FUKUSHIMA – Cleanup work kicked off Monday to make radiation-tainted Futaba, one of the towns hosting the meltdown-hit Fukushima No. 1 power plant, habitable again by around spring 2022 under a government-led recovery project.
Cleanup and demolition crews are trying to decontaminate the town, which was tainted with fallout from the plant’s triple core meltdown after the March 2011 mega-quake and tsunami. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., is shouldering the cost.
The work at Futaba marks the beginning of a series of government-led projects to make areas designated as special reconstruction zones livable again, with an emphasis on new infrastructure.
About 96 percent of Futaba has been designated as “difficult to return to” zone, and an evacuation advisory is still in place for the entire town, which hosts the stricken power plant with neighboring Okuma.
The cleanup will be concentrated in the special reconstruction zone, which covers 555 hectares accounting for 11 percent of Futaba.
“The reconstruction efforts will help motivate residents to return to their homes,” Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa told officials involved in the project.
“We want you to carry out the work while thinking about the feelings of the citizens awaiting the day they can return,” he said.
Overseen by the Environment Ministry, the first steps will involve removing the top layer of soil in the area near Futaba Station, trimming grass along the streets, and dismantling nearly 60 houses and public facilities.
Along with Futaba, seven municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture have been designated as zones that are difficult to return to.
The government is aiming to lift the evacuation advisory near Futaba station by the end of March 2020, when the Joban Line plans to fully resume operation.
Some evacuees from Futaba had mixed emotions about the start of the work.
A 69-year-old woman residing in a temporary shelter in Iwaki said that her house is in the special reconstruction zone but that she had given up hope of returning because she evacuated over six years ago.
“If this was two or three years after the disaster, I might have a choice to return. But my house became run-down and I got old. Realistically speaking, I don’t think I can live there now,” she said.
On the other hand, Masamichi Matsumoto, who also fled to Iwaki, welcomed the project, saying, “I’m glad that a step has been taken to rebuild the town for the future.”
He said it is unlikely many citizens will return, partly because a nearby facility will be storing contaminated soil collected from the cleanup work.
“But I hope that Futaba will become a town where people can visit some day,” Matsumoto, 54, added.