Did anyone, from nuclear professionals to lay persons, ever really think this was a good way to do radiation decontamination? The power washing just aerosolizes the contaminants, moving them off a surface to contaminate the surroundings, as well as the person doing the work. The contaminants are not collected or isolated from the ecosystem at all. They are just moved from one place to another, where they will be moved again by wind and rain. (Photo from The Mainichi.)
A year ago I wrote a few posts about the decontamination efforts being carried out in Fukushima Prefecture. Like many observers, I concluded that the work was a pathetic waste of money that would come to nothing, a cruel joke giving false hope to the residents who would never get the compensation they deserve to enable them to start life over elsewhere. Yet who could know for sure at that early date? I did have moments of doubt when I thought “who am I, a mere amateur, to pass judgment on these radiation experts and elite-educated officials?” Maybe they know what they are doing.
A year later we can see that they did perhaps indeed know what they were doing, if the plan was to give false hope to the residents and real hope to officials that the residents would just disappear as soon as possible. Otherwise, the evidence shows now that decontamination was an utter failure.
A report in The Mainichi this week tells the story from the perspective of some Fukushima residents who live just outside the exclusion zone. Residents of 470 homes in one town were treated to a thorough decontamination effort paid for by Fukushima Municipal Government. Radiation levels fell significantly, but a year later they are back higher than ever. One spot in a gutter went from 9 to 2 microsieverts per hour before and after decontamination, but presently the same spot is 10.3 microsieverts per hour. 200 kilometers away near my home in Narita, the highest such hot spot in a gutter that I can find is 0.7, which is still well above the pre-2011 level of 0.05 microsieverts per hour.
The report goes on to say:
The Fukushima Municipal Government asked the Ministry of the Environment to conduct the second round of decontamination in spring this year, but there has been no reply so far. An official of the Fukushima Municipal Government said, "Because it is so costly, they may be waiting for the radiation levels to go down naturally without conducting decontamination." Meanwhile, an official of the Ministry of the Environment said, "We can't deny the possibility of soil re-deposition, but we are considering whether it is necessary to carry out decontamination on an individual basis."
Understatement is an important part of life in Japan. Statements are made in such a way that there is an assumption that the interlocutor will infer the intended meaning. In this case, we can assume that “waiting for radiation levels to go down naturally” is a way of saying that the government has abandoned residents and left them to face the future consequences of this poisoning on their own.
This week Greenpeace also released a report on the dismal situation in Fukushima. It highlights more concerns regarding the hapless efforts at decontamination:
1. Some heavily populated areas exposed to 13 times the legal limit.
2. Some parks and school facilities in Fukushima city, home to 285,000 people, radiation levels were above three microsieverts per hour (exposing anyone who stayed in such a place to 26 millsieverts per year – well above the 1 ~ 5 considered safe for nuclear industry workers).
3. Official monitoring posts placed by the government systematically underestimate the radiation levels.
4. Some machines at official monitoring posts are shielded from radiation by structures around them.
5. Official monitoring stations are placed in areas the authorities have decontaminated. Thirty meters away levels are much higher.
6. Decontamination efforts are seriously delayed and many hot spots that were repeatedly identified by Greenpeace are still there.
7. There are still many hot spots around playground equipment.
8. Attempts to clean up were misguided.
9. It is very unlikely that the whole area will be freed of radiation risks within the next few years.
10. Government continues to downplay radiation risks and give false hope to residents of returning home.