Residents visit crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuke plant, doubt 40-year decommissioning timeline

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) organized an inspection tour of the utility's accident-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant for local residents and held round-table discussions on Dec. 7. The event was intended to help dispel uncertainty over the plant's decommissioning as the towns of Okuma and Futaba, which share the hosting of the facility, remain designated as difficult-to-return zones while evacuated residents elsewhere continue their slow return to their hometowns. But participant after participant voiced suspicion over the decommissioning project, questioning if it will really be completed as planned within 40 years. About 30 residents from the two towns who remain evacuated to nearby areas participated in the gathering. They initially inspected the facility, including the buildings that house the Nos. 1-3 nuclear reactors, from which TEPCO is seeking to remove melted nuclear fuel debris, and a massive array of tanks containing contamination-treated water. At the meeting later, some participants gave impassioned speeches that brushed aside as "wishful thinking" TEPCO's target for completion of decommissioning work in 30 to 40 years after the 2011 nuclear accident. Others came up with emotional appeals, saying they "would not like to leave the burden on children and grandchildren." Referring to swelling treated water, some residents urged TEPCO to "consider how to deal with it by giving top priority to the interests of residents." Decommissioning work has made headway at the Daiichi plant over the eight years since the nuclear disaster. Now about 96% of the entire plant area is safe enough for people to enter without wearing heavy protective gear such as full-face masks, creating an environment that allowed the residents' tour. But many participants expressed anxiety, saying they "felt unsure" and "were shocked at the sight of the collapsed buildings." 【Photo】 Local residents are briefed by an Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry official (2nd from right) in Tomioka on Dec. 7 after inspecting TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. (Translated by Kyodo News)