Response overwhelming for Fukushima decontamination workshops

October 15, 2011

By SHUNSUKE KIMURA / Staff Writer

KORIYAMA, Fukushima Prefecture--Some were looking for work. Others just wanted to help out. And still others were simply eager to finally return to their hometowns.

They were among 113 people who attended the first workshop for business operators on the basics of decontaminating materials in areas outside the "no entry" zone, which is within a 20-kilometer radius of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Participants included those in the construction, painting and cleaning industries.

The workshop, held on Oct. 4 and 5 in Koriyama, was designed to train local personnel who can join the decontamination operations of the central government and local governments, which will shift into full gear next year.

“The decontamination operation encompasses broad areas,” said an official with the Fukushima prefectural government, which organized the program. “We want to carry it out by utilizing the private-sector force because the task is too enormous to be handled by the public sector alone.”

The program is also intended to offer employment opportunities to people who have been out of work since the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis dealt a serious blow to the local economy.

Katsuji Yoshida, a construction company employee, said he joined the workshop at the request of his employer.

The 63-year-old resident of Okuma, home to the stricken nuclear plant, now lives in Koriyama, where he fled after the nuclear crisis. His company is in the process of relocating from Okuma to Iwaki.

“Areas that need to be decontaminated are so expansive,” Yoshida said. “I am participating in the workshop to prepare for a possible decontamination contract our company may be able to win.”

The prefectural government will offer nine more workshops by the end of December. About 900 others are expected to join.

At the first workshop, experts on radioactivity from the government-affiliated Japan Atomic Energy Agency drew an outline of the nuclear accident and discussed the basics of radiation, as well as how to handle radioactive substances safely and conduct decontamination work.

On the second day of the workshop, the experts offered practical training as well as strategies on decontaminating areas while ensuring the workers’ health and safety. For example, the participants were advised to start their work somewhere high, such as a roof, and then move to lower areas while recording radiation levels before and after the work.

The participants learned how to use dosimeters and measure radiation levels at gutters and other places. They were also taught how to use integrated dosimeters that show accumulated radiation doses and other devices indispensable in the operation.

The prefectural government will offer a certificate of completion to the participants if they correctly answer at least 60 percent of 20 true or false questions at the end of the two-day course.

“It is not a license or credential, but proof that the participants acquired knowledge (about decontamination),” a prefectural official said.

Daizo Kato, the 48-year-old president of a construction company who attended the workshop, said he is eager to start cleaning up the areas.

“Somebody will have to do it,” said Kato, who is taking refuge in Iwaki from Naraha, in the “no entry” zone. “I want to accumulate experience and will be the first one to join the decontamination operation when we are allowed to go back to the zone.”

The prefectural government received more than 1,000 applications for the first five workshops within a few days after it publicized the program in early September.

The participants were selected on first-come first-served basis.

But prefectural officials received so many phone calls asking for a chance to attend a workshop that they plan to continue the program into next year.

By SHUNSUKE KIMURA / Staff Writer
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Participants take notes at the first workshop on decontamination for business operators held in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on Oct. 4. (Shunsuke Kimura)

Participants take notes at the first workshop on decontamination for business operators held in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on Oct. 4. (Shunsuke Kimura)

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  • Participants take notes at the first workshop on decontamination for business operators held in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on Oct. 4. (Shunsuke Kimura)

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