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.
Tokyo, March 4 (Jiji Press)–With labor shortages on construction sites holding up progress on disaster reconstruction in northeastern Japan, the Japanese government hopes to ease restrictions on the country’s job training system to attract more workers from overseas.
It remains uncertain, however, whether the proposed measures will go ahead as envisaged by the government, as some Japanese are persistently cautious about accepting foreign nationals into their country.
Three-Quarters of Peak Level
On Feb. 24, ahead of the third anniversary of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the government’s resolve to speed up the reconstruction of affected areas.
“More than 70 pct of the planned projects to relocate houses to upland areas and build public homes for disaster victims have started and it is finally time for construction work,” Abe told a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting.
Tokyo, Sept. 7 (Jiji Press)–Calls are mounting for the Japanese government to step up efforts to secure municipal workers for postdisaster reconstruction amid serious manpower shortages, two and a half years after the massive earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku northeastern Japan region.
Disaster-hit municipalities are struggling to hire enough skilled workers by themselves, while local governments across the country are finding it difficult to send more relief workers to the region.
According to the internal affairs ministry, a total of 1,415 relief officials from local governments across the country are working for cities, towns and villages in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures, which were hit hardest by the March 2011 disaster.
In addition, the affected municipalities have a total of some 330 workers they have employed on fixed-term contracts.
Still, the Tohoku municipalities need to secure at least 300 more workers to carry out reconstruction projects smoothly.
The village of Iitate in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture was once home to 6,000 people.
Today, however, it is essentially a ghost town, evacuated after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant just 25 miles (40 kilometers) away following the Tohoku earthquake in March 2011.
While former residents can return to Iitate during the day, it’s still an eerie scene — children’s toys lie abandoned in yards, bicycles rust on front porches and only an occasional truck passes through its quiet streets.
For elderly couple Yukio and Masayo Nakano the last 20 months have not been easy. Yukio lived had lived in his home in the village for more than 60 years, moving in just after World War Two.
“I can’t describe it. It’s hard living in the temporary housing, and it’s very stressful mentally,” he says.
The difficult situation has also taken its toll on his wife Masayo.
“I’m lonely. We’re getting old,” she says. “I think every day how long I can survive in this situation.”
Only one building — the town’s nursing home — has permanent residents. Following consultation with their families and the Japanese government, the 80 or so people living there were allowed to stay despite the evacuation order.
Miyoko Sato, a former Iitate resident who left after the nuclear accident, returns to work there each week for a very simple reason.
“These people will stay here for the rest of their life,” she says.
“And I cherish them just like a family member. But I don’t know if our village will be able to come back anytime soon.”
However some are trying to make the village inhabitable for all: crews who have the hazardous task of trying to clean up from one of the worst nuclear accidents the world has ever seen.
They perform repetitive tasks — wiping down buildings with damp cloths, and using high pressure hoses to clean drainage systems along the streets.
Workers are also clearing a layer of top soil in Iitate, as well as the numerous other affected areas of Fukushima prefecture.
But it’s an endless task, as it’s a region that’s roughly the size of greater Tokyo.
So far, it’s not clear what the government intends to do with the countless bags of contaminated dirt. Some critics, including experts on radiation, call the government’s clean-up efforts “meaningless” and say that using high pressure hoses simply spreads the radiation.
Others contend that wiping down a building with a wet rag is pointless, particularly when the wind blows from the nearby forest which is still contaminated.
Iitate’s Mayor, Norio Kanno, has heard those arguments but insists they have to start somewhere.
“We have a responsibility to clean up and decontaminate this land. I can’t accept the idea that we give up. And it’s hard for some people to just start a new life elsewhere,” he says.
Yukio Nakano remains hopeful that he and his wife can return to their home one day.
“But we don’t know when that will happen. It’s hard to predict our future,” he says.s
Twelve municipalities hit hard by the tsunami after the Great East Japan Earthquake plan to elevate the ground level in once-submerged urban areas–one by up to 17 meters–to aid in the rebuilding of towns and cities in their prior locations, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
The targeted areas together measure 740 hectares, nearly 15 times larger than Tokyo Disneyland, and the quantity of dirt required is calculated to be 17.5 million cubic meters–enough to fill the Tokyo Dome 14 times. Some municipalities are concerned about the delay in beginning work due to a shortage of dirt and other logistical factors.
The Yomiuri Shimbun surveyed 37 municipalities in coastal areas in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. Twelve of them, including Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, and Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, plan to conduct land readjustment to rebuild their urban areas in 26 districts.
As of Friday, none of these districts had started work, and only six have officially determined the districts in which work is to proceed based on the City Planning Law.
While most of them plan to raise the ground level by one to six meters, the municipal government of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, aims to raise it by up to 17 meters, which would make the area 18 meters above sea level. The mound will be as high as a five-story condominium.
So far, 11 municipalities have released cost estimates for the planned land elevation and readjustment, together totaling about 300 billion yen. If approved, the central government would pay for all of it. The work in 12 districts in eight municipalities is expected to be completed in fiscal 2017 or later. The project in the district around JR Ofunato Station in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, is slated to be finished in fiscal 2020.
The municipalities’ plan is to secure the necessary dirt by cutting away part of nearby hills or using dirt generated by projects to transfer groups of residents to higher ground. But districts in at least five municipalities are likely to have difficulty securing enough dirt because there are no such hills nearby, or because a large quantity of dirt is needed for other projects including dike construction. Though some are considering procuring dirt from the Tokyo metropolitan area, the transport cost could be immense.
Another concern is soft ground in some areas, which might cause land to sink after the mound work. Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, and other municipalities therefore insist on the need for ground improvement. “The necessity for conducting land improvement will largely affect the cost and schedule of the work,” said an expert.
The municipalities plan to widen roads and build parks that could be used as evacuation centers in a disaster in the newly heightened areas. Because the plans involve sections of private land, municipalities will need to reach a consensus with local residents on the issue.