Two years and three months after the disaster and, as usual on the 11th of every month, the TV and newspapers show the police out on their monthly search of the shore and tell stories of the survivors.
What good news was there this last month? First and foremost, the population's gone up for the first time in three years. The population of Fukushima prefecture on May 1st was 1,950,341 people which was 746 more than the previous month, due to more people moving in (or moving back?) than moving away.
The other big news is that Futaba county, the last area in the old exclusion zone, was re-organised. What this means is that the blanket ban over a 20 km radius of Fukushima Daiichi has been replaced with a different system. The 'difficult to return zone' (kikan konnan kuiki 帰還困難区域）with radiation levels over 50 mSv/year runs in a narrow north-west band but other areas have been opened up and are more accessible.
As I've mentioned in this blog before, a UNSCEAR report has concluded that there will be no increase in cancers due to the accident. It's based on two years' data and is more realistic than the 'worst case scenario' report produced by WHO a while ago. While on the topic of health, three more thyroid cancers have been discovered during the screening of all under-18 year olds, bringing the total to 12 although the experts maintain it is too soon for them to be caused by the accident.
Press were allowed into Fukushima Daiichi a few days ago. The new building over Unit 4 (which houses spent fuel rods and was very rickety) is looking good. Cranes will be put in next and work to remove the fuel will begin towards the end of this year, forecast to be completed by mid 2015.
Plans for removing fuel from Units 1 and 2 have also been brought forward: to be completed by 2022 - although decommissioning is still going to take 30 to 40 years. (According to our local paper, until the 62nd Year of Heisei, or 2050. Do they think the Emperor's going to live that long?)
Meanwhile, the plant at Fukushima Daini (Number 2 Plant, about 12 km south of Fukushima Daiichi) has been repaired. It too was inundated by the tsunami but kept its power supply going. It's sparkly clean and new power sources have been set up on higher ground. Ready to go, in fact. That's odd. The governor of Fukushima has declared there'll be no more nuclear power here and today presented Prime Minister Abe with a letter saying just that. I wonder how this will pan out?
There was a meeting in Koriyama at the weekend about the 'new communities' for the evacuees attended by the affected areas and the authorities that have offered to host them. Budgets have been worked out and the government will foot most of the bill. Three to four thousand new houses promised by 2015. The evacuees welcome the funding but what took so long?
Reading the papers another thing that strikes you is the number of court cases for compensation. Relatives of those who died, local governments, utility companies, even the whole county of Namie (10,000 people) are suing for compensation. Most are settled out of court through the office set up specifically to handle compensation but some go on to court. In the US the nuclear power plant in San Onofre, California is to close. It seems to be a complicated case but Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is being sued as it produced the steam generation system which has been giving trouble. Who would risk investing in nuclear? It's so expensive when something goes wrong.
June 11th was also something of a milestone for me personally. I'm no longer a director of the box company I used to own, just an 'advisor'. I'll miss the daily drive out of town but I'm happy to leave the management of the company in good hands.