Recording the Past and Communicating the Present: Fukushima Daiichi’s Archive Center
Guideto JapanGuide to Japan Disaster Society Economy
TEPCO has established a Decommissioning Archive Center in the town of Tomioka, located approximately 10 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on the northern Pacific coastline of Fukushima Prefecture. It was opened on November 30, 2018, to recount the unfolding of the nuclear accident caused by the tsunami brought by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, as well as the official response. Furthermore, it presents the plans and progress of the power station’s decommissioning. The center aimed to attract 20,000 visitors a year, but after one year, the number had already exceeded 50,000. By February 2020, the number reached 58,000, including 1,400 visitors from overseas.
Many nuclear power stations have facilities designed to promote their benefits and safety to local residents and other visitors. The Decommissioning Archive Center was developed in a facility that formerly housed the Energy Museum promoting Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Station, straddling the towns of Naraha and Tomioka, and was popular with locals. The Great East Japan Earthquake brought the myth of nuclear power station safety crashing down. The center has now been reborn as a forum to caution against arrogance and overconfidence.
Exhibits Expose Inadequate Preparations
The entrance features a message from Kobayakawa Tomoaki, the president of TEPCO, that ends: “We will remember the reflections and lessons from the accident and pass on our insights to the next generations. We are committed to completing the decommissioning and restoration process. It is for this determination that we are operating the TEPCO Decommissioning Archive Center.”
Visitors proceed to the second floor, entering a zone entitled “Memory and Record/Reassessment and Lessons,” including an installation recalling the exact moment when the 2011 earthquake struck. Next, the Theater Hall shows various media footage from the time, revisiting how the earthquake and tsunami led to the occurrence of the nuclear accident and showing the response taken at the nuclear power station.
After exiting the theater, visitors pass by a display of items and footage that together elaborate how the accident unfolded in Units 1 to 4 of the power plant, along with how Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Station managed to avoid catastrophe, despite also losing power.
One installation, entitled “In the Main Control Room at That Time,” shows a realistic reconstruction of events on the front line. It was filmed at Fukushima Daini training facilities, with TEPCO employees performing the roles. In another display, “From That Day, March 11, to Now,” employees who were involved in the accident response recount the circumstances at the time and discuss their thoughts from the time of the accident until today.
A Long and Challenging Path
“Situation at the Decommissioning Site” is a section that explains both the current state of Fukushima Daiichi and the progress of the reactor’s decommissioning. In the center of the floor stands the “F-Cube,” a 4.6-meter high, 6.5-meter wide installation, containing three large monitors in a U-shape that screen the work inside the station from the viewpoint of workers, who perform their tasks surrounded by rows of tanks containing water processed to remove radioactive contaminants.
The “Fuel Removal and Fuel Debris Removal” section has a PMORPH robot, used to survey the interior of the reactor’s primary containment vessel, on display, and projects CG footage of its work on the floor. The “Introduction to Technological Development and Research Institutes” display lets visitors experience a 3D simulation of the interior of a nuclear reactor and uses the latest technology to explain the operations inside.
The “Improvement of the Labor Environment” section shows the significant improvement in work conditions at Fukushima Daiichi, where radiation levels have fallen to a level where work can be performed in regular wear on 96% of the grounds. Meanwhile, “Mid- and Long-Term Roadmap for the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station” gives a strong impression of the long road ahead. The Japanese government and TEPCO have said it could take as long as 40 years for the reactor to be decommissioned, but there have already been significant delays in the removal of the atomic fuel, and processing the ever-increasing volume of contaminated water is a major challenge.
The Decommissioning Archive Center only shows the perspective of TEPCO, which was responsible for the lack of preparations that enabled the accident, and its decommissioning efforts. Many who suffered as a result of the nuclear accident and those still forced to live in evacuation accommodation likely have a very different view of the events.
But for the many people who live farther from the accident site and for whom the memory of the disaster, now nine years ago, may be fading, a visit to the center is worthwhile—reminding them of that terrible day, and of the impact it had on the nation. Those responsible for the decommissioning work in the future may be too young to remember the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear power station accident, making it all the more important to share the story, together with the company’s reflections on its responsibility and the lessons learned.
TEPCO Decommissioning Archive Center
- Location: 378 Chūō, Kobama, Tomioka-machi, Futaba-gun, Fukushima Prefecture
- Hours: 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. (Note that the Decommissioning Archive Center is closed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
- Closed: Third Sunday each month and year-end/New Year holidays
- Admission: Free of charge (free parking also available)
- Access: 15 minutes’ walk from Tomioka Station on the JR Jōban Line or 5 minutes by taxi
(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo: Footage of Unit 1, Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, screened inside the “F-Cube” installation. All photos © Nippon.com.)