Ministry angers residents by pushing back Fukushima cleanup

September 11, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

The Environment Ministry said it will scrap its initial road map for radioactive cleanup projects in Fukushima Prefecture but failed to set new dates for completion of the work, angering many evacuated residents.

"I have run out of patience," said farmer Muneo Kanno. "We villagers are brimming with distrust of the central government and are concerned about whether we can eventually return. We are left deprived of our lives, and our return has been kept on hold."

The 62-year-old Kanno was forced to evacuate from Iitate to Date, both in Fukushima Prefecture, after the onset of the nuclear disaster caused by the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake.

The original road map said all cleanup efforts in 11 municipalities would be wrapped up before the current fiscal year ends, but the ministry said Sept. 10 that the process will continue longer in seven of them, without setting new deadlines.

The rescheduling is expected to impact when evacuated residents can return and also the rebuilding efforts from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Environment Ministry expects to meet with the governments of the seven municipalities--Minami-Soma, Iitate, Kawamata, Katsurao, Namie, Tomioka and Futaba--to work out plans for the cleanup process, including completion dates, before year-end.

The cleanup efforts in all 11 municipalities are being overseen directly by the central government due to high radiation levels.

Released in January 2012, the initial road map said radioactive cleanup would end before the close of fiscal 2013 in all areas of the 11 municipalities designated as "zones being prepared for the lifting of the evacuation order," where annual radiation doses are 20 millisieverts or less, or "no-residence zones," where annual doses are between 20-50 millisieverts.

Cleanup efforts are currently on schedule in only four municipalities: Tamura, where they have already been completed, Naraha, Okuma and Kawauchi. Efforts have not begun in Namie and Tomioka, and are yet to be even in the planning stages in Futaba.

An Environment Ministry official blamed the delay partly on difficulties in installing temporary waste storage sites, adding that obtaining the support of local communities is anything but easy.

"Given that no prospects are in sight for building an intermediate storage facility for soil and other waste from the decontamination process, people are distrustful and are concerned that such waste could be left abandoned in these temporary storage sites," the official said.

Also to blame is the slipshod nature of the initial road map, which assigned one ending date for all areas despite different circumstances, including contamination levels and the sizes of areas eligible for cleanup.

"The road map was worked out hastily amid confusion," Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara said at a news conference.

Distrust of the Environment Ministry, which had been insisting on sticking with the initial road map until now, also runs deep among municipal government officials.

"It was but an armchair theory worked out by people who knew nothing about the front-line ordeals of the cleanup process," Iitate Mayor Norio Kanno said.

In Iitate, the cleanup process has been completed for only 3 percent of all eligible houses.

Farmer Kanno, who headed a district farming association, used to raise cattle and grow highland vegetables in Iitate. The association's business, involving the home delivery of rice, vegetables and miso (fermented soybean paste), was just getting off the ground when the nuclear disaster unfolded.

"Central government officials must have known the initial plan was unfeasible," Kanno said. "Why didn't they tell us earlier?"

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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  • Radioactive decontamination efforts are under way in Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture, in July. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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