The base for the cleanup of the Fukushima nuclear plant that suffered core meltdowns in 2011 will be returned by March to its original use: the training camp for the Japanese national soccer team.
In a symbolic step in the struggle to contain one of the worst nuclear disasters in history, Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. will return the J-Village facility — about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the crippled No. 1 plant and just 7 km from the current exclusion zone — to the prefectural government during the current fiscal year, company spokesman Tatsuhiro Yamagishi said Tuesday.
It’s also a boon for soccer players, who will use the complex as their training base for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The utility used the soccer facility as a make-shift base for tasks from corporate communications to measuring the radiation exposure of employees. It even built temporary dormitories there.
The complex, opened in 1997 and shut down after the March 2011 meltdown, will be fully reopened for soccer players in April 2019. It boasts 11 soccer pitches, a 1,200 sq.-meter gymnasium and a four-lane pool.
The handover is a shot in the arm for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has vowed the nuclear disaster will not impede the nation’s plans to host the 2020 Games. In September, the premier said the situation at Fukushima is “under control” and that there doesn’t need to be a review of measures to prevent contamination.
“This promised handover of J-village would serve as a symbol of progress,” Daniel Aldrich, professor and director of the security and resilience studies program at Northeastern University in Boston, said by email.
“Tepco clearly hopes that this will show the nation that it is on track in the Fukushima accident clean up process,” Aldrich said. “However, a number of obstacles, including expanding costs for decommissioning, a lack of physical control over the contaminated groundwater at the site, and complaints about the decontamination process nearby will no doubt hinder the process.”
As Tepco begins in coming years to remove melted fuel at Fukushima, cleanup costs may rise to several hundred billion yen annually from the current ¥80 billion ($763 million), Japan’s industry ministry said in October. About 300 metric tons of water — partly from the nearby hills — flow into the reactor building daily, mixing with melted fuel and becoming contaminated, according to the company.