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Volunteers not covered

March 09, 2015


Radiation decontamination volunteers not supported by national gov't




At least 30,000 volunteer workers have been involved in forays into areas in Fukushima Prefecture that fall under direct management of the national government due to high level of radiation, it has been learned from volunteer organizations.

These volunteer workers, who are not given any support by the national government for the management of their radiation levels, have engaged in decontamination work such as cutting grass over 2,500 times, efforts supposed be carried out by the government.

While the national government introduces volunteers to work in areas of relatively low radiation that are being decontaminated by municipal governments, it has little awareness of volunteer work in areas under its own direct jurisdiction.

Since April 2012, one volunteer group, "Minamisoma Volunteer Katsudo Center," has been operating mainly in Minamisoma's southern district of Odaka, which is an area under the national government's jurisdiction for radiation removal. The district was previously part of the 20-kilometer no-go zone set up around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, but in April 2012 had its entry restrictions loosened.

The group has recorded around 4,500 instances of its volunteer work, and around 32,000 people had been dispatched in the area by February 2014. Of these, the ones that constitute radioactive decontamination work include: cutting grass around 1,800 times, removing mud from ditches around 200 times, and cutting down trees around 500 times.

In decontamination work carried out by local and central governments, measurement and record-keeping of radiation levels are required by law, but for the work by the volunteer group, the center just measures the area beforehand, and if the radiation levels are high it makes the workers carry dosimeters.

In its guidelines for decontamination work, the Ministry of the Environment lists, in addition to grass-cutting, the cutting down or trimming of trees as effective ways to lower the radiation levels. In its instructions, however, the ministry advises that tree removal will generally not be done, and trimming will be limited to evergreens and only at up to four meters in height. The instructions say this trimming is done because rain and fallen leaves bring radiation from the branches to the ground, and the four-meter limit is for both reasons of safety and efficiency.

However, a 2013 test by the Fukushima Prefectural Government found that the removal of contaminated conifers cut radiation levels by 4 to 12 percent and removal of contaminated broad-leaf trees cut radiation levels by 11 to 21 percent. The center says that these results led to an increase in residents asking them to cut down trees around their houses.

According to the Environment Ministry, as of the end of January this year, 7 percent of homes in Odaka district and some neighboring areas had been decontaminated in work by the national government. Volunteers are helping to shoulder the rest of the burden.

In October 2013, the volunteer group "Soso Volunteer" was founded. Currently, it has around 130 registered members. The group has handled around 50 volunteer jobs, including around 30 in restricted areas. Those jobs included cleaning houses, retrieving property and cutting grass. The group says that it has been contacted for help by residents when moving companies have refused to enter the restricted areas.

Another volunteer group, Skilled Veterans Corps for Fukushima, has conducted radiation monitoring in restricted areas including the town of Naraha with around 200 workers.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, volunteers are not covered by the Industrial Safety and Health Act, and therefore are not subject to the radiation safety limit of 50 millisieverts for one year and 100 millisieverts for five years. They also cannot receive accident compensation under the Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act. Furthermore, volunteer work insurance does not cover radiation exposure.

Regarding the volunteer work in Odaka, an official from the Environment Ministry's office for Fukushima Prefecture environmental rehabilitation commented, "We don't have detailed knowledge of it. The national government is proceeding with decontamination work in special areas marked for decontamination (such as Odaka district.)"

March 09, 2015(Mainichi Japan)

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