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Fukushima towns grudgingly realize survival again depends on TEPCO

feb 26 dismantling water tank Okuma.jpg

Workers dismantle a tank that once contained water contaminated with radiation in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.

Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa was taken aback when the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. paid a visit in early January.
Izawa has been working out of a temporary government office in the town of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, since the disaster at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant forced all residents to evacuate Futaba in 2011.
“Have you perhaps forgotten that TEPCO is the perpetrator that has driven Futaba into the situation it finds itself?” Izawa grumbled at TEPCO President Naomi Hirose. “I am beyond furious.”
But within minutes, Izawa was peppering Hirose with requests to rebuild life in his community.
Residents and government leaders around the still stricken nuclear plant continue to vilify the plant’s operator, but they are increasingly aware that economic survival depends largely on the very entity that turned their communities upside down.
Before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the host and surrounding communities depended largely on nuclear power plants for government subsidies and employment.
They are resigned to having again depend on TEPCO for the billions of yen that will be sunk into the prefecture for work to decommission the reactors at the utility’s No. 1 plant as well as its No. 2 plant in Fukushima Prefecture.
Every day, about 7,000 workers pass through the gates of the Fukushima No. 1 plant for the decommissioning process that is expected to take decades to complete.
Some say the nuclear plant has been a source of income than crosses generations.
A 61-year-old man who was part of the team that constructed the No. 6 reactor at the plant now dismantles tanks that once contained radiation-contaminated water there.
“The nuclear plant remains unchanged as a stable workplace from before the accident,” he said.
His father was also involved in construction of the nuclear plant, which started operating in 1971.
After the 2011 disaster, relatives beseeched the man to cut all ties with the plant. But he has no intention of ending his work there.
The effects of the accident indeed sparked anger and distrust of TEPCO and nuclear power in general.
The Fukushima prefectural government decided to end its dependence on nuclear plants and supply all electricity through renewable energy sources. It has asked for the decommissioning of all reactors in the prefecture.
However, the prefectural government faces the difficult task of revitalizing the local economy because about 70,000 residents remain in evacuation close to five years after the accident.
Decommissioning work is now one of the only realistic large-scale options to support the local economy.
The central and prefectural governments are placing high hopes on research and development related to decommissioning the reactors.
In September 2015, after the evacuation order was lifted for the town of Naraha, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency built a facility in the municipality to conduct experiments on remote-control use of robots in the decommissioning work.
An international joint research center is planned for Tomioka, which lies immediately north of Naraha.
“Community development will not proceed unless there is a core structure,” a government source said. “It would be perfectly all right if money was injected through the decommissioning business.”
TEPCO has been constructing bases for decommissioning work in municipalities where evacuation orders are still in place.
In Okuma, a community that co-hosts the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, TEPCO has built a facility to prepare 2,000 meals a day for workers at the plant. There are also plans to construct dormitories that can house 750 employees.
By the end of March, TEPCO’s Fukushima Revitalization Headquarters, now based at the J-Village training center about 20 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 plant, will move to Tomioka.
“It is the responsibility of the central and other governments as well as TEPCO to create a situation where those who want to return can do so,” said Yoshiyuki Ishizaki, chief of the headquarters.
Kazuyuki Shima, 37, who has lived in temporary housing in Iwaki since evacuating from Okuma, believes that creating jobs will lead to a revitalized local community.
He now works at the TEPCO facility that prepares meals for workers.
“If people gather for decommissioning, the restart of supermarkets and hospitals will also be accelerated,” Shima said. “That will make it easier for local residents to return. If that happens, I believe this community will not be forgotten.”
At the same time, the decommissioning plans have led to unusual demographics.
Often, the number of workers involved in decommissioning exceeds the number of residents who have returned to their homes.
That is the case in Hirono, a town within a 30-kilometer radius of the Fukushima No. 1 plant. The town also has nearly twice as many men as women.
To prevent housing facilities from sprouting up all over the town, the local government plans to adopt an ordinance requiring prior notification of construction plans of such buildings.
About 1,300 workers involved in decommissioning and decontamination work around the plant now reside in Naraha, about triple the number of residents who have returned home.
The Naraha town government is encouraging the construction of housing for the workers at a golf course away from the residential area.
“Residents might be concerned about the large number of strangers in their community and will be hesitant about returning home,” a high-ranking town official said.
In Mayor Izawa’s deserted town of Futaba, there are no signs of when residents can return home.
After lambasting the TEPCO president, Izawa asked for help in persuading companies involved in decommissioning R&D to build offices in Futaba.
“I do feel the contradiction, and I am in quite a dilemma,” Izawa said. “But without that, can a local government that never had any other major industry ever think of surviving?”

February 26, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , | Leave a comment