Officials in Iwaki admit that they’re lucky in one respect: Contamination of their beaches hasn’t proven as serious as feared. About 50 percent of Iwaki’s land needs decontamination work — a process that will take at least three more years — but no beach yet has yielded worrisome radiation levels. This despite the several hundred tons of contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility that has seeped or been dumped into the ocean.
Experts say that some of the contamination has been penned in by man-made barriers around the plant. The rest has diffused or fallen to the ocean floor, binding to clay and silt. The surface water, the experts say, is far less dangerous than the depths.
“The environmental contamination is enormous around the plant, but not so much beyond it,” said Tatsuhiko Kodama, a professor at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo.
A perception problem
Iwaki’s problem is as much about perception as contamination. Because of the partial fishing ban, for instance, fishermen at one port in Iwaki catch only one-third the volume they did before the disaster. But those fish have one-fifth the value because of consumer fears.
The city relishes any chance to show that life here is normal. All major factories here have reopened. Warren Buffett visited. So did Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn, who called the recovery of his plant in Iwaki “spectacular.” The city recently hosted one of Japanese pro baseball’s three all-star games.
“Still, just this word — Fukushima — makes people a little hesitant,” said Hiroshi Satoh, director of regional promotion at the Iwaki Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, admitted a few days ago that contaminated groundwater seemed to be flowing into the ocean, something experts had suspected. The company couldn’t identify the source of the leak, a spokesman said, but the worst area was confined to the waters around the plant.
In Iwaki, several managers in the city tourism office held an emergency meeting. They decided to enlist a new research lab to double-check the local monitoring. They also chose not to close the two open beaches.
“Our monitoring data has not changed,” said Joji Kimura, deputy director of Iwaki’s tourism division. “Even if radiation is leaking from the plant, it’s becoming diluted by the time it reaches our beaches. Realistically, there could be some impact” from the new discovery, with a drop in the crowds. “But we will not know until the end of the summer.”
Yuki Oda contributed to this report.