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

By Hler Gudjonsson

When the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant came into our field of vision, 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 and lawns had been 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 had still not been able to return to Fukushima. The radioactivity in the immediate vicinity of the plant remains above acceptable levels, but further away, such as in Kawauchi District, farmers are planting their fields again, and families are able to go back to their houses.

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Mr. Yoichi Ikari, Decontamination Section Officer,
Public Office Kawauchi Village, shows a Geiger counter to his visitors. Inhabitants of the area are recommended to carry these devices at all times in order to be able to monitor their accumulated exposure to radiation.
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“Most of the people who have returned to our village are elderly people. The young are not very willing to come back,” says Mr. Yoichi Ikari, decontamination officer at Kawauchi Public Office, “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,” says Mr. Ikari, who works with a team of 10 people tasked with decontamination work in the village. Their main task is to clean up contaminated soil around people’s houses, trim trees, and wash driveways and roofs to lower radiation levels in their immediate environment.

It is a daunting task, and cleaning the surroundings of one single house takes 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 it results in considerably lower radiation levels around people’s homes.

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 is recommended to carry are a constant reminder of the nuclear accident, but most people have rebuilt a stable existence. “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,” says Mr. Ikari. “We have finally settled down and I have a permanent home to come back to.”