Fukushima: Life on the edge of a disaster area

Fukushima: Life on the edge of a disaster area

Area of ​​the power plant was still a disaster area for decades
Five years after the Fukushima disaster, the area of ​​the former nuclear power plant is still a dangerous disaster area and workers are only at the beginning of the complex and risky task of locating the fuel, reports the science magazine. While some evacuees have already returned to their homes, they will live adjacent to a contaminated disaster zone for decades.

Workers are making progress in cleaning up the contaminated land around the Fukushima reactor and some evacuees would like to return to their sealed homes. However, the cleanup is far from over and radiation is still being released. The question for returnees is which radiation exposure is harmful. They also have to get used to living adjacent to a radiation-affected disaster area, since the location of the molten fuel has only just begun and it remains to be found out how it can be removed.

150,000 people evacuated
After a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a 40-meter-high tsunami struck northeast Japan on March 11, 2011, several reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant melted and massive amounts of radioactivity were released. 150,000 people were evacuated from within a 20 kilometer radius of the nuclear power plant and from areas that were also badly affected by the radioactive fallout. "Now the nuclear refugees are faced with a dilemma: how much radiation is safe in their former homes?" Says the scientific journal "Science".

Nine million cubic meters of contaminated soil removed
Since the disaster, the authorities have made enormous efforts to reduce the external radiation exposure to 0.23 microsieverts per hour in the contaminated areas. Around 9 million cubic meters of contaminated soil were removed, buildings and streets were flushed, reports Science. In September of last year, the government finally started to partially or completely remove the evacuation for seven municipalities within 20 kilometers of the facility. In view of the progress of the work, the authorities assume that a total of 70 percent of the evacuees can return home by spring 2017.

Returnees fear for their safety
Some evacuees are delighted to return to their old home. However, many have doubts about safety and claim that the government is forcing them to go home even though the radiation levels are still too high. The Mayor of the Minamisoma community, Katsunobu Sakurai, explains in the "Science" article that it is difficult for many people to "make the decision to return without knowing what this radiation means and what is safe." Some civic groups complain that the national government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO; owner of the Fukushima facility) are pursuing plans to end compensation payments for those who choose not to return home.

Polluted water is a growing problem
Just recently, TEPCO's operations manager Akira Ono had told the press that the conditions in the plant were “really stable” and that radioactive and heat from the nuclear fuel had decreased significantly in the past five years. But locating the fuel is just beginning. According to Ono, the biggest challenge currently remains contaminated water. This is because cooling water is continuously poured over the melted cores of units 1, 2 and 3 in order to prevent the fuel from overheating and melting again. This water runs into the basement of the building, where it mixes with the groundwater. In order to reduce the amount of contaminated water that subsequently seeps into the ocean, this is stored in 10-meter-high steel tanks, which are located at almost every corner of the site and contain around 750,000 tons of water. The government is currently testing experimental water purification techniques. Ono emphasizes that a solution is urgently needed because the capacity to collect the water remains limited. As the exposure to external radiation gradually decreases, the radioactive contamination of the groundwater is therefore a growing problem. (Fp)

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