The 'decontamination' effort in Fukushima continues despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, among which are:
1. After a specific property (or school) is 'decontaminated', it is nearly impossible to prevent it from becoming re-contaminated with radiation from neighboring properties that have yet to be 'decontaminated' when it rains or when the wind blows.
2. Short of actually cutting down all the forests and shaving the topsoil (both large sources of radiation) off the surface of the mountains in the entire contaminated area, true 'decontamination' will be impossible.
3. Many companies in charge of 'decontamination' are simply small, local construction companies that have no experience or expertise in 'decontamination' and offer employees nearly no specialized training and even less personal protection.
4. During 'decontamination', which often takes place around schools and homes where children live, the actual act of cutting down trees and removing contaminated dirt in and of itself causes radiation to become airborne once again and causes danger to people, and especially to children, breathing in the contaminated dust.
5. 'Decontamination' is viewed by many citizens of Fukushima as a way for the government to make residents "feel safe", therefore terminating the discussion of evacuation and, more importantly, the associated cost to the government of providing financial compensation to those affected.
|A worker fills sacks with contaminated dirt during the 'decontamination' of a home in Date City, Fukushima.|
Today I met with Date City council member Mr. Yoshiaki Kanno to discuss the concerns of the citizens living in the area. We met on the property of one of his constituents whose home is currently undergoing 'decontamination'. He told me that like the people he represents, he too, thinks 'decontamination' is impossible, and that the people should at least be given the option to evacuate and receive compensation. Mr. Kanno did make it clear that this needed to be an "option" as there are people, including some elderly, who have expressed their desire to remain in their homes and on their ancestral land.
|Mr. Yoshiaki Kanno, a Date City council member, visits the decontamination site of one of his constituents.|
I spoke with one of the 'decontamination' workers and asked him where all the radioactive dirt was being taken. He told me that the government hadn't been able to figure that out yet, so individual municipalities were required to find local places to "temporarily" collect the sacks of contaminated soil until a long-term solution could be found. I asked him how long "temporarily" meant, and he said his guess would be "somewhere around 10 years". The mountains of bags containing contaminated soil are exposed to the air and are, in some cases, just hundreds of meters away from homes where children are currently living.
|A "temporary" holding site for sacks containing radioactive soil in Date City, Fukushima.|
Later in the day, I again met with Mrs. Sugano, the mother of 9-year-old Koutarou and his two younger siblings. She was worried about the levels of the radiation around the elementary school Koutarou attends. The school is planning to re-start outdoor athletic activities including PE, which takes place three times a week. Although the school administration assured Mrs. Sugano that the school building and grounds have been 'decontaminated' and that there is nothing to worry about, she decided to check the radiation levels of the surrounding property.
|Mrs. Sugano measures the radiation level outside Oguni Elementary School in Date City, Fukushima.|
The first place Mrs. Sugano measured was in the field just beyond the school's fence. The area is literally next to the school pool, which the children had used all summer and which the parents had been assured was "decontaminated and safe".
|Mrs. Sugano measures the radiation in the field next to the elementary school her son attends (seen in the background).|
The area turned out to be a radioactive hotspot that measured 38.54 microsieverts! I immediately felt nauseous and thought I would be sick, though not from any physical effect from the radiation; although extremely high, this level would not bring about acute radiation sickness but rather long-term illness (such as cancer) if exposure was extended. No, it was the emotional effect of the radiation; I felt sick standing in a radiation hotspot next to a school that had the windows open, where the contaminated air was pouring in and the sound of laughing children was pouring out.
|Next to the elementary school where Mrs. Kanno's son attends is a radioactive hotspot that measures 38.54 microsieverts.|
(TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 5)