What is happening “NOW” in Fukushima10 years after the disaster?

(English ver.) 2022-01-31

JR Futaba Station and adjacent “Memorial for the Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Power Disaster”
Shuttle bus running between the station and the “Futaba Town Industrial Exchange Center”
(Picture taken in March 2021)

10 years have now passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Various efforts are being made in the disaster-stricken areas. A number of Special Contents articles have been published focusing on the reconstruction of Fukushima which was devastated by the accident at the nuclear power station as a result of the earthquake. Here’s what’s happening “NOW” in Fukushima as 10 years have passed since the disaster.

Reconstruction of Fukushima in progress, both on-site and off-site

The governmental structure in charge of the reconstruction of Fukushima involves several ministries and agencies, and covers activities both on-site and off-site.

On-site efforts focus on the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (NPS) where the accident happened. Off-site activities cover three fields, namely the review of areas under evacuation orders, decontamination and securing interim storage facilities for radioactive waste, and recovery/reconstruction of the disaster-stricken areas. Efforts on-site and those off-site, which are closely connected, must advance in tandem. This article focuses on efforts being made off-site.

Evacuation orders gradually lifted, air dose rate reduced by 80%

Let us first look at the areas in which evacuation orders were imposed.

It was in March 2011 that the government imposed “evacuation or indoor sheltering orders” in some parts of Fukushima Prefecture. After the “cold shutdown status” of Fukushima Daiichi NPS was confirmed in December 2011, the review of the areas under evacuation orders was completed by August, 2013 in preparation for the future lifting of such orders.

In line with the progress of decontamination and recovery of infrastructure, evacuation orders have been gradually lifted since 2014. In March 2020, evacuation orders had been lifted in all areas except for the “Restricted area.” In the same month, evacuation orders in areas surrounding stations on the JR Joban Line were also lifted for the first time within the “Restricted area.”

Classification of areas under evacuation orders as of August, 2013
Restricted area
(Partly lifted by 2021)
Areas where habitation is restricted
(Completely lifted by 2021)
Areas where preparations were made for lifting evacuation orders
Completely lifted by 2021)
Areas with annual accumulated radiation dosage exceeding 50 mSv in 2011 Areas with a danger of annual accumulated radiation dosage exceeding 20 mSv from 2011 Areas with confirmation in 2011 that annual accumulated radiation dosage would never exceed 20 mSv
Off-limits in principle, overnight stay banned
*Business activities partly allowed from June 19, 2015
Entry allowed, business activities partly allowed, overnight stay banned in principle Entry allowed, business activities allowed, overnight stay banned in principle

Furthermore, in 6 municipalities within the Restricted area, “Specified Reconstruction and Revitalization Base Areas” have been designated (blue areas on the above right map), where maintenance work is underway which will allow the original residents to re-inhabit the areas. As widely reported on TV, the JR Joban Line, which became partially out of service due to the nuclear accident, resumed full operation in March 2020. In Futaba Town, Futaba Station on the JR Joban Line and some areas surrounding the station are designated as “Specified Reconstruction and Revitalization Base Areas”, where environmental maintenance is in progress toward the lifting of evacuation orders, expected in the spring of 2022.

The Joban Line in full operation (picture taken in March 2020)

The total number of evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture due to the Great East Japan Earthquake was approximately 36,000 as of March 2021, after it had reached a peak of 165,000 in May 2012. The number of evacuees only from the areas under evacuation orders was 22,000 as of March 2021, after reaching a peak of 81,000 in August 2013.

Let us look at the current situations of these areas numerically. The right map indicates the air dose rates measured in 2020 at a height of 1 meter above the ground within 80 km of the Fukushima Daiichi NPS. The air dose rate is a rate of radiation emitted by radioactive materials per hour in the air. The average dose decreased by 80% compared with the data in the left map obtained in November 2011.

Maintenance of the local economy and industrial bases in progress, toward revitalization

Maintenance of the infrastructure and industrial bases, such as the resumption of the JR Joban Line, is underway, where evacuation orders were once in place.

In October 2020, the “Futaba Town Industrial Exchange Center” was inaugurated in Futaba Town, where evacuation orders were still in effect. The center will not only serve as an industrial base for businesses, but also sell local products and fine food, which will contribute to the revitalization of the local economy. The restoration of local economic bases is making steady progress.

Furthermore, a number of bases in the fishing industry have started operation. Ukedo Fishing Port in Namie Town resumed operation in April 2020, and “Seaside Station Matsukawaura” was inaugurated in October 2020 to sell local marine products.

Fish markets resumed at Ukedo Fishing Port after 9 years of closure

Key fields expanded toward creation of new industries in Fukushima

Regarding the areas under evacuation orders, a committee named the “Experts’ Committee for the Future of 12 Municipalities in Fukushima” held discussions and compiled opinions for 22 major efforts to be made in the following 5 fields:
1) Revitalization and creation of industries and livelihoods
2) Health, medical service and nursing care that are indispensable for living
3) Human resources development for the future of communities
4) Cross-area infrastructure and community development, cross-area collaboration
5) Promotion of tourism, measures against incorrect rumors, activities and memorials to prevent people from forgetting about the disaster, promotion of culture and sports.

Regarding 1) Revitalization and creation of industry and people’s livelihoods, the “Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework” has been organized, aiming to create new industrial bases, mainly in the Hama-dori (coastal) area.

In 2019, the Reconstruction Agency, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and Fukushima Prefecture compiled a report titled the “Blueprint for Industrial Development based on the Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework”. In May 2020, Fukushima Prefecture revised its “Promotion Plans for Key Fields” (which included four key fields) with this blueprint taken into account. It underscored the following three pillars for its efforts:
1) Placing Hama-dori and other areas as areas where “all sorts of ambitious projects” can start
2) “Local enterprises playing the leading role”
3) “Human resources development to support the framework”
It added two new key fields, namely “Medical Service” and “Aerospace” to the original four key fields, which were “Decommissioning”, “Robots/Drones”, “Energy/Environment/Recycling” and “Agriculture, Forestry and fisheries.”

Based on this framework, the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (FH2R) has been inaugurated in Namie Town, where demonstration projects for production of carbon-free hydrogen utilizing renewable energy are underway.

Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (FH2R)
Picture provided by Toshiba Energy Systems & Solutions Corporation

Furthermore, various technologies and industries that support the next generation are being incubated in Fukushima. These include the research and development for robots and drones being conducted in Minamisoma City.

As described above, activities toward the reconstruction of Fukushima are progressing steadily.

Division in charge

About the article

Fukushima Public Relations Strategy and Reputational Management Office, Fukushima Reconstruction Promotion Group, Minister's Secretariat, METI

About Special Contents

Research and Public Relations Office, Policy Planning and Coordination Division, Commissionerʼs Secretariat, ANRE

The original Japanese text of this article; Click here