil, a technique we expect will reduce radiation levels more than usual decontamination methods,” says Eiji Ueda, who is executive vice president at the facility. “We can emphasize how safe it is by hosting national teams from Japan or perhaps abroad for training.”

A town near J-Village was evacuated because of the disaster. Residents got the green light to move back a year and a half ago but few have returned as most of the evacuees still live in a neighboring city.

Akashi and his co-workers have been giving soccer classes for children, including some who lived near J-Village. But there are mixed feelings about playing there again.

“I want to use the new J-Village, but I live far away now, so it will be hard to go there very often,” says a boy at the facility.

“We still have the lingering memory of it being used as the staging ground for decommissioning work,” says one father.

For Akashi, he’s got a specific goal in mind.

“In reviving J-Village, we want to give back local people a gathering place and their sense of pride. We believe this will also help to revive Fukushima as a whole,” he says.

The clock on the J-Village scoreboard is stopped at 2:46 p.m., the moment the earthquake struck. The deep rift created over the last 6 years will need to be filled so that the clock can move forward once more.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/editors/3/rebuildingfukushimathroughsoccer/

February 22, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima governor rebuts minister’s 3/11 recovery claim

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Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura addresses an official conference on the reconstruction and rebuilding of Fukushima Prefecture in Fukushima city on Jan. 28.

FUKUSHIMA–Using marathon analogies, opinions on the current state of Fukushima Prefecture almost six years after the 2011 nuclear accident were running far apart between a national minister and local officials at a conference here to discuss the recovery process.

If this is a marathon, Fukushima’s recovery is 30 kilometers into the race,” said Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura at the beginning of the conference on reconstruction of quake damage and rebuilding in the prefecture on Jan. 28. “Now, we have come to the crunch.”

A disgruntled Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori refuted Imamura’s optimistic analogy when he was interviewed by reporters after the conference’s close.

Some regions in the designated evacuation zones are not even at the starting line,” said Uchibori. “Even in the areas where the designation is already lifted, recovery has only just begun.”

The evacuation order in most of the surrounding area of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is scheduled to be lifted at the end of March, apart from some “difficult-to-return zones” where radiation readings remain high.

The affected municipal governments are concerned that the central government’s understanding of areas affected by the 2011 disaster has been fading as the sixth anniversary approaches in March.

Aside from the opening, the conference, chaired by Imamura, was closed to the media.

According to one attendee, Imamura told conference delegates that he put “Fukushima first.”

Aping the catchphrase style of U.S. President Donald Trump and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, Imamura apparently meant he prioritizes the recovery of the disaster-hit area of Fukushima Prefecture, but his choice of words failed to impress local officials.

The head of one municipal government said: “It is not a very good catchphrase to use here as it reminds us of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.”

I would like him to be more sensitive about expressions he uses,” another complained.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201701300051.html

January 30, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment