Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?

September 8, 2015 byMari Yamaguchi
Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, the rusty train track of Joban line is covered with weeds near the Tatsuta Station in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. The town's viability is far from certain, and its fate will be watched closely by authorities and neighboring towns to see if recovery is indeed possible in this radiation-contaminated land. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

A few signs of life are returning to this rural town made desolate by the Fukushima nuclear disaster four-and-a-half years ago: Carpenters bang on houses, an occasional delivery truck drives by and a noodle shop has opened to serve employees who have returned to Naraha's small town hall.

But weeds cover the now rusty train tracks, there are no sounds of children and wild boars still roam around at night. On the outskirts of town, thousands of black industrial storage bags containing radiation-contaminated soil and debris stretch out across barren fields.

This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi , causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak.

The town's viability is far from certain, and its fate will be watched closely by authorities and neighboring towns to see if recovery is indeed possible on this once-abandoned land.

Just over a tenth of Naraha's population of 7,400 say they plan to move back soon, and only a few hundred have actually returned, most of them senior citizens. Schools won't reopen for another two years, and many families with children are staying away due to concerns about radiation levels, which authorities say are below the annual allowable limit. Residents are given personal dosimeters to check their own radiation levels if they want.

One thing that won't change is the town's dependence on the nuclear industry—only this time it will involve dismantling damaged reactors, not building and running them.

An economic revival plan centers on a giant 85 billion yen ($700 million) facility that is being built on the edge of town to research, develop and test specialized robots and other technology—part of the government's "Innovation Coast" plan to turn the disaster-hit region into a hub for nuclear plant decommissioning technology.

The complex will include mock-ups of sections of the wrecked Fukushima reactors to train workers on robot operations. Dismantling the Dai-ichi plant and removing its melted reactor cores will take about 40 years, the government estimates.

The facility is expected to draw hundreds of workers, and the town also seeks to host laborers to decontaminate buildings and outdoor areas in the area. Naraha is also home to a second nuclear power plant—Fukushima Dai-ni—that barely survived the tsunami but may be scrapped due to local opposition to its restart. So it may also be dismantled.

Returning residents are determined to make a go of it, but they wonder if the town will survive economically—and mourn that it will never be the same cozy place it was five years ago.

Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, weeds surround a house in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. The town's viability is far from certain, and its fate will be watched closely by authorities and neighboring towns to see if recovery is indeed possible in this radiation-contaminated land. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
"There are more decontamination workers than townspeople. It's like we've been taken over," says carpenter Koichi Takeda, who evacuated to nearby Iwaki City and was in town to help a friend clean her house.

He has a number of clients renovating their houses in Naraha, but most of them are undecided about whether they will actually return. "It's like keeping a vacation home here," he said.

The southern edge of Naraha already hosts a soccer park called J-Village where temporary dormitories have been erected to house thousands of workers at the Dai-ichi plant. Some residents, especially women, say they feel intimidated by a growing number of male workers from outside the town, citing the recent arrest of a former decontamination worker in another town of Fukushima in a murder case.

"I'm more concerned about security in town rather than the shortage of groceries and other inconveniences," said Yukiko Takano, 43, who runs a mobile cafe out of her van near the town hall.

Tokuo Hayakawa, a 75-year-old Buddhist monk who returned with his wife, said he isn't very optimistic about the town's future.

"The town's reconstruction plan seems to be mainly for people from outside," he said. "If I were in my 20s or 30s, I wouldn't have returned. But at my old age I don't have time and energy to start over elsewhere."

Other elderly residents said they feel sad about not being able to invite grandchildren anytime soon given radiation concerns for kids.

"I was so sad to hear that my daughter said she can't bring her child here," said Takeo Suzuki, 63, getting teary. "She grew up here and this is her home. We built this place for her to come back when she wants to."

Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, the ground of Naraha Kita Elementary School is covered in weeds in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. Schools won't reopen for another two years, and many families with children are staying away due to concerns about radiation levels, which authorities say are below the annual allowable limit. Residents are given personal dosimeters to check their own radiation levels if they want. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Some 100,000 people from about 10 municipalities around the wrecked nuclear plant still cannot go home. Many have moved to apartments or houses elsewhere, and some live in temporary housing built by the government.

The government hopes to lift all evacuation orders except for the most contaminated areas around the plant by March, 2017, offering up to 100,000 yen ($800) per household for moving back. But evacuees criticize the plan as a public relations stunt to showcase Fukushima's recovery ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Games. Sections of two other towns reopened last year, but only half of their populations have since returned.

Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, a neighbor's new house under construction is seen through windows of Naoko Kanai's house after returning home for the first time in about two months, in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. Kanai, a 50-year-old homemaker, is among those having trouble deciding whether to return to Naraha permanently. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Naoko Kanai, a 50-year-old homemaker, is among those wrestling with whether to return to Naraha.

Kanai, who lost her job at a manufacturing company office in town that closed after the disaster, was back Saturday to check her house for the first time in about two months. Previously, she had said she had no intention of moving back as her family has resettled in nearby Iwaki City.

Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, a dosimeter is set in the ground at Naraha Kita Elementary School in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. Schools won't reopen for another two years, and many families with children are staying away due to concerns about radiation levels, which authorities say are below the annual allowable limit. Residents are given personal dosimeters to check their own radiation levels if they want. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

But as she opened the living room curtains to let in the air, her emotions wavered.

"This is not just a house, it's filled with memories of my family and its history," Kanai said. "I remember how we talked about the design of this house, the color of the curtain when we first moved in. This is where I packed lunch for my boys."

Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, Naoko Kanai watches a spider's web at her house after returning home for the first time in about two months, in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. Kanai, a 50-year-old homemaker, is among those having trouble deciding whether to return to Naraha permanently. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Her older son has since married and doesn't want to come back with his baby. But her second son keeps his room almost the way it was in 2011—his high school uniform hangs in the closet, a bookshelf filled with comic books, and a blanket folded on his bed.

"He wants to come back," Kanai said. "I can't abandon this place."

Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, a resident's new house is under construction in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak.The town's viability is far from certain, and its fate will be watched closely by authorities and neighboring towns to see if recovery is indeed possible in this radiation-contaminated land. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, workers walk near a facility for research and development of technology and robotics for the decommissioning of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. The town's viability is far from certain, and its fate will be watched closely by authorities and neighboring towns to see if recovery is indeed possible in this radiation-contaminated land. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, a security guard cleans the compound of a facility for research and development of technology and robotics for the decommissioning of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. The town's viability is far from certain, and its fate will be watched closely by authorities and neighboring towns to see if recovery is indeed possible in this radiation-contaminated land. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
This Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo shows storage bags containing soil, chopped trees and other contaminants collected from parts of Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. The town's viability is far from certain, and its fate will be watched closely by authorities and neighboring towns to see if recovery is indeed possible in this radiation-contaminated land. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
This Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo shows storage bags containing soil, chopped trees and other contaminants collected from parts of Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. The town's viability is far from certain, and its fate will be watched closely by authorities and neighboring towns to see if recovery is indeed possible in this radiation-contaminated land. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, Naoko Kanai, left, waves to her neighbor Koji Matsuimoto, second from right, from her house after they returned home for the first time in about two months, in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. Kanai, a 50-year-old homemaker, is among those having trouble deciding whether to return to Naraha permanently. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, Taeko Suzuki, 63, right, chats with Naoko Kanai, left in background, and other neighbors after they returned home for the first time in about two months, in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. Many families with children are staying away due to concerns about radiation levels, which authorities say are below the annual allowable limit. Elderly residents said they feel sad about not being able to invite grandchildren anytime soon given radiation concerns for kids. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, people visit a prefabricated building housing a supermarket and restaurants set up in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. The town's viability is far from certain, and its fate will be watched closely by authorities and neighboring towns to see if recovery is indeed possible in this radiation-contaminated land. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
In this Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo, barista Yukiko Takano, 43, who runs a mobile cafe, serves a cup of latte from her vehicle near the town hall in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. The town's viability is far from certain, and its fate will be watched closely by authorities and neighboring towns to see if recovery is indeed possible in this radiation-contaminated land. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Can towns near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant recover?
This Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 photo shows storage bags containing soil, chopped trees and other contaminants collected from parts of Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. This past weekend, Naraha became the first of seven towns that had been entirely evacuated to reopen since the March 11, 2011, disaster, when a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns and a massive radiation leak. The town's viability is far from certain, and its fate will be watched closely by authorities and neighboring towns to see if recovery is indeed possible in this radiation-contaminated land. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

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12 comments

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WillieWard
2.3 / 5 (6) Sep 08, 2015
Fear-mongers have induced more deaths than radiation; in truth, no one has died from radiation.
gkam
2.2 / 5 (10) Sep 08, 2015
Perhaps you should give up the Baghdad Bob routine, count the deaths at Chernobyl, and look at what it did to the CHILDREN!
gkam
2.2 / 5 (10) Sep 08, 2015
Pictures, Willie. Pictures of the Children of Chernobyl.

None of your cut-and-paste paragraphs can divert us from the terrible spectacle of the consequences of nuclear power.
WillieWard
2 / 5 (4) Sep 08, 2015
Pictures
"peer reviewed paper..NASA"
"nuclear power has saved many more lives than nuclear power has killed"
"there's a lot of uranium and thorium in the fly ash from coal burning" As well renewables that use rare-earth metals that contain uranium and thorium; furthermore, statistically wind/solar kills more than nuclear per gigawatt generated.
"We now have the evidence about the past: nuclear power has saved many multiples of times the lives that have been ended by nuclear power. It's actually vastly safer than other methods of generating electricity"
http://www.forbes...-killed/
http://cen.acs.or...ses.html
gkam
1 / 5 (7) Sep 08, 2015
Just be glad, Willie, that we cannot paste Children of Chernobyl pictures here.

You would lose all your supporters.
Edenlegaia
4 / 5 (4) Sep 08, 2015
Will you give it up, you two? Seriously....gkam, we know it's dangerous and we're working with something VEEEEERY powerful here and silly decisions can lead to....that. But we chose to build them because it gave us energy. Zillianormous amount of it when we wondered where to gather it and how. Everyone built it and everyone was just fine. We just discovered we weren't cautious enough with few incidents there and there. That does not mean every of them will blow up NOR we must shut them down immediately, wherever they are, and more, than we must stop all researches regarding nuclear. Heck, we might very well find a way to get rid of what would make millenias to disappear! Not to mention we still need energy and renewables can't offer that....yet. For sure.
As for Willie, you can trust so much in Nuclear that you post how much lives it saves, but it was probably the same for many dangerous and now forbidden products. In the end, we must find a way to NOT KILL rather than kill only few.
gkam
1.5 / 5 (8) Sep 08, 2015
Yeah, I am 71, and have watched our development of nuclear technologies for a long time. I helped to test the SRV systems and transient conditions in the Suppression Pools of Mark I and Mark II BWR's in the late 1970's. It was the old Mark I types which melted down, and now are in unknown conditions still.

We cannot know the position or conditions of the blobs of melted core and reactor vessel yet, because the radiation is so intense, it kills everything, including shielded electronics.

Economics will kill nuclear power soon, but we will be left with a terrible and dangerous legacy of our hubris, essentially forever.
WillieWard
3.4 / 5 (5) Sep 08, 2015
I helped to test the SRV systems...which melted down...it kills everything
uncorrectable pathological fibber fear-monger.
gkam
1.5 / 5 (8) Sep 08, 2015
"uncorrectable pathological fibber fear-monger."
----------------------------------------

Willie, stop screaming across the playground.

Go home and look at those pictures and justify to yourself and your mommy why you still support this nasty stuff.
WillieWard
1 / 5 (2) Sep 08, 2015
it kills everything
"its the money that drives their anti-nuclear dogma"
"the leaders of "Big Green" are driven by the same motivations as politicians — Power. Power is increased by raising more money every year. That is their goal. It is that simple."
"rich and famous NGOs: Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, National Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, and so forth."
http://seekerblog...r-dogma/
gkam
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 08, 2015
Willie, .. . Children of Chernobyl.

Don't ever forget them.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Sep 09, 2015
and transient conditions in the Suppression Pools of Mark I and Mark II BWR's in the late 1970's
Well this is something new yes? How did you do this exactly? Were you a contractor on-site or was this just how the equipment that you validated off-site was used, and you had no actual role in testing transient conditions?

And you would need to explain just how this 'experience' gives you special insight into the development of nuclear technologies, most of which you have apparently gathered by reading the fringe websites which you frequently reference, and your imagination, such as the willie about Pu raining down on idaho.

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