Four years on from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami – Efforts continue to decontaminate Fukushima

Published: 9 March 2015 14:38 CET

By Hler Gudjonsson

When the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant came into view, the Geiger counter started beeping, and as we drove closer the alarm became more and more intense. This route between Tomioka and Futaba was closed until September last year, and for a couple of kilometers, abandoned homes lined both sides of the road. Driveways were barricaded, lawns left to grow wild.

After the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami triggered the meltdown of the nuclear power plant, the surrounding area had to be evacuated. In December  2014, 121,585 evacuees were still not able to return home; the radioactivity in the immediate vicinity of the plant remained above acceptable levels. Further away, in places such as the Kawauchi District, farmers are planting their fields again, and many families have returned to their homes.

“Most of the people who have returned to our village are elderly people,” said Yoichi Ikari, decontamination officer at Kawauchi Public Office. “The young are not very willing to come back, but this is not because of the radiation in the village. It is simply that people have already settled in other places where they have good jobs and services, and where their children are going to school. There is little incentive for them to move back to Kawauchi.”

“My own family had to move out when the disaster happened four years ago, and I lived alone near  Kawauchi for one year.” Ikari works with a team of 10 people undertaking decontamination work in the village. Their main task is to clean up contaminated soil around houses, trim trees, and wash driveways and roofs to lower radiation levels in their immediate environment.

It is a daunting task, and cleaning around a single house can take two to three days for this big team. All topsoil is scraped off around the building, and transported to temporary storage sites. It is a very expensive procedure, but results in considerably lower environmental radiation levels.

Despite the radiation issues, life is gradually returning to normal in Kawauchi. The large storage sites for radioactive soil and the Geiger counters that everyone carries, are a constant reminder of the nuclear accident, but most people are rebuilding their lives. “Now at last, four years since the disaster, I have a stable life, and I am living with my family again, even if I have to commute from Iwaki to Kawauchi village,” Ikari said. “We have finally settled down and I have a permanent home to come back to.”