AIZUWAKAMATSU, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – The eight municipalities hit particularly hard by the nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture need to set a vision for the future that includes their possible merger, Toshitsuna Watanabe, mayor of Okuma, said in a recent interview.
He added that the lack of agreement on temporary storage sites for radioactive soil is being compounded by the total absence of final disposal sites.
Two years after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami led to the triple-meltdown catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011, the entire population of Okuma remains evacuated. The town, which is inside the no-go zone designated by the central government, has relocated its administrative operations to the city of Aizuwakamatsu.
No one will be able to return home for at least six years due to the radioactive fallout. Watanabe said this is unavoidable as the annual dose exceeds 50 millisieverts in 95 percent of the town.
It has been reported, however, that the decommissioning of the crippled Tepco plant, areas of which are still too deadly to get near, will take decades.
Aiming to improve the evacuees’ living environment, Watanabe called for the building of “temporary towns” for evacuees to be accelerated, with younger generations living close to public housing used mainly by elderly people.
“It would be ideal for the eight municipalities of the prefecture’s Futaba district (including Okuma) to present a grand design for a future together,” Watanabe said, noting such a merger only seems natural, “although this is not realistic at present because the municipalities don’t see eye to eye.”
Watanabe voiced hope that the district can outline a unified vision for a community 20 to 30 years from now, even calling it the city of Futaba. “I hope this vision will attract people and give them (hope) so residents will be willing to return and help build the new town.”
Watanabe said the building temporary storage facilities for radiation-tainted soil “should be resolved as soon as possible” through joint efforts by all pertinent parties, as “many people are aware of the need for and importance of such facilities.”
But people fear any temporary site may become final if it is built before final sites are decided, Watanabe said, urging the central government to designate final sites within the next 20 years.
“Legislation should be passed to ensure the tainted soil is removed from the prefecture,” he said.
The mayor urged the central government and Tepco to take responsibility for decontamination and enable people to live in the town again. “Basically, the residents hope to return home,” he said.
It is important to build a new town where those who wish to return to Okuma find employment after research and personnel training facilities are set up in line with the establishment of the temporary storage facilities for tainted soil and the plant’s decommissioning, the mayor said.