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The science of nuclear energy
The science of nuclear energy

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3.3.1 Fukushima – ongoing challenges

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Figure 10

Like any nuclear incident site, the problems at Fukushima will take many many years to solve.

Some of the challenges the Japanese government face are:

Daiichi site

The ice wall failed and radioactive material at the site is still being released through contaminated water, four years after the crisis.

From 2014 onward, efforts were made to treat the water and remove some of the radioactive isotopes within it using the filtering system mentioned in the news report you heard in the previous section. This has had some success. The long-term aim is to be able to safely release the water to the sea with a legal discharge concentration of activity. The presence of radioactive isotope of hydrogen-3 (tritium) is limiting how much water can be returned.

The problem is likely to continue as long as the source of the radioactivity is still present. There are however severe problems connected with the removal and containment of melted fuel and debris. The radiation is still so high that workers cannot safely be within reactors 1 to 3 for even short amounts of time so technological advances would be required to begin dismantling in the near future.

In all likelihood, it will take 30–40 years for all the cores to be dismantled and removed off-site and the flow of water may well remain a difficult issue until then.

Exclusion zone

In April 2014, the first group of the people that had been evacuated in 2011 were allowed to return home. This first group were 350 residents of the Miyakoji district in Tamura city, which lies inside the 20km-radius exclusion zone. In October 2014, residents of Kawachi village were also allowed home.

While this appears positive, many of those evacuated are too fearful to return and wary of the information they have been given by the government and by TEPCO.

Also those allowed to return are very much in the minority. In the Fukushima prefecture overall, 130,000 people are still displaced. It is very unclear when the remaining evacuees will be able to return home. The large scale decontamination continues but some areas are likely to have very high levels of radiation for many years to come.

In the next section, you will consider the health effects on the misplaced population of Fukushima.