Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Recovery's Long Road: Fukushima Four Years After The Great East Japan Earthquake

Seeds of Hope: Fukushima rice recently passed radiation tests for the first time since the disasters. Image via the Fukushima Organic Agriculture Network/JERF.

The 4th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami has arrived, and the effects of the widespread destruction at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant are still being felt today.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the company that owns the now-defunct plant, is still trying to persuade local governments to allow the restart of some of its other reactors, which would significantly improve its financial situation, as it still owes more than ¥5 trillion in damages, in addition to the cost of decommissioning the plants affected by the disaster.

To make matters worse, Tepco president Naomi Hirose announced a month ago that it would not be able to meet its self-imposed deadline to decontaminate water tainted by radioactivity by the end of March, which was then followed by the news that it had found a new source of radiation leakage into the sea.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the public is largely opposed to the restart of the reactors. Back in 2010, Japan had plans to make nuclear power at least 50 percent of its total energy by 2030, but a year ago, according to an Asahi poll, 59 percent of Japanese respondents opposed the restart of nuclear power plants, making it highly unlikely that we’ll be seeing an increase in Japanese nuclear power plant activity anytime soon.

Even now, around 120,000 Fukushima residents remain evacuees, and a government survey of 16,600 households in fiscal 2014 found that 48 percent of these evacuees aren’t planning on coming back. Concerns about radiation and slow reconstruction efforts are keeping them away, and the temporary housing situation isn’t giving them much confidence either.

Another problem that towns in the Tohoku region face is population decline. A majority of the evacuees who do decide to return are senior citizens, and according to surveys, only 3 percent of those in their 30s and 40s plan to go back to the towns they were forced to leave behind in the wake of the disaster.

More than 89,000 of the evacuees live in temporary housing units that were only built to last two years, and plans to create more permanent accommodations are not on track to be completed until fiscal 2017.

But construction is progressing, as more and more projects are reaching completion, such as the Joban Expressway, a highway that opened on March 1 that passes through the towns of Okuma and Futaba in Fukushima, close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Progress is also being made in agriculture, and the food in Fukushima has come a long way since the disaster. While commercial farming is now prohibited in areas that were deemed highly contaminated, a few months ago, rice from Fukushima passed radiation tests for the first time since the tsunami, and South Korea, who had banned imports from Fukushima, is now conducting visits to the power plant in consideration of reopening trade agreements with the region.

Fukushima is even trying to host Olympic baseball in 2020, should it be voted back into the Olympic lineup.

“We are still in the process of recovery from the disaster, and it would be a dream to have world-class athletes play here,” said Fukushima city official Hiroaki Kuwajima, according to Agence France-Presse.
Recovery efforts still have a long way to go, with many problems ahead, but the state of the Tohoku region is steadily improving. While things may never be the same in Fukushima, many of the people affected by the disaster are on a long, but promising, road to recovery.

--Mark Gallucci