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High school takes students to see Fukushima nuclear reactor decommissioning

Students from Fukushima High School ride a bus and are told by Tokyo Electric Power Co. executive Yoshiyuki Ishizaki, right, about the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant's No. 1 reactor, which just had a cover removed from its building, in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Nov. 18, 2016. (Mainichi)

Thirteen students from Fukushima High School were taken on a tour to the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant on Nov. 18 to witness decommissioning work, in what could be the first of ongoing tours to the plant for students.

    The first- and second-graders included members of their school science club. The goal of the tour was to have young people, who will have to watch over decommissioning work in the future, think more about the issues faced in recovering from the nuclear disaster.

    The students were guided by teachers and University of Tokyo physics professor Ryugo Hayano, who has been involved with Fukushima High School, having helped with special physics classes. The tour was requested by the school, and was granted by the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), with permission from the students' parents. From the inside of a bus, the students spent around one hour touring the Fukushima plant. They saw the No. 1 reactor building, which recently had its cover removed, and storage tanks for radioactively contaminated water. They also entered a quake-absorbing building housing the emergency response room that has been operating around the clock since the nuclear disaster in March 2011.

    Following the Labor Standards Act, which forbids employing people younger than 18 from working in places with harmful radiation, TEPCO generally only allows people 18 or older to enter the plant. From the time of the disaster through June of this year, TEPCO admitted around 23,000 visitors, but this was the first time it has done so for high school students. According to TEPCO, the radiation exposure during the students' visit was at the most 10 microsieverts.

    Yuna Makuta, 16, a first-year student at the school, says, "Having seen the plant with my own eyes, I feel that there are still many large problems to deal with, like removing the fuel rods and processing the waste from decommissioning work."

    Another 16-year-old student said that seeing the disaster emergency room left a strong impression. "I had mixed feelings toward TEPCO, which caused the accident," said the student, before adding, "But when I saw the response room, I realized they are working hard for Fukushima, trying to decommission the reactors."

    The students also talked with Yoshiyuki Ishizaki, head of TEPCO's Fukushima recovery headquarters. Regarding the decision to allow students under 18 to visit the plant, Ishizaki told the Mainichi Shimbun, "This tour came to being from the students' strong desire and awareness of problems. We'd like to continue handling tours on a case-by-case basis."

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