CROOKED CLEANUP: Ministry to investigate after companies admit only 3 violations in Fukushima

January 16, 2013

By TAMIYUKI KIHARA/ Staff Writer

The Environment Ministry decided to conduct its own investigation into the shoddy decontamination work around the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, unsatisfied with the probes by companies believed responsible for the scandal.

“We will punish those involved in malicious cases,” Senior Vice Environment Minister Shinji Inoue told a news conference on Jan. 15. “We are moving to interview the workers.”

The ministry plans to release its investigation results on Jan. 18.

The ministry had instructed four general contractors that won lucrative contracts to decontaminate areas of Fukushima Prefecture to investigate Asahi Shimbun reports that workers were dumping potentially radioactive soil, water and debris into the environment instead of properly storing them for disposal.

Some workers said they were instructed by their supervisors to speed up the decontamination process by ignoring the Environment Ministry’s rules.

The Asahi Shimbun and other parties reported 14 cases of suspected violations of the ministry’s rules. The ministry also said it has received information on about 30 other cases.

The companies admitted to shoddy work in only three cases.

The general contractors’ surveys were based mainly on talks with the supervisors of work sites. Many decontamination workers who felt guilty about carrying out orders to do the sloppy work said they were never interviewed by the construction companies.

One worker said the company investigation involved the cleanup crew standing in front of the supervisor and asked to raise their hand if they had been ordered to dump debris in the environment. The worker said he and his colleagues were reluctant to tell the truth in front of their boss.

“The Environment Ministry has to look into the matter on its own,” said a senior official of Tamura, a city being decontaminated near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The companies did acknowledge that workers allowed water used for cleaning to flow into the environment in both Naraha and Iitate. They also said workers cleaned off their boots in a river in Tamura.

But they denied violations in the other cases, including one in which Asahi Shimbun reporters took photos of a person believed to be a supervisor kicking fallen leaves into a river. They also denied infractions in a case in which Asahi Shimbun reporters videotaped decontamination workers cleaning a rake and other equipment in a river.

A consortium including Maeda Corp. is responsible for decontamination work in Naraha, while a group led by Taisei Corp. is overseeing work in Iitate and companies led by Kajima Corp. are undertaking the cleanup in Tamura.

The central government plans to spend 650 billion yen ($7.4 billion) for the decontamination project.

By TAMIYUKI KIHARA/ Staff Writer
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Shinji Inoue, senior vice environment minister, right, views a decontamination site in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, on Jan. 9. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Shinji Inoue, senior vice environment minister, right, views a decontamination site in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, on Jan. 9. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Shinji Inoue, senior vice environment minister, right, views a decontamination site in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, on Jan. 9. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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