After a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011, officials promised to use cutting-edge technology from across the globe to mount the most ambitious radiological cleanup humanity has ever seen.But it appears that the $11.5 billion, multi-decade effort has become part of the nuclear disaster.
Reporters for Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s leading daily newspaper, found that crews “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 “instructed workers to ignore rules on proper collection and disposal of the radioactive waste.”
Workers told Asahi Shimbun that “a feeling of helplessness led to a moral vacuum that enabled workers to ignore the Environment Ministry’s rules.”
The Japanese government said it will investigate the shoddy work after it confirmed two cases, but Asahi Shimbun also reports that Environment Ministry officials didn’t act after Fukushima Prefecture residents filed “a continuous stream” of complaints.
Hiroko Tabuchi of The New York Times reports that instead of drawing on technology from local business and foreign companies that can remove harmful radioactive cesium from the environment, central and local governments have hired Japan’s largest construction companies to handle much of the delicate work.
The companies are politically connected but have little radiological cleanup expertise, which has resulted in the use of “primitive” techniques — such as collecting contaminated debris in garbage bags and leaving the waste on roadsides, in fields and on the coastline — that do not remove harmful radioactive cesium from the environment.
The new reports are the latest in a long string of seemingly negligent acts by officials responsible for the nuclear fallout.
In July we reported that some workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were ordered to lie about their radiation exposure.
Also in July we reported that 36 per cent of Fukushima children had abnormal growths – cysts or nodules – on their thyroids a year after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
We subsequently found that the American Thyroid Association had not seen specific data on the Fukushima radiation risks despite the fact that Japan’s Institute of Radiological Sciences found that some children living close to the plant were exposed to “lifetime” doses of radiation to their thyroid glands.
In August it was revealed that radiation released from the nuclear power plant has caused harmful mutations in generations of nearby butterflies, and in October scientists found that fish caught in waters near the damaged reactors indicated there was still a source of radioactive cesium either on the seafloor or still being discharged into the sea.
In October the operator of Japan’s crippled Daiichi nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, admitted that it played down the risks of a tsunami so it wouldn’t have to shut down the plant to address them.
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