Illegal Nuclear Waste Dumping, Japan

Cleanup crews in Fukushima Prefecture have dumped soil and leaves contaminated with radioactive fallout into rivers. Water sprayed on contaminated buildings has been allowed to drain back into the environment. And supervisors have instructed workers to ignore rules on proper collection and disposal of the radioactive waste.  Decontamination is considered a crucial process in enabling thousands of evacuees to return to their homes around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and resume their normal lives.  But the decontamination work witnessed by a team of Asahi Shimbun reporters shows that contractual rules with the Environment Ministry have been regularly and blatantly ignored, and in some cases, could violate environmental laws.  “If the reports are true, it would be extremely regrettable,” Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato said at his first news conference of the year on Jan. 4. “I hope everyone involved will clearly understand how important decontamination is to the people of Fukushima.”

He called on the Environment Ministry to investigate and present a clear report to the prefectural government.  The shoddy practices may also raise questions about the decontamination program itself–and the huge amounts of money pumped into the program.  The central government initially set aside 650 billion yen ($7.4 billion) to decontaminate areas hit by radioactive substances from the March 11, 2011, accident at the Fukushima plant. Since last summer, the Environment Ministry has designated 11 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture for special decontamination work.  Work has already begun in four municipalities to remove radioactive substances from areas within 20 meters of buildings, roads and farmland.  The Environment Ministry itself does not have the know-how to decontaminate such a large area, so it has given contracts to joint ventures led by major construction companies to do the work.

A contract worth 18.8 billion yen to decontaminate the municipality of Naraha was awarded to a group that includes Maeda Corp. and Dai Nippon Construction. A 7.7-billion-yen contract for Iitate was signed with a group that includes Taisei Corp., while a 4.3-billion-yen contract for Kawauchi was given to a group led by Obayashi Corp. A consortium that includes Kajima Corp. was awarded a 3.3-billion-yen contract to clean up Tamura.  In signing the contracts, the Environment Ministry established work rules requiring the companies to place all collected soil and leaves into bags to ensure the radioactive materials would not spread further. The roofs and walls of homes must be wiped by hand or brushes. The use of pressurized sprayers is limited to gutters to avoid the spread of contaminated water. The water used in such cleaning must be properly collected under the ministry’s rules.

A special measures law for dealing with radioactive contamination of the environment prohibits the dumping of such waste materials. Violators face a maximum prison sentence of five years or a 10-million-yen fine.  From Dec. 11 to 18, four Asahi reporters spent 130 hours observing work at various locations in Fukushima Prefecture.At 13 locations in Naraha, Iitate and Tamura, workers were seen simply dumping collected soil and leaves as well as water used for cleaning rather than securing them for proper disposal. Photographs were taken at 11 of those locations.

Excerpt, CROOKED CLEANUP (1): Radioactive waste dumped into rivers during decontamination work in Fukushima, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, Jan. 4, 2012

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