Five years on, tsunami debris on ocean floor near Fukushima nuclear plant remains untouched

The Fisheries Agency will continue to subsidize efforts by Fukushima Prefecture to remove tsunami-related debris from the ocean floor. The newest tranche of cash will be used to lift vehicles, concrete blocks and smashed buildings from the seabed within 20 km of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. However, there is no agreement yet on where to dump it. Fukushima fishermen are asking authorities to demarcate a trial fishing zone up to 10 km from the plant. This means removal of the debris is a pressing matter. Waters within a 20-km radius from the plant were designated a no-go zone in April 2011, but restrictions were scaled back in stages and were lifted in May 2013. In fiscal 2011, the Fukushima Prefectural government began sweeping debris from the ocean floor outside the 20 km zone. That year, 33,430 tons were removed, followed by 2,241 tons in fiscal 2012, 664 tons in fiscal 2013, and 213 tons in fiscal 2014. The Fisheries Agency has subsidized the operation to the tune of about ¥4.8 billion up to fiscal 2014. But undersea debris within 20 km of the plant remains untouched, due partly to the question of who should remove it. Given the local fishermen’s call to expand the trial fishing zone closer to the plant, the agency plans to speed up the removal of debris by giving the prefecture subsidies for it. The prefectural government will now negotiate with municipalities over where to dump the debris, and that process may take time, according to prefectural officials. Ports near the nuclear plant, including those of Tomioka and Ukedo, are still undergoing post-tsunami repairs. The next candidates are Manogawa port, north of the plant, and Hisanohama port to the south, but their residents do not want potentially radioactive debris dumped in their backyards. “Even if we pull debris out of the water, it’s not easy to find a place for it,” a prefectural official said. The official urged the central government to weigh in on where to put the debris. Meanwhile, Fukushima fishermen hope to expand the trial fishing zone as early as next month. An underwater survey conducted by the prefecture in 2013 confirmed that several houses, cars and tetrapods are lying on the ocean floor. The survey was unable to determine the total amount of debris within the 20 km area. “Unless the debris is removed, fishing nets may be caught and the risk of accidents will rise,” said an official of the Soma-Futaba Fisheries Cooperative. “We want the debris removed soon.”