Last week, three Greenpeace radiation-monitoring teams took to the streets of Fukushima City and the heavily contaminated region of Iitate to again record and assess contamination threats.
Like earlier trips, we noticed decreased exposure rates in a few areas, but many hotspots remain throughout heavily populated Fukushima City. What is more concerning, however, is the official government radiation monitoring stations that have appeared throughout the city.
Earlier this month The Association for Citizens and Scientists Concerned About Internal Radiation Exposures raised concerns that the Japanese government was manipulating radiation readings with these official monitoring stations.
The story was familiar to us, as in March this year, while conducting radiation checks in a park in the suburb of Watari, we came across a newly installed official radiation monitoring post. This station showed a relatively low level of contamination when compared to levels we had measured previously, however, it was placed smack in the middle of a small area that had been clearly decontaminated. New soil had replaced the old, but as soon as you stepped off the cleaned area the levels of contamination rose sharply, and remained much higher throughout the park – with the exception of around the official monitoring post itself.
We had only measured this one post on that visit, and given it had only been recently installed we had hoped this would mark the start of a new initiative by the authorities to comprehensively decontaminate populated areas, and do more to keep the public informed of radiation risks.
Unfortunately, we have now found that this is not the case.
Between October 16 and 19, Greenpeace checked 40 monitoring posts throughout Fukushima city. For 75% of them, the radiation readings close to the posts were lower than readings for their immediate surroundings. Contamination levels within 25 metres of the posts were up to six times higher than at the posts themselves.
The authorities claim they do not intend these monitoring posts to be misleading, stating that they publish information about which areas around the posts have been decontaminated. However, for the people living in the areas and anyone passing by, they certainly give the impression that contamination levels are lower than what they may be just a few metres from the posts.
Not only that, the decontamination work remains patchy. The authorities have taken care of the low hanging fruit such as some public parks and school yards, but our teams found that many hotspots remain throughout the communities, and little is being done to clean them up.
We saw only a few groups of cleanup workers in Fukushima City in the week we were there. By contrast, we saw many decontamination workers in the Iitate region. This is a mountainous, heavily forested area, and it is very complicated to remove all contamination from the environment. Even if the workers are successful in cleaning houses and workplaces, the risk of recontamination is high, with every gust of wind, rain storm, or spring snow melt bringing new concentrations of radiation down from the hills. To say the authorities are optimistic is an understatement. All they can currently offer to the broken communities of Iitate is false hope.
On this trip we interviewed six former residents of Iitate, and what they all have in common is a distinct mistrust of official information, and little confidence in the Government’s ability to fix the radioactive contamination problems they live with every day. There is a palpable sense of loss, and while it is clear that people would love nothing more than to return and rebuild their lives, many know in their hearts that life as they knew it is gone. With their houses, workplaces and fields contaminated and communities scattered, they are now seeking closure and fair compensation so they can start anew elsewhere.
We also spoke with local government authorities who lamented that they were hamstrung by a lack of funding, a lack of manpower, and a lack of direction and engagement from the national government.
This not only again highlights the Japanese Government’s relentless underplaying of both the seriousness and scope of this nuclear disaster, but it also once again speaks to its inability to put the health and safety of its people before politics. It has wasted funding from the Fukushima reconstruction budget on whaling as plant workers went without proper health checks. Now it is wasting resources and time decontaminating empty rural areas in a misguided attempt to repopulate evacuated areas, when people are still at risk right in Fukushima City.
The government is still pretending it has everything under control when it clearly doesn’t, and unfortunately there is no easy way out. All it can do is admit the reality of this situation and give it the attention it deserves.
Only then can it give the people the information they need to protect themselves.
Only then can it provide proper compensation to those that have had their lives upended, so they can come to terms with this tragedy and move on.
Only then can it truly understand that nuclear power has been a curse, not a blessing for Japan, and make the right decisions for its future.