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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Breach of trust

January 22, 2013


Editorial: Inappropriate decontamination work betrays disaster victims




Cases of sloppy government-run decontamination work in areas affected by the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster -- such as letting water used to wash radioactive materials off structures run off into ditches -- have emerged. According to an Environment Ministry report released on Jan. 18, there have been at least five such cases. The ministry has instructed contractors involved in three of the cases to make improvements.

The ministry said there were no instances of malice that violated the Act on Special Measures concerning the Handling of Pollution by Radioactive Materials. However, what did take place is undoubtedly a breach of trust of the local residents who are longing to return to their homes as soon as possible. Ministry officials are set to reinforce on-site oversight and supervision, and have indicated government intentions to cancel contracts in the case of such sloppy work in the future. Such measures should promptly be implemented.

All those involved must keep in mind that if inappropriate decontamination work takes place repeatedly, people's confidence in decontamination work will wane, pushing Fukushima's recovery even further off into the future.

Government-run decontamination is being undertaken in special decontamination zones, spanning 11 municipalities across the prefecture, whose residents are still in evacuation. Under current plans, decontamination where radiation levels are 50 millisieverts or lower per year -- for residences, farmland, roads, and forests within about 20 meters from residential areas -- is set to be completed by the end of fiscal 2013.

Such large-scale decontamination is unprecedented worldwide. In nine municipalities for which decontamination plans have been worked out, more than 20,000 hectares of land are subject to decontamination. The cost will be staggering; in just four municipalities including Tamura, for which the Environment Ministry has already commissioned decontamination work for the current fiscal year, the cost comes out to approximately 34 billion yen.

Although an advance decontamination model project confirmed the effectiveness of the work to a certain extent, differences between the model and actual decontamination conditions mean that the national government, contractors and workers are all fumbling through the process, according to officials at an Environment Ministry division in charge of proper implementation of decontamination methods.

One decontamination worker previously told the Mainichi Shimbun, "In reality, decontamination hasn't been very effective. From our point of view, it's a waste of tax funds." Residents have been ordered to evacuate from areas where decontamination work is being conducted, which means they cannot keep an eye on what's taking place. It's likely there have been more than five cases of inappropriate decontamination.

To prevent a reoccurrence, it will be necessary not only to reinforce oversight, but to think about the pain of the people who have been driven from their homes.

Some residents harbor deep-seated distrust toward the effectiveness of decontamination efforts injected with massive funds, and are calling instead for more support for evacuees and toward relocation.

In response to such voices, the government must secure transparency regarding the progress of decontamination efforts, while also gathering in-depth data on radiation levels based on location and methods to understand the efficacy and limitations of decontamination work. Forest decontamination, which has yet to be started for the most part, is another major challenge we must confront.


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