Government offers dosimeters — not decontamination — for Fukushima evacuees
After failing to reach its radiation decontamination target, the government proposed that evacuees from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster return to their homes and take responsibility for their own safety.
The residents called for continued clean-up efforts, but government officials offered them dosimeters instead.
The proposal was made on June 23 in a meeting between central government officials and evacuees from the Miyakoji district of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture.Under the central government’s policy, evacuees cannot return to their homes until decontamination work reduces radiation levels to 0.23 microsievert per hour, or 1 millisievert a year. The government said it is responsible for achieving this target.
Decontamination work in the Miyakoji district has been completed, but radiation levels in residential areas still range between 0.32 and 0.54 microsievert per hour on average, much higher than the government’s goal.
According to an audio recording of the June 23 meeting obtained by The Asahi Shimbun, evacuees urged government officials to continue the decontamination work until the radiation target is met.
However, the officials rejected their request.
They explained that the goal of 0.23 microsievert per hour was set to prevent the accumulated radiation exposure from exceeding 1 millisievert a year among people who stay outdoors for eight hours a day.
One official said the actual radiation exposure levels will differ from individual to individual.
“We will offer you a new-type dosimeter because we want you to check your exposure to radiation by yourselves,” the official said.
The official indicated that the government plans to allow evacuees to return home by the “bon” consecutive holiday season in mid-August.
The government has spent billions of yen trying to decontaminate a number of areas around the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Workers have described the efforts as futile, and some said they have dumped radioactive debris into rivers without properly collecting and disposing of it.
“If the government has an unlimited budget, it can conduct decontamination work until the people are satisfied,” said Tomohiko Hideta, an official of the Reconstruction Agency. “In reality, however, it’s impossible to do.”
Hideta also confirmed that the government at the June 23 meeting proposed that residents check radiation exposure levels by themselves with dosimeters.
The Environment Ministry denied its officials suggested such a thing in the meeting.
But when told that audio recordings of the meeting and the words of many residents show that these proposals were indeed made, the ministry declined to provide clear answers.
Government secretly backtracks on Fukushima decontamination goal
With the government facing difficulty in finding disposal sites, municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture are being unofficially notified that the goal for completion of radioactive decontamination work in March 2014 may not be met, sources said.
The government also informed municipalities that it will not allow decontamination work to be redone in areas where radiation levels have not declined even after decontamination efforts have been completed.
Those remarks apparently contradict the government’s official stance that it will accelerate decontamination efforts for areas impacted by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Without a clear explanation, the government has begun to backtrack on its policies.
The government aims to lower radiation levels in areas to one millisievert or less a year. It plans to achieve that goal in all of the evacuation zones in 11 municipalities in the prefecture within this fiscal year, which ends in March 2014, by spending a total of 1.5 trillion yen (about $15 billion) by the end of the year.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also said in March that the government will accelerate decontamination work and reconstruction activities.
However, the government is facing difficulties in securing sites to store waste contaminated with radioactive materials, due to local opposition. As a result, the government has yet to start decontamination work in five of the 11 municipalities where some or all residents were forced to evacuate due to high radiation levels.
Even in evacuation zones where the decontamination work has already begun, the progress rate of the work for houses was only 1 percent in Iitate village as of March.
In such circumstances, officials of five of the 11 municipalities said that they were told by the Environment Ministry in or after April that it would be difficult to achieve the goal within this fiscal year. Because of that, the town of Tomioka has begun to inform residents that the decontamination work will continue until the next fiscal year.
“The central government should officially admit the delay of the decontamination work and review the (decontamination) plans as early as possible,” said a Tomioka official in charge of the issue.
The ministry has also effectively rejected redoing decontamination efforts in areas where radiation levels have not declined. In a meeting with seven municipalities, held in May 27 to exchange opinions, the ministry told them, “As of now, we are not allowing the redoing of decontamination work.”
The stance is apparently contradictory to the government’s policy that redoing decontamination work could fall under the government’s fiscal measures to cover the costs. The policy was described in a document related to the government’s guidelines on decontamination work.
The contradiction is creating a backlash among municipalities because 25 municipalities have said that radiation levels have yet to decline to one millisievert in some of their areas even after decontamination work was completed.
As for decontamination plans, the Environment Ministry told The Asahi Shimbun that the policy of achieving the goal within this fiscal year is unchanged.
As for a second round of decontamination efforts, the ministry said that, currently, it has yet to target any areas. Therefore, that shows a priority being placed on areas where decontamination efforts have not been conducted at all.
“We cannot make drastic reviews until the July Upper House election,” said a high-ranking official of the ministry.
The decontamination work is apparently facing a slowdown. Though two years and three months have passed since the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, decontamination work has yet to start in many areas.
In addition, additional decontamination work is not being allowed, even if radiation levels do not decline as a result of decontamination efforts. Incidents of slipshod decontamination work have also been revealed. Citizens are also having growing doubts on the cost-benefit performance of the decontamination work.
Opinions of residents are mixed. Residents, especially elderly citizens who want to return to their houses as early as possible, are placing strong hopes on the decontamination work. Meanwhile, according to a survey conducted by the village of Iitate in June 2012, more than 40 percent of the respondents replied that they don’t expect to benefit from the decontamination efforts. In a Tomioka town survey, whose results were released in February this year, 40 percent of the respondents said that they have decided not to return to their houses.
Many of the affected people are also requesting assistance for their current livelihoods rather than decontamination efforts.
Unless the government shows a clear road map for the decontamination work, residents cannot make plans for their future.
Delay of decontamination work became obvious in March when progress rates of those efforts were compiled. However, Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara said in the Diet in May, “There are no changes in the government’s plans.”
On the surface, the government is saying that it will accelerate decontamination efforts. Behind the scenes, however, it is showing an opposite stance. That means that the government is abandoning its responsibilities.
The government needs to show realistic decontamination policies to the public and make efforts to obtain their support for them.
The Fukushima prefectural government has not recorded any cases in which a second round of decontamination work has been allowed.
In the village of Yugawa in the prefecture, decontamination work was completed in fiscal 2012, which ended in March 2013. On June 5, the village asked the ministry for a second round of efforts, fearing that radiation levels could rise again due to melting snow. However, the ministry rejected the request, saying, “In principle, we cannot do them.”
“The Environment Ministry’s attitude toward us has always been terrible. We are not surprised at such a rejection,” said an official of the village.
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