Chairman Tanaka’s Address on the Fifth Anniversary of the Accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station
11 March 2016
Today is the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Like that day, today is also a Friday. When I close my eyes, while remembering the victims, I see in my mind’s eye various scenes from the time of the disaster. It pains me greatly to think that even now, five years later, more than 170,000 people are still living as evacuees.
When I think of the damage caused by that earthquake, my thoughts go back to the scene of cherry blossoms and spring greenery in the mountains where I played as a boy. In that season the colors of the mountains and villages of Aizu change from day to day as the snows melt and the cherry blossoms that herald the arrival of spring lift our spirits. That is because Aizu is my home.
The region of Hamadori, some distance from Aizu, is also much loved for its cherry blossoms. The most famous of all are the blossoms of some two thousand Yoshino cherry trees in Yonomori in Tomioka-machi. The lines of trees on the right and left form what is known as the “cherry tree tunnel.” Until the accident at Fukushima, a cherry blossom festival was held there in April every year. At night the trees were illuminated and stalls were set up. Many people from all over Japan came to the festival.
Since the accident, the cherry trees have continued to blossom every year, but as television reports have highlighted, the place is deserted. Because of the continued presence of radioactive materials, the cherry tree tunnel has been designated as a “difficult to return zone.”
Last year, when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom in Tomioka-machi, residents went by bus to view the cherry tree tunnel in Yonomori. The bus passed through the tunnel but the passengers did not get off due to fears of radiation exposure. I hear that they are planning to make the same bus trip this year.
The cherry blossoms and their visitors highlight the problem and five years after the accident, it is essential that we have a clear grasp of the current situation in the affected areas. In October last year, together with Mr. Mochimaru, the Fukushima Regional Administrator, and Mr. Kinjo, Director of Office for Accident Measures of the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Station , from whom you have just heard, I visited the twelve municipalities whose residents were ordered to evacuate and the cities of Iwaki and Date.
During these visits, we explained the progress of the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and the actions taken by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). We also conducted detailed exchange of opinions with the representatives of each municipality about the problems residents face in returning. The views expressed by these representatives were earnest and heartfelt.
In districts where people are beginning to return, we heard that residents had very specific concerns about how they are going to live in an environment where the radiation dose is higher than before. We also understood that they are not only worried about the radiation itself, but are also very concerned about work, medical care, education, and the regeneration of their communities.
How should we deal with these problems? There are many things we can do.
First of all, to ensure that the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station does not cause residents any more anxiety than it has done already, we need to make every effort to continue with the decommissioning work as rapidly as possible. We also need to monitor the radiation dose of each resident and continuously think of ways of taking more effective actions, such as the additional decontamination of the living environment.
We must make every effort to draw up radiation dose maps, which will form the basis of lifting evacuation orders. Judging from the detailed radiation maps of the center of Futaba-machi and the Tomioka-machi and Yonomori district, where we conducted experimental measuring at the end of last year, and even in the “difficult to return zones” where decontamination has not yet started, it is clear that the radiation dose has decreased considerably.
Steady efforts such as these will be necessary so that people can once again enjoy the cherry blossom viewing in Yonomori. While cooperating closely with the municipalities that are implementing the rehabilitation plans, we in the NRA will advance together with these communities.
Looking back, when the NRA and NRA Secretariat were first established, we sometimes felt so overwhelmed by the weight of our responsibility that we could not see ahead clearly. We have occasionally been subjected to severe criticism, but the strong pledge to ensure that an accident like the one in Fukushima never happens again has kept me going from the time of my appointment until today.
Standing before you here again and seeing your faces, I can assure you that I still feel exactly the same way. I also know that all four Commissioners of the NRA and everyone in the NRA Secretariat are doing their respective jobs with tenacity of purpose and with strong aspirations.
When I attend international conferences these days, people sometimes say to me: “The NRA and NRA Secretariat are amazing.” When I ask them what they mean by this, they say, “After that world-shaking accident, we were watching Japan to see what would happen. We were amazed that you were able to establish an organization, formulate standards and even conduct licensing reviews in such a short time.”
As a citizen of Japan, which caused so much trouble for the international community, such comments give me complicated feelings, but I think every member of the NRA should feel quietly proud at this frank assessment of the international community that we have performed our duties well.
Recently I have sometimes thought that we have at last found our way out of the chaotic situation following the accident, but I must also remain aware that there are very many new challenges ahead of us. Last year Units 1 and 2 at Sendai Nuclear Power Station were restarted and this year Unit 3 at Takahama Nuclear Power Station was brought back online. Operations at Takahama Unit 3 were suspended yesterday, but as the people responsible for regulation our duties remain the same: to conduct strict reviews to ensure the safety of all the nuclear power stations in Japan.
The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently pointed out that inspection becomes more important when nuclear power stations enter the operational stage. Ensuring safety during operations is an extremely important task. While reviewing the inspection system we have used up to the present, we must strengthen our efforts towards enhancing the NRA Secretariat’s inspection capabilities.
When you close your eyes, do you also see cherry trees in full bloom? And are they not the cherry blossoms of your hometown?
I hear that some of the people who evacuated far away from Tomioka-machi will again return to their hometown to view the cherry blossoms in Yonomori in April this year. I share with all of you the strong wish that, as soon as possible, they will no longer have to view the cherry tree tunnel from behind the windows of a bus. On this day of March 11, let us all consider once more what we can do to bring this about and what we ought to do to ensure that people never again have to witness such a sad spectacle.
Five years after the accident, we have assembled as many people as possible here today so that we can think together about how we feel about this issue and what we must do going forward.
The responsibilities of the NRA and the NRA Secretariat are heavy and severe, but proudly and without flinching, we hereby pledge to rise to the challenge together with all of you.
Thank you for your attention.