Current work and efforts to clean up the Fukushima Exclusion Zone

In the second part of our series about Fukushima, we are looking at current activity in the zone.

Significant efforts are being taken to clean up radioactive material that escaped the plant. This effort combines washing down buildings and scraping away topsoil. It has been hampered by the volume of material to be removed and the lack of adequate storage facilities. There is also a concern that washing surfaces will merely move the radioactive material without eliminating it.

In a Reuters story from August 2013, it was noted “many have given up hope of ever returning to live in the shadow of the Fukushima nuclear plant. A survey in June showed that a third of the former residents of Iitate, a lush village famed for its fresh produce before the disaster, never want to move back.

Half of those said they would prefer to be compensated enough to move elsewhere in Japan to farm.” In addition, despite being allowed to return home, some residents say the lack of an economy continues to make the area de facto unlivable.

Compensation payments to those who have been evacuated are stopped when they are allowed to return home, but as of August 2013 decontamination of the area has progressed more slowly than expected. There have also been revelations of additional leaks of radioactive water into the sea.

Walking around some parts is almost like a Japanese version of the liquidation of Chernobyl.

On 18 December 2011 representatives of 12 municipal governments near the plant were notified at a meeting at the city of Fukushima the three ministers in charge of handling the crises, of the government plan to redesign the classification of the no-entry zones around the Fukushima nuclear plant. From 1 April 2012 a three level system would be introduced, by the Japanese government:

  1. Red zone – no-entry zones, with an annual radiation exposure of 50 millisieverts or more. In these places, habitation would be prohibited.
  2. Yellow zone – with annual radiation exposures between 20-50 millisievert. Here, former residents could return, but with restrictions
  3. Green zone – areas with exposure of less than 20 millisievert per year. In these zones, the residents would be allowed to return to their houses

Decontamination efforts were planned in line with this newly designed order, to help the people to return to places where the radiation levels would be relatively low.

There are teams of people who are gradually covering the entire area, taking readings and marking the ground in areas of high contamination.

If a building is too radiated, or in a bad state of repair, then the building is simply demolished.

The checkpoints here are not very different to those in Chernobyl. As you can see in the above photos, there is just one person working here and there are no brick or permanent structures for the staff – another indication that the Japanese government do not see this situation continuing indefinitely.

Along with people moving back to the area, train services have also re-opened. These are used by workers mainly, as despite government reassurances, people do not want to move back here.

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