Fukushima Update 11.29.2012

The Fukushima nuclear disaster is far from over. It is nearing 1 year and 9 months since the disaster. Challenges are everywhere, few have been able to return home.

Residents of Okuma, the town nearest the Fukushima Daiichi site have become increasingly skeptical about going home. Older residents don’t think they are up to the task of entirely rebuilding a town. Most still want the human connections the town provided and hope to see the town rebuilt somewhere else to keep everyone together. This seems to have been one of the key coping skills for those displaced by the disaster, to keep their community connections.

One 78 year old resident declared that the time currently estimated before they could return was so long she would be dead by then. Residents see the situation in the Ukraine where people still are unable to return even 25 years later. Many of those places had radiation levels lower than what is found in Japan. Even as far away as Saitama there are pockets of radiation so high they qualify as evacuation zones under the levels used after Chernobyl. So many remain evacuated, yet even more live in areas that are more radioactive than the places declared evacuation areas in the Ukraine.

Decontamination efforts were undertaken by the government in Okuma but the radiation levels did not go down. Currently only 11% of the town’s former members have said they still want to return. Most struggle with leaving family farms that had been in their family for generations, some 19 or more generations. The typical family farm in the US only goes back about 5 generations.

Decontamination was also done in Iitate Mura, an area further away from the plant that was only later declared an evacuation zone after it was discovered that radiation plumes from the plant had heavily contaminated the area. Decontamination work there has been rather futile with areas reopened still showing unsafe levels. The decontamination efforts have highlighted how hard it is for people to return unless services and the rest of the community can also return.

Radioactive cars are still showing up on the international market even with efforts to have them tested before they are allowed to leave Japan. These cars are showing up in places like Uganda.

A parking lot in Fukushima City checked by a resident showed at about 9 uSv/h, this is quite common. Hot spots of that level show up all over the city. Fukushima City has about 450,000 residents in the metro area.

Local government officials formally pressured TEPCO to do more to facilitate compensation payments. Many still wait on compensation for their losses or remain in limbo due to ambiguity over where is safe to return to.

Control group thyroid nodule studies have begun in Kobe, the initial levels showed somewhat high but not enough children have been tested to get an accurate number.

The teachers union in Fukushima is pushing for more classroom lessons on radiation risks and human rights. One of the teachers interviewed said how they felt stuck between the motivations of the local government and the concerns of the parents. The teachers union has also been pushing efforts to test school lunches for contamination.

The head of the teachers union talked of his ongoing struggle to deal with the disaster and later being diagnosed with PTSD. Mr. Kokubun mentioned his memories of fishing for crabs in the Abukuma River when he was young and how the river was tied to many memories of his life. Snowmelt and other run off have left the river contaminated. The river carries about 50 billion bq of cesium to the Pacific each day.

Work continues slowly at the damage nuclear plant. Workers began cutting out more of the destroyed upper levels of unit 3. In this video workers can be seen moving around on the scaffolding while heavy equipment begins to take apart the building remains. Close to 240,000 tons of water is now stored on site. 10km of hoses run through the plant and 17 tons per hour of water is injected into the 3 melted down units. As with the previous winter, freezing hoses and pipes again pose problems. The plan to make individual cooling loops for each reactor won’t happen. There is not enough manpower at the plant to do the labor intensive work.

TEPCO sometimes goes days without announcing any work being conducted at the plant. Workers say there are many people there each day but not near the numbers TEPCO claims to the media.


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