Report

Impressions from a tour of Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and surrounding areas

Starting off our trip we traveled along one of the newly reopened roads through the exclusion zone. While the road has been decontaminated for traffic, the surrounding area has yet to be cleaned up enough for re-habitation.
Scenes of fields gone to seed, properties overgrown, rusting metal and peeling paint whizzed by as we traveled through the region. You got a strong sense of lives cut short, and the trauma that must exist for people who have lived in the same area for generations, unable to return.

Route 114 on the way to the Tepco Daiichi Nuclear power plant
Route 6 near Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear power plant

I was a bit nervous about the visit to the Nuclear Power Plant but I started to relax as we went through all the strict procedures for entering the site. The visit really helped me understand the scope of the work being done and what was involved. The scale of the buildings, the project and the clean-up is so much larger than what you can imagine by just reading headlines or news articles. The photos here really do not give it justice; it’s something you have to see for yourself.

Reactor 4
Reactor 1 and 2 in the background (seen from the high ground looking out to sea)

The place was a hive of activity with workers and vehicles going to and through all around us as we passed through in our tour bus. Seeing so many people working actively with purpose on such a huge scale was impressive. It was surprising to see so many staff walking around without protective clothing. It’s a testament to how much things have progressed that it’s now safe to walk around like that.
I had a very strange when feeling when we approached the reactors, it was a sunny warm day with blue skies, and the smell of the ocean, it was hard to imagine that this place was dangerous but for the increasing incessant beeping of the Geiger counters in the bus.

Reactor 2
Cover being built over Reactor 3 for the removal of Fuel rods from the spent fuel rod pool
Damage to Reactor 1
Radiation levels outside near the reactors

As we drove around the facilities we got to see the contaminated water treatment tanks as well as Plant near the oceans still bearing the scars of the Tsunami which had struck the coast. It was a sobering reminder of the power and ferocity that nature can let loose.
Most surfaces around the Power plant have been concreted over since the accident to prevent rainwater from seeping down into the reactors. We also got a look at some of the plumbing involved in the cryogenic wall which is keeping the reactors surrounded by a wall of ice deep underground.

The visit gave me a good sense that a lot was being done to decommission the reactors safely and that work has been progressing steadily despite the delays which have been talked about in the media. As we left we handed back our personal radiation dose meters. Despite having been driven close to the reactors and spending about an hour being taken around we had barely received any radiation.
Despite the obvious negative aspect of having to carry out the clean-up it was reassuring to see so many people employed in an area where jobs are scarce.
I hope that the clean-up will continue to proceed smoothly and I am looking forward to visiting again in the future to see how things have progressed.

A view of Tepco’s Daiichi Nuclear power plant from a nearby hill within the exclusion Zone

Visit to Ohkuma town, within the exclusion zone

After our visit to Daiichi we were taken into the exclusion zone nearby and guided around parts of Ohkuma town. Having experienced earthquakes in my home town of Christchurch I am familiar with living in a city containing evacuation zones where people can no longer return. Our journey into the exclusion zone really brought back and struck home things I have felt since the disasters. The quiet overgrown nature of Ohkuma town stood in contrast to how it should exist as a bustling hub near the coast.

Welcome sign for Ohykuma town
The overgrown state of the main street near the station in Ohkuma town
Another shot of the main street
Shops and houses untouched since the residents fled from after receiving evacuation orders

You could almost hear the echoes of the lives people lived there before having to evacuate. The sign at the train station declared

“Ohkuma town which is kind to the people
Nuclear energy which is kind to the earth”

JR Ohno Station and the sign

This sign really struck home how much these towns had committed themselves to the presence of a nuclear power plant in their backyard and the toll it eventually took on them.
Walking around those streets was a deeply unsettling experience. It reminded me so much of the hurt that communities in Christchurch have also felt after having to abandon their homes.
Since the earthquake there have been foreigners who have entered these areas illegally to try and take photos to support sensationalist narratives and increase social media followers. I encourage people not to do such horrible things in places which should be respected.
I really hope the decontamination work continues and people are able to eventually return to the lives that have been quietly awaiting their return.

A visit to the tsunami struck coast

In Odaka we saw for ourselves the aftermath of the tsunami and clean up. A loan broken and battered house standing in kilometer after kilometer of overgrown fields near the coast stood as a monument to those that had tried to live in this devastated region.

A lone Tsunami struck house near the coast
Fields gone to seed after the Tsunami and earthquake

Not far from the house there was a graveyard. The tombstones had been scattered throughout the area and returned by the local self defense force as they were found.
No longer can you pick out a single plot for the jumble of broken stones forming a cairn to the ancestors of the people who once lived here. Where possible, remains have been moved to a new gravesite on a hill far away, safe from the threat of a future tsunami.
It’s horrible to think that even the long dead were affected by this tragedy.

We then visited the nearby primary school. Just the sight of the local primary school turned my stomach until I heard from our guide that all the children had been able to evacuate in time.
The school buildings are still marked with the high tide mark of the tsunami itself. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for those children and teachers trying to escape in time. It was a chilling experience to look upon this school.

You can see that the Tsunami reached up to the upmost windows of the school

This was the first time I was able to conceptualize how high that wall of water had been, and how terrifying it must have been to see it coming. The schools clock tower clock is still fixed at the time the tsunami struck. It remains as a stark reminder of the terror that befell the people in this region.

School clock fixed at the time the Tsunami struck

We were then taken to a nearby shrine perched atop a lone hill near the coast – 7 years on you could still feel the echoes of that day. Here locals hurriedly evacuated up the stone steps to safety, the shrine itself still lies in ruin from the impact of the initial earthquake.

Tori gate at the bottom of the hill
Path to the top

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The shrine in ruin
A reminder of the importance of this place
The roof of the shrine, fallen to the earth
A jumble of derbies from the shrine
A small replica shrine at the base of the hill
Preparing to leave

Many of the sights I saw on this tour resonated deeply with me, having experienced the trauma of devastating earthquakes and the struggle to rebuild first hand. I felt a deep connection with the people that used to live in these places and have been slowly returning.
It reminds me how important it is to support the return of the families who once lived here and to help them secure a new bright future.

Map showing various tourist spots and festivals in Namie town
New shops and opened up in Namie town

I was encouraged by how much work and effort has been put into these areas. I think it’s really important for people from overseas to visit and see the progress first hand as well as to contribute to these communities. I sincerely hope more people visit and that the people who have been brave enough to return are able to realize their dream of a revitalized region.

(The above tour took place on November 17, 2017)