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.
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The Environment Ministry began on March 14 transferring radioactive soil and other contaminated waste to an interim storage site in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, as part of a 30-year project to store waste generated from decontamination work following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster. About 12 cubic meters of radioactive waste was transferred from a temporary site in Okuma’s Minamidaira district on the first day. The transshipment marks the long-awaited launch of interim storage work that is considered essential for the reconstruction of Fukushima Prefecture, more than three and a half years since the government requested local authorities in August 2011 to permit installation of waste storage facilities.
Meanwhile, the ministry officially announced the same day it will start similar transportation on March 25 to an interim site in Futaba from a temporary place elsewhere in the town. This sort of transshipment over the next year will be conducted as a pilot project to identify problems such as safety. The project calls for the transfer of around 43,000 cubic meters of contaminated waste – about 1,000 cubic meters from each of 43 municipalities in the prefecture with decontamination plans – in the first year.
However, due to slow progress in negotiations with landowners, an area of only about 3 hectares of the interim storage site has so far been set aside for use, of which just 1 hectare is ready for receiving waste container bags on a temporary basis pending completion of interim storage facilities.
A government ban on road traffic imposed on a section of National Route 6 running north to south through the Hamadori coastal region of Fukushima Prefecture was lifted at midnight on Sept. 14, allowing the entire highway to open to traffic for the first time since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster three and a half years ago. The ban had been in force in a Futaba County area where residency is restricted due to radioactive contamination from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Reopened was a 14-kilometer stretch passing through the towns of Tomioka, Okuma and Futaba. Restrictions on vehicle traffic along a 1.7-km portion of a prefectural road in Tomioka, linking Route 6 and the Tomioka interchange of the Joban Expressway, were also removed. Previously, only vehicles with special permits were allowed to travel the section.
But traffic from the highway to side roads remains closed in principle for crime prevention except for residents with temporary entry permits. Motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians are still not allowed due to the higher risk of exposure to radiation from the nuclear plant. No parking is permitted along the affected stretch.
According to the Environment Ministry, the average amount of radioactivity along the 14-km stretch after decontamination work is 3.8 microsieverts per hour and the maximum hourly count is 17.3 microsieverts measured at a point near the nuclear power plant in Okuma.
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.
Plans to build new public apartments for the nuclear refugees in Fukushima Prefecture are stalling because the prefectural government is struggling to attract bids from contractors.
On Jan. 31, Fukushima announced that a project for a 16-unit concrete apartment complex in the city of Aizuwakamatsu in the western part of the prefecture failed to attract bidders. It failed because the eight private contractors who participated didn’t make offers that matched the prefecture’s budget amid surging demand for labor and materials in disaster-hit Tohoku.
It was Fukushima’s second public housing project to attract bids. Last August, an offer for a 20-unit apartment block in the city of Koriyama also failed twice. The prefecture finally found a contractor after raising the initial price twice.
Efforts to acquire land for new apartments are also stalling as negotiations with landowners are taking longer than expected. Of the 3,700 units scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015, only 60 percent, or 2,360, were ready to be built, unhindered by land acquisition problems.
Because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster that unfolded in March 2011, six towns and villages that had to be evacuated — Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba, Namie, Katsurao and Iitate — plan to build “out-of-town” communities where reinforced public apartments play a central role. The prefecture plans to build 4,890 units to house people from these and 13 other municipalities.
The prefecture has not come up with good ideas to expedite public housing, and the evacuees are facing the very real possibility they could be in temporary lodging for years to come. The fastest project to be completed so far is the 20-unit complex in Koriyama, which won’t start accepting residents until October.
When the evacuees move in, the prefectural government plans to let groups of residents who formed close ties in the shelters occupy neighboring units at the new apartments so those relationships can be preserved.
This is a lesson learned from the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, when the shift to permanent public housing severed bonds the evacuees had formed in its aftermath, leaving them socially isolated and leading to a surge in solitary deaths.