|August 2011: 0.83 microsieverts/hour by a drainage ditch on the grounds of a junior high school in Narita City, Chiba, Japan. Air readings a few meters away were 0.14 - only double the pre-accident background level.|
Teach your children well
My son is on the student council of his junior high school, and the members of the council were recently offered a chance to visit a session of the Narita city council doing its work. The problem was that there were only two people from each school’s council allowed to go, but three were interested in participating. The teacher in charge decided he would select participants by judging the questions they would like to ask the elected officials. The other two students wrote almost identical questions asking about earthquake preparedness, but my son wanted to ask about the plan for cleaning up radioactive hotspots around parks and schools.
Guess who wasn’t chosen.
There are obviously going to be various opinions about the proper response we should have to the level of contamination we have in our town. This problem is unprecedented and complex. No one knows what the risks are and what action should be taken, but it is discouraging to know that a public servant thought that he had to shield elected officials from being questioned on this sensitive topic by a fourteen-year-old.
But this is how it goes. Fourteen months after the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, Narita City, and other communities in Northern Chiba, still have no plan for cleaning up the radioactive runoff that has accumulated in curb sides and ditches. Compared to the contamination levels in Fukushima, these hotspots are a lower priority, and there is unlikely to be a pathway from a footpath curbside to human ingestion, but still this is radioactive waste that would be cleaned up immediately if it were a small-scale leak that a government could resolve quickly.
The problem in Chiba is that there is widespread but comparatively light fallout in many municipalities, and local governments have no expertise in how to deal with such a mess. They await guidance from the national government, but it is distracted by other problems, or is thoroughly unwilling to admit the problem needs attention. There also is the implicit worry about reputation and land values that keeps everyone quiet. Local citizens have exerted no pressure at all.
The inaction is hard to fathom because the labor involved would not be much to add to the normal work of parks and recreation workers. Large crews of workers come through once every few weeks in the warm months to cut the lawns. How much extra expense would it be to have a crew in hazmat suits go around and sweep up the dirt in the curbs and find a place to store it away from human contact? More than the expense, it seems to be a reluctance to risk a blow to the city’s image.
I suppose having a father who patrolled the neighborhood with a Geiger counter has been an influence on my son, but I didn’t suggest to him that he ask his question. I didn’t even know he had an opportunity to visit the city council. This was his own plan, and though he was angry at the rejection for a couple days, he now understands the lesson learned, without having had to waste his time with a visit to city hall.