The government has decided to push back the target date for completing its decontamination work in seven of the 11 municipalities around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant from the end of fiscal 2013 to sometime after fiscal 2014.
While making the decision to postpone the target schedule for decontamination work, which is under the jurisdiction of the central government, the government also demonstrated its stance to “speed up decontamination,” by revealing plans to implement such measures as doing decontamination work again in some areas if deemed necessary. But it is certain that the government will not incorporate a new target date for completing decontamination work into a revised operation schedule to be released on Aug. 30, reinforcing a sense of distrust among the local communities in the central government.
Areas in the 11 municipalities near the crippled nuclear plant that were first designated as “evacuation zones” or “planned evacuation zones” in the wake of the outbreak of the nuclear crisis are subject to the decontamination work under the jurisdiction of the central government. The government has decided to push back the target date for the decontamination work in seven municipalities — Iitate, Katsurao, Kawamata, Minamisoma, Namie, Tomioka, and Futaba.
The decontamination work in Tamura has already been finished, and all of the decontamination work, including that for residential lots, farm land and forests, is expected for completion in the three municipalities of Naraha, Kawauchi and Okuma by March next year.
Under the operation schedule released in January 2012 by the Ministry of the Environment, the decontamination work in the “areas on stand-by for lifting of evacuation orders,” (with annual radiation exposure of up to 20 millisieverts) for which evacuation orders were to be lifted in stages, and “restricted residential areas” (with annual radiation exposure of more than 20 millisieverts to up to 50 millisieverts), had been scheduled to be completed in two years from fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2013. The rezoning of evacuation areas in the 11 municipalities finished this month, but the delay in the decontamination work will affect local residents’ schedules to return home.
At a meeting of experts held on Aug. 27, meanwhile, the Ministry of the Environment unveiled a plan to conduct decontamination work again in spots where radiation levels rise after the first round of decontamination work. On its original plan to limit decontamination work for forests to within 20 meters of residential areas, the ministry said it would be able to expand the limit only in the case of mountainous areas where radioactive substances can be easily carried through the atmosphere by the wind.
The ministry decided to change the plan because some officials in the ruling coalition and the government said the review of the operation schedule should not only announce the postponement of the decontamination work but also send a positive message such as “acceleration of decontamination.”
But although the ministry is showing its stance to take into account requests from municipalities, it remains cautious.
At the meeting of experts, the ministry said, “As for the model projects conducted in 14 districts in Fukushima Prefecture, effects of the decontamination are maintained.” Thus it said there was no need to do decontamination work again in those districts. But it did not show specific radiation levels that would require the government to conduct decontamination work again.
On the issue of whether to expand the scope of decontamination work for forests, the ministry said the limit would be extended in “exceptional cases.” Therefore, most of the forests in Fukushima Prefecture are expected to remain untouched. An official in charge of a decontamination team said, “If we accept exceptions here and there carelessly, we will not be able to secure storage sites for contaminated soil as well as workers on time.”
There is also a cost-effective issue involved. The government is supposed to ask Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled nuclear power station, to pay the bills for decontamination. But as of the end of May, TEPCO had paid only 6.7 billion yen out of 21.2 billion yen the central government told the utility to pay. TEPCO has apparently been making decisions whether to pay the costs while strictly examining the effectiveness of the decontamination work. Therefore, the government apparently is hesitant to put pressure on TEPCO over decontamination projects that are not clearly deemed effective in reducing radiation levels. If TEPCO’s business conditions worsen, there is a possibility of the government shouldering the costs.
The Ministry of the Environment wants to work out a new operation schedule for decontamination by the end of this year after holding talks with local municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture. The ministry plans to have separate talks with each of the municipalities on a new decontamination schedule and the scope of areas that need to be decontaminated again. A senior ministry official said, “We will no longer be allowed to postpone the plan.”
Filed under: 8.Eathquake & Nuclear accident