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Report from Fukushima: lots of cleanup to do, not enough workers to do it

Report from Fukushima: lots of cleanup to do, not enough workers to do it thumbnail

The sudden arrival of a battered Toyota and its three occupants at our place last week underscores the problems Japanese construction steel producers face.

I’m back from a quick trip home. It’s in a once pristine corner of rural Fukushima, just outside the 20km exclusion zone around the crippled Daiichi nuclear plant. The back roads were busier this time, and more lights peeked from distant farm houses.

After the March 2011 disaster the local government urged all residents to evacuate, emptying the village overnight and leaving the roads to convoys of military trucks, police and support vehicles heading east over the mountains to the stricken plant.

The signs of normalcy this time reflected the fact that ours was among the first areas to have its evacuation order lifted by the Japanese government, effective April 1. The authorities insisted decontamination activities had reduced radiation to “safe” levels.

I’d watched those efforts last September when a small army of men in hard hats and boots — some locals but many lured from elsewhere in Japan — descended on our place. The theory ran that removing the top few inches of ground surface, plus lopping trees, trimming shrubs, steam-cleaning roofs, and hosing walls and paths all helped lessen the radiation.

So every day for about two weeks the cleanup crew scraped, dug, slashed, chopped, raked, sorted and stacked. Which areas got the treatment was determined by whether they were deemed directly related to daily life. The long drive was resurfaced because it’s used frequently; the vegetable patch was dismissed as recreational, not essential, and ignored. The foreman said such teams would need at least another five years to decontaminate every house in the prefecture’s worst-affected areas.

Driving to town Sunday I noticed too that the Watanabe’s largest paddy field was bristling with earth moving equipment. There–and on other plots along Route 288–more workers were overlaying thick rubber sheets on levelled paddy. The sites would host black bulk bags of toxic soil – ours included – to sit until the government works out a permanent solution for storing it.

For the government, the cleanup is trickling funds into still-struggling local communities. But the ripple effect of this (literally grassroots) fiscal stimulus is being felt elsewhere, especially in Tokyo.

For over a year, construction companies have grumbled about a chronic shortage of laborers, particularly those who position steel rebars and wire rods for concrete reinforcing. The builders mutter about better wages (and less arduous working conditions) in disaster zones such as Fukushima and northern Tohoku. A Nikkei survey in March found construction companies in Tokyo having to offer experienced rebar workers Yen 17,000/day ($166/d), about 10% more than a year ago. And still they struggle hiring workers.

The knock-on effect of delayed projects is forcing steelmakers to slow production and dealers to stagger sales. Japan Iron & Steel Federation data put end-February dealer stocks of rebars at 152,000 mt, compared with 139,000 a year ago.

And it will get worse. The three guys in the Toyota at our place were forestry workers come to survey what would be needed for Phase Two: the far more massive task of decontaminating our surrounding forest. The construction companies could be short workers for decades.

Platts



5 Comments on "Report from Fukushima: lots of cleanup to do, not enough workers to do it"

  1. BC on Mon, 28th Apr 2014 8:06 pm 

    those guys have got a death wish

  2. RICHARD RALPH ROEHL on Mon, 28th Apr 2014 8:07 pm 

    The ongoing radioactive contamination horror emanating from the Fukushima time-bomb nuke plants will NEVER be cleaned up.

    Fukushima is an extinction level event that will affect the northern hemisphere of the planet for countless centuries.

  3. Norm on Tue, 29th Apr 2014 6:01 am 

    There are solutions out there, for example off a hydrogen bomb, in the middle of the whole complex. You get a nice blue lagoon to run your speedboat around in. And all those clean-up workers can go home early.

    ‘Use only under adult supervision… light fuse and get away’.

    ‘Now its Miller Time’.

    Buncha namby pamby kumbaya humming liberals don’t want to get ‘er done, wanna piss and moan and whine and push nuclear dirt around the next 50 years.

    Of course… its pork barrel politics. Pity the site workers, who get the hind end of the deal. All the guys who profit from the clean-up money, are in a skyscraper in Tokyo, in Armani suits.

  4. Kenz300 on Tue, 29th Apr 2014 7:47 am 

    Nuclear energy is too costly and too dangerous…..

    The cost of the clean up will go on and on forever….

    They are still trying to contain the Chernobyl disaster.

    Forced to Flee Radiation, Fearful Japanese Villagers Are Reluctant to Return – NYTimes.com

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/28/world/asia/forced-to-flee-radiation-fearful-japanese-villagers-are-reluctant-to-return.html?emc=edit_th_20140428&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=21372621

    ———————

    Chernobyl: Capping a Catastrophe – NYTimes.com

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/27/science/chernobyl-capping-a-catastrophe.html?emc=edit_th_20140428&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=21372621

  5. SilentRunning on Tue, 29th Apr 2014 7:24 pm 

    >RICHARD RALPH ROEHL on Mon, 28th Apr 2014 8:07 pm

    >Fukushima is an extinction level event that will affect the northern hemisphere of the planet for countless centuries.

    It’s even worse than that Richard. Fukushima will re-explode with such ferocity that THE UNIVERSE will explode! All of space and time will be annihilated!! Everything and everybody will die in searing pain!

    Oh, and PO.com needs to change the graphic so as to show the entire universe exploding, rather than just irradiating the West Coast of the USA with immediately lethal levels of radiation. We all know that happened when 120 million Americans suddenly dropped dead 3 years ago.

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