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Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011
Return to contaminated areas?
The government on Sept. 30 lifted its evacuation advisory for residents in specified areas 20 to 30 km from Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The decision covers the entire town of Hirono and parts of the cities of Minami Soma and Tamura, the town of Naraha, and the village of Kawauchi. The lifting of the advisory, which applied to some 58,500 local residents, is apparently a politically motivated decision. It does not necessarily mean that the areas are free from radiation hazards. Many problems must be solved before true rebuilding of communities can start.
The advisory, issued April 22, required pregnant women and hospitalized patients to evacuate and schools and hospitals to be closed. But other people were allowed to stay in or visit the areas if they were prepared to evacuate at any time. About a half of some 58,500 local residents have actually evacuated.
One reason for the advisory lifting is that the temperature inside the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 reactors at the nuclear power plant has gone below 100 C. But the fact is that the government lifted the advisory before the work to decontaminate areas affected by radioactive substances from the power plant made real progress. Except for Minami Soma, little progress has been made in the work.
It is clear that the government must hurriedly remove radioactive cesium in the environment. The possibility of such cesium concentrating in some spots cannot be ruled out. The government must provide funds, personnel and equipment to the municipalities concerned. Experts from academia and business must be assigned to each municipality concerned to give advice or collaborate.
Decontamination must cover a wide range of places, such as schools, parks, residences, urban districts, rice paddies and forest mountains. The government also must decide on the methods to dispose of radioactive debris, ash and soil, which will be large in amount, and find places to temporarily store them. A lot of time and money will be needed.
Local residents are exhausted and need mental care. More important, the government must ensure that the environment is safe and help schools, hospitals, shops and factories reopen as well as put infrastructure such as roads and city water facilities back into normal conditions.