FUTABA, Fukushima — The transfer of radioactively contaminated soil from a temporary holding area to a mid-term storage site began here on March 25.
Similar work has been underway in neighboring Okuma since March 13, but Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa had asked for the work in his town to be put off until after a traditional period for visiting family graves, which ended on March 24.
“Although I feel that progress has been made towards improving the prefecture’s environment and recovery from the disaster, I have mixed feelings when I think about the heavy burden shouldered by the area accepting the waste,” Izawa stated in a news release.
Under current waste management plans, soil contaminated by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster will be held at mid-term sites for up to 30 years.
On March 25, 12 of 800 bags containing a cubic meter of soil each were moved via two 10-ton trucks to a temporary holding area at the site of the planned mid-term storage facility, which has yet to be built. The site is around 3.2 kilometers from the temporary holding area.
Over the coming year, the Ministry of the Environment plans to clear 43,000 cubic meters of contaminated soil from temporary storage sites in 43 Fukushima Prefecture municipalities.
Cartoon characters who suffered nosebleeds after a visit to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are turning into a headache for manga publisher Shogakukan.
Locals are apparently angry about the “misleading” depictions in an episode of the popular manga series “Oishinbo” published Monday in the weekly Big Comic Spirits magazine.
Visiting the stricken plant two years after the 2011 nuclear catastrophe, a group of characters, all newspaper journalists, are momentarily exposed to hourly radiation levels of 1,680 microsieverts. After their tour, which takes them near the plant’s six reactors, lead character Shiro Yamaoka begins to complain of “extreme exhaustion” as well as sudden nosebleeds that span days. His colleagues confess to suffering similar symptoms.
Later, when they meet a character named Katsutaka Idogawa — based on a real-life former mayor of the town of Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture — they learn that he too has suffered repeated nosebleed attacks and felt “unbearably sick” since the accident.
“Many Fukushima residents have been afflicted by the same symptoms. It’s just they don’t say it openly,” Idogawa tells them.
In another scene of the episode, the team of reporters complain that they were allowed to publish only a handful of photos taken at the site, an apparent dig at plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co’s rigorous censorship of the media.
In response, a Twitter user with the handle @jyunichidesita who claimed to be a resident of the city of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, expressed anger at the depictions. The user claimed he or she had “never suffered such symptoms over the past three years.”
By noon Wednesday, the protest had been re-tweeted more than 13,000 times.
When contacted by The Japan Times, the editorial department of Shogakukan was unapologetic. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the weekly’s managing editor said the publisher had been inundated with phone calls and emails from readers saying the descriptions risk arousing public prejudice against the prefecture.
The editor said the episode drew on “meticulous reportage” conducted by manga author Tetsu Kariya and his team in Fukushima. Nothing the Idogawa character said deviated from the opinion of the real-life mayor, the editor insisted. Kariya himself once told the media that he had suffered several bouts of nosebleeds and been plagued by unusual fatigue following his visits to the plant.
However, the managing editor stressed that the publisher was not pointing the finger at radiation exposure as the cause of the characters’ illnesses. He noted that Yamaoka, the main character, is at one point assured by a doctor that no medical studies indicate radiation in Fukushima could have resulted in his nosebleeds.
The editor, however, also added doctor and radiation expert Eisuke Matsui, another real-life character who appeared in the episode, told the editorial staff that “the connection between sickness and radiation is not exactly zero” and that his opinion would be reflected in future episodes.
In an apparent attempt to dodge further criticism, the editorial department said in a statement dated Monday: “We would like to stress that past ‘Oishinbo’ episodes clearly stated that it would be a huge loss for consumers if they balked at eating (Fukushima) foods proved safe just due to their lack of understanding.”
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–A sixth-century stone tower and a Shinto shrine are among local cultural assets the town of Okuma wants to protect ahead of a central government plan to construct temporary facilities to store radioactive waste in the vicinity.
A project got under way April 17 to evaluate the town’s heritage that will enable its officials to urge the central government to protect historical sites when considering areas for the temporary storage sites.
The central government is proposing the construction of interim facilities to store radioactive waste from cleanup work at a site straddling Okuma and Futaba, which co-host the embattled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Education officials and local historians plan to examine each historical site to determine a priority of preservation.
“Having shared cultural heritage contributes to the strengthening of ties between local residents,” said Ryuhei Saeki, a member of the Okuma board of education. “We want to carry out an exhaustive investigation so we can preserve sites of great value.”
An official handling the proposed storage project with the Environment Ministry said that officials in Tokyo will give due consideration to sites of historical interest.
“If the towns decide to accept the construction of the facilities, we will consult with local officials over how to deal with cultural heritage sites,” the official said.
According to the central government’s blueprint, the planned site will occupy 16 square kilometers–11 square km in Okuma, or 15 percent of the town’s overall land area, and 5 square km in Futaba.
The Okuma education board said there are cultural properties in at least 50 locations in the town. Among them are a stone tower that is believed to have been built in the sixth century, an excavation site where pottery shards from the Jomon Pottery Culture (8000 B.C.-300 B.C.) have been discovered and an ancient tomb that has not been fully studied.
The officials and historians will examine the historical sites through late May. They will be required to wear protective gear due to high levels of radiation in the area.
Kiyoe Kamata, a 71-year-old historian from Okuma, said he is taking part in the on-site inspection to help preserve Miwatarijinja, a small Shinto shrine.
Kamata, who runs a pear farm, discovered the shrine hidden in a mountainous area of the town after a 25-year search. Even many locals in the community closest to the shrine were not aware of its existence.
“If we can maintain the shrine, the bond between locals may remain strong,” Kamata said.
The nuclear disaster unfolded after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, about a week before residents were scheduled to have a sunset viewing event at the shrine, which had to be canceled.
All the residents in Okuma and Futaba were forced to evacuate after the onset of the nuclear accident. Although evacuation orders have been lifted in other areas, there is no realistic prospect for when all the evacuees of Okuma and Futaba can return home–if at all.
To keep alive the memory of their local cultural heritage, Kamata, who now lives as an evacuee in Sukagawa in the prefecture, published a book at his own expense and gave 500 copies to Okuma residents who scattered across the nation after the nuclear accident. With a flood of requests for copies, 300 more were printed.
Among Futaba’s cultural assets on the proposed construction site is Koriyama Kaizuka, a shell mound from the early part of the Jomon Pottery Culture, which is among the oldest such sites discovered in the prefecture. The former site of an administrative office from the Nara Period (710-784) to the Heian Period (794-1185), known as Koriyama Goban Iseki, is also in the area.
The Futaba education board plans to investigate the two sites to study cultural activities related to fishing and details of the operation of the administrative office in ancient times. But Futaba education officials have yet to determine when to begin their on-site inspection.
According to the Fukushima prefectural board of education, many cultural heritage sites are also left unattended in other areas, not just Okuma and Futaba, where annual radiation doses are estimated to be in excess of 50 millisieverts.
The interim storage facilities will house soil and other waste from decontamination operations taking place in the prefecture for up to 30 years. The central government plans to permanently dispose of the waste outside the prefecture.
Although the Fukushima prefectural government as well as Okuma and Futaba town halls have yet to decide on the proposed facilities, the central government plans to start shipments of waste in January.
SAITAMA – About 250 evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture and volunteers cleaned up a high school gymnasium Friday in Kasu, Saitama Prefecture, that had served as the last evacuation shelter for people who fled in 2011 from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdown disaster.
During the peak in April 2011, about 1,423 evacuees from Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, stayed in the gym at Kisai High School. The gym is slated to be closed because the high school has been merged with another school.
“We need to keep moving forward. We cannot forever maintain a sense of victimization,” said Mitsuo Horikawa, 57, who served as the community leader for evacuees at the gym.
FUTABA, Fukushima Prefecture–A calendar showing March 2011 still hangs on a wall, while a clock suspended from the ceiling remains stuck at 2:50. Documents and other files are scattered on the floor around desks and shelves. Potted plants withered and died long ago.
Outside, on the rooftop of the Futaba town office, one can clearly see the isolation and desolation of this dying town where time has stopped.
For the first time since the aftermath of March 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, an Asahi Shimbun reporter entered the town office of Futaba on Feb. 25.
All 6,400 residents have fled the town.
A notice pasted on the interior of the front entrance, underlined in red, reads: “Since this office is located within 10 kilometers of the nuclear plant, you have to stay indoors. Please don’t go outside.”
On the second floor, sheets of paper pasted on a board show information that Tokyo Electric Power Co. released about conditions at the nuclear plant.
“The pressure in the containment vessel has risen abnormally,” reads information that arrived before dawn on March 12, 2011.
Futaba officials evacuated the town office on the central government’s orders that day, a day after the disaster started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
About 96 percent of Futaba, including areas around the town office, has been designated a difficult-to-return zone because annual accumulated radiation levels exceed 50 millisieverts.
The zone is surrounded by barricades, making it impossible for people to enter freely.
Wearing a mask and a white protective gear that covered my entire body and carrying a dosimeter, I entered Futaba after obtaining permission from the town office. A town official, who guided me around Futaba, wore similar clothing.
After leaving the town office, we headed to the Nagatsuka district in the central part of Futaba, where there were no signs of residents.
Trucks for decontamination work, passenger cars and the cawing of crows sometimes broke the silence.
A damaged shutter rattled as it was hit by the wind. A house that collapsed in the shaking of Great East Japan Earthquake covered part of the road. The Shohatsujinja shrine on the opposite side of the house was tilted, and a 3-meter-high stone monument remained toppled and snapped in the middle.
“My classmate was the chief priest of this shrine. I held (traditional) ‘shichigosan’ festivals for my daughter in this shrine. I also held purification rituals for my car here,” said my guide, Kunihiro Hiraiwa, 52, head of the town office’s public relations section.
When the magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, Hiraiwa headed a team in charge of issues related to the nuclear power plant. His duties included applying for central government grants for the town’s hosting of a nuclear power plant.
He was also the person who received information from TEPCO when problems occurred at the plant.
“TEPCO had said, ‘The nuclear power plant is absolutely safe.’ We had never imagined that such a disastrous situation like this would arise,” Hiraiwa said, looking at an empty street.
The Futaba swimming beach was crowded with about 85,000 people in 2010. The seaside facility operated by the town office was damaged by the 2011 tsunami.
From a higher floor of the facility, we could see the Pacific Ocean extend to the horizon and gentle waves hitting the beach.
Radiation levels are relatively low in the northeastern part of Futaba, and the area was designated a zone being prepared for the lifting of the evacuation order in May 2013.
Peering over the barricade, however, we saw withered grass at places where houses were washed away by the tsunami. Infrastructure improvements and decontamination work have not made progress.
Hiraiwa’s house is located in the area.
“Nothing has changed (since May 2013),” he said.
By TAKURO NEGISHI/ Staff Writer