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Friday, Aug. 26, 2011

EDITORIAL

Accelerate decontamination

Some 100,000 people are still living as evacuees away from their homes in the wake of the severe accidents at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Kyodo News has reported that some 17,000 children in Fukushima Prefecture have changed schools or kindergartens because of radiation fears. Of these children, some 8,000 moved out of the prefecture.

Given this situation, it is imperative that the central government vigorously push the work of decontaminating areas contaminated with radioactive substances released from the nuclear power reactors. The central and local governments also should provide psychological care to both children who moved to new schools or kindergartens and children who have remained at their schools and kindergartens.

The Diet is expected to soon enact a special law under which the central government will be responsible for disposing of highly radioactive rubble and sludge, and decontaminating radioactive soil. In some cases, the central and local governments will carry out decontamination work together. The cost will be shouldered by Tepco.

To accelerate the decontamination work, the Kan administration has decided to set up an office to deal with radioactive contamination within the Cabinet and a decontamination team in Fukushima Prefecture.

Tepco is cooling three reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant by circulating water with the aim of putting the reactors in a state of cold shutdown, in which the temperature of the reactors will be less than 100 C, by January 2012.

Even if the cold shutdown is achieved, the central government will not end the designation of a warning area for some places around the nuclear power plant. This is because some places in the current warning area that are within 20 km of the plant have high radiation levels. The education and science ministry estimates that radiation accumulation at 35 places inside the warning area in a period of one year from the start of the nuclear fiasco will exceed 20 millisieverts per year, a level sufficient enough to trigger an evacuation order.

At 14 of these places, it is estimated that the radiation level will be more than 100 millisieverts per year. At one place, it is estimated that the level will be 508.1 millisieverts per year and at another 223.7 millisieverts per year.

The data underline the need for the central government to carry out decontamination work methodically and with perseverance. It also should take a serious look at the fact that radioactive contamination has spread outside Fukushima Prefecture. Beef cows in many parts of eastern Japan were fed on radioactive rice straw and the cows were was shipped to all the prefectures except Okinawa. Radioactive contamination has also been detected in sludge of sewage treatment plants in many parts of eastern Japan.

The central government must establish methods to decontaminate areas so that local governments can easily emulate them. It is expected to collect necessary data from a model project in the Ryozan area in Date, Fukushima Prefecture. Decontamination will be carried out in an area of 100-meter-by-100-meter square that will include agricultural fields and houses with extremely high radiation levels.

Depending on the nature of soil, the central government will try several decontamination methods such as directing high pressure water to wash away radioactive substances and removing soil after hardening it with chemicals. After determining the cost and benefit of the contamination work, and the amount of radioactive substances collected, it will write a decontamination manual as well as develop computer software to measure the effect of decontamination work.

Another problem is how to deal with radioactive rubble in areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and radioactive sludge that has accumulated at sewage treatment plants. Decontamination of areas contaminated with radioactive substances will also produce contaminated soil. The central government must hurriedly find places for long-term storage of contaminated rubble, sludge and soil.

Your Party has made a reasonable proposal concerning decontamination work. It calls for giving priority to decontaminating areas close to Fukushima No. 1, radiation "hot spots," as well as kindergartens and parks. Its main aim is to minimize the effect of radiation on children and pregnant women. The central government and other parties should carefully study the proposal and take legislative and other necessary actions.

To ensure effective decontamination, detailed radiation maps will be indispensable. A reliable system to accurately gauge radiation levels of various foods also should be set up. Decontamination will be a difficult and time-consuming task. It is important that the central and local governments give accurate information about the situation to local residents and avoid giving a false hope about when evacuees can return to their homes.

The central government envisages a long-term goal of limiting people's radiation exposure to 1 millisievert per year. But Mr. Shunichi Tanaka, a former acting chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, who carried out decontamination work in Iidate and Date in Fukushima Prefecture, says that in some places in the prefecture, it is impossible to lower the radiation level to 1 millisievert per year and that a realistic goal should be 5 millisieverts per year. Informed public discussions should be held on this point.



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