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Evacuation order lifted for all of Kawauchi village

14 June 2016

The government lifted at midnight on June 13 its evacuation order for two districts in Kawauchi, a Fukushima Prefecture village near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, leaving the village as a whole no longer subject to evacuation five years and three-plus months after the 2011 nuclear accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant.

Covered by the move were the Ogi and Kainosaka districts, both designated as zones preparing for the lifting of the evacuation order. Previous to becoming such preparatory areas, the two districts were residency-restricted zones. It was the first time that the evacuation order was removed in districts where the status of evacuation had been eased from residency-restricted zones. Advocating "a breakaway from a disaster area," Kawauchi is seeking to step up efforts to promote the permanent return of residents to their homes, dispel harmful rumors and take other measures for the village’s rebirth.

The village population was 2,749 comprising 1,257 households as of June 1, of which the two districts had 51 people and 19 households.

In September 2011, six months after the nuclear disaster, Kawauchi had an emergency evacuation preparation zone eliminated under the government’s old zoning system. In January the following year, the village declared that it would promote residents’ return home, the first such move among Fukushima municipalities where evacuation areas were in place.

The village has come up with the slogan "Kaeru Kawauchi" (a play on homonyms, with "kaeru" meaning both "return" and "frogs") punning on the wishes to see the permanent return of residents and on the forest green tree frog species, a symbol of the village. Kawauchi has thus been actively pushing ahead with measures for post-disaster rehabilitation after ending evacuation.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

17 June 2016

All Fukushima school meals clear radiocesium safety limit

Samples of all 2,669 school meals served for lunch in Fukushima Prefecture in fiscal 2015 cleared the highest allowable level of 100 becquerels per kilogram for radioactive cesium specified by the Food Sanitation Act, according to the results of monitoring by the prefecture’s education board. Monitored were lunches at elementary, junior and high schools in 26 municipalities and at 16 such prefectural schools. It was the fourth straight year that all school lunch samples cleared the safety limit in the monitoring project undertaken in the wake of the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The latest outcome was reported at a meeting on the promotion of Fukushima food safety held in Fukushima city on June 16.

In fiscal 2015 through last March, radiocesium was detected in two samples, but both were far below the safety standard. One sample had a reading of 1.01 Bq/kg in Iwaki city last October and the other showed 1.14 Bq/kg in Yanaizu town last January. The number of lunch samples tested in the past four years since fiscal 2012 totaled 9,970, with a maximum measurement among them at 2.53 Bq/kg.

"We have been able to confirm the safety of school meals. We would like to continue monitoring in municipalities and at schools that desire testing," said an official in charge of health education at the prefectural government’s office of education.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

17 June 2016

TEPCO head blamed for banning use of "meltdown": panel report

The president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) at the time of the 2011 nuclear accident instructed TEPCO officials not to use the term "core meltdown" in describing the status of its Fukushima Daiichi plant crippled by a devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami, according to a report by a third-party exploratory committee commissioned by the utility.

The panel submitted the report to TEPCO on June 16 acknowledging that the instruction was issued by then President Masataka Shimizu. At that time, TEPCO officials would only say core nuclear reactor parts had been damaged when, in reality, nuclear fuel was melting and falling to the bottom of the reactors. The report said it can be presumed that TEPCO continued such explanations in the early days of the accident due to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The disclosure of top management involvement in playing down the nuclear crisis shows the lack of a sense of risk control and a cover-up mindset, raising questions about corporate governance.

According to the report, Shimizu had a public relations official hand a memo to Sakae Muto, then vice president, who was present at a press conference on the night of March 14, 2011, three days after the accident. The memo had words such as "core meltdown' written down and a TEPCO staffer hissed into Muto’s ear an instruction not to use the term saying this was at the direction of the Prime Minister’s Office.

At the time of the accident, the proportion of damaged core parts of the Nos. 1-3 reactors at the nuclear complex exceeded 5% of the total from March 14 to 15, a level equivalent to a meltdown under the company's manual. A TEPCO emergency response team reported the damage ratio to the head office and others concerned, but did not describe it as a core meltdown.

Regarding this response, the committee termed the reference to the damage ratio alone insufficient in terms of communication to relevant municipal authorities and residents, and concluded that "labeling the accident as being tantamount to a core meltdown would have been more reasonable."

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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