12 Nov 2011

Fukushima families in limbo as media visit plant

Chief Correspondent

On the day journalists are taken to the Fukushima nuclear plant, devastated by March’s tsunami and earthquake, Alex Thomson meets some of the families evacuated to Tokyo in the wake of the disaster.

It has taken months of cajoling, asking, suggesting, demanding – but it has finally happened.

With just four places of 30 or so assigned to foreign media, the outside world has at last seen inside the biggest nuclear accident since Chernobyl, 25 years ago.

Journalists were taken through the J-Village used to house 3,000 or so workers, branded as heroes by a recent US report into the handling of the disaster. The ace used to be the training camp for the Japanese national football team.

Piles of their contaminated protective clothing lie bagged up, but nobody knows what to do with them.

Journalists were taken close to the three melted-down reactors which exploded and caused the plant’s cooling system to malfunction.

They were wearing protective clothing, travelling by coach, passing by the stricken reactors in a tour lasting about one hour, after which they were screened for contamination.

Also there, the minister responsible for the vast 30 year clean-up operation.

Check out the Channel 4 News interactive map, charting our return to the tsunami zone

Calming fears

All of this is designed by both the government and the plant owners Tepco to calm radiation fears, heightened again just last week by the discovery of spontaneous fission in one of the supposedly cooled reactors.

Further, both want – need – to reassure the world that they will meet their deadline to complete a cold shutdown of Fukushima-Daiichi by the end of the year.

As the minister Goshi Hosono put it today, speaking at the stricken plant: “I hope we together can accomplish a cold shutdown by year’s end.

“Not only the people of Fukushima but also the whole Japan and even further, the whole world is looking at us to see whether we can meet the goal or not, so let’s put together all our efforts to make it happen.”

‘I want to go back’

That, incredibly, might be said to be the easy bit. Across the northern suburbs of Tokyo, thousands evacuated from around the plant wait in limbo.

Sachiko Takai told us: “I’ve heard I won’t be able to go home for 20 years and it’ll take 30 years to decontaminate the plant. I want to go back as soon as possible, but I’m a mum with teenage children – I have to look after their health.”

All the while class actions, group lawsuits and effectively the Japanese taxpayer picking up a tab that could end up the wrong side of £20bn.

While that continues, more questions will be asked of Tepco and the government. Like why they built a nuclear power plant capable of dealing with a tsunami up to about 18 feet.

At 2.46pm on Friday 11 March this year, seven tsunamis hit the plant after a violent, sustained earthquake. The highest was nearly fifty feet.

After which, the plant blew up.