The Progressive


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Greenpeace Investigation Exposes Failure of Fukushima Decontamination Program

Abe’s forced return policy condemns residents to radiation risk


Radioactive contamination in the forests and land of Iitate district in Fukushima prefecture is so widespread and at such a high level that it will be impossible for people to safely return to their homes, a Greenpeace Japan investigation revealed today. The findings follow the Abe Government's announcement on 12th June 2015 to lift evacuation orders by March 2017 and terminate compensation by 2018, which effectively forces victims back into heavily contaminated areas.(1)

"Prime Minister Abe would like the people of Japan to believe that they are decontaminating vast areas of Fukushima to levels safe enough for people to live in. The reality is that this is a policy doomed to failure. The forests of Iitate are a vast stock of radioactivity that will remain both a direct hazard and source of potential recontamination for hundreds of years. It's impossible to decontaminate," said Jan Vande Putte, radiation specialist with Greenpeace Belgium.

"The Japanese government has condemned the people of Iitate to live in an environment that poses an unacceptable risk to their health. Stripping nuclear victims of their already inadequate compensation, which may force them to have to return to unsafe, highly radioactive areas for financial reasons, amounts to economic coercion. Let's be clear: this is a political decision by the Abe Government, not one based on science, data, or public health," he said.

Greenpeace conducted a radiation survey and sampling program in Iitate, including in its forests. One principle finding from the investigation is that the vast majority of Iitate will never be decontaminated, with most radioactivity deposited in the vast forested hills and mountains in the district. The enormous scale of the forests was revealed by UAV footage from the investigation. Even in the limited areas that have been decontaminated around people's homes and land, and along roads, levels of radiation are still at unacceptable levels. The results show that current decontamination programs are failing to significantly reduce radiation levels, which remain high and unsafe for people to live.

Even after decontamination, radiation dose rates were measured higher than 2uSv/h on decontaminated fields, the equivalent of an annual dose higher than 10mSv/year or ten times the maximum allowed dose to the general public. In the untouched and heavily contaminated forests, radiation dose rates are typically in the range of 1-3uSv/h--high levels that will remain for many years to come.

The only forest decontamination underway in Iitate is along public roads, where thousands of workers are removing contaminated soil and plants along a 10-20 meter strip. The Japanese government plans to lift restrictions in all of Area 2(2), including Iitate, where people could receive radiation doses of up to 20mSV each year and in subsequent years.

International radiation protection standards recommend public exposure should be 1mSv/year or less in non-post accident situations. The radiation limit that excluded people from living in the 30km zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant exclusion zone was set at 5mSV/year, five years after the nuclear accident. Over 100.000 people were evacuated from within the zone and will never return.

Supporting the Japanese government in its policy of forced return to a radioactive environment is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has promoted the early return of Fukushima citizens to evacuated areas. Not only is the IAEA's radiation risk assessments based on flawed science, where they are deliberately understating the risks from radioactivity, they also have misrepresented the scale and effectiveness of the limited decontamination program including in Iitate.(3)

"Even after nearly thirty years, the 30km area around Chernobyl remains an exclusion zone. It's a shocking indictment of both the IAEA and the Abe government, which reveals how desperate they are to create the illusion that returning to 'normal' is possible after a severe nuclear accident. Their position is indefensible and plans for a de facto forced return must be stopped," said Mamoru Sekiguchi, energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan.

The district of Iitate, which covers more than 200 square kilometers, located between 28-47km northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, was one of the most contaminated areas following the March 2011 catastrophe. Since 2014, tens of thousands of workers have been attempting to reduce radiation levels in some parts of Fukushima prefecture, including in Iitate, with little impact.

In early June 3.400 citizens of Iitate (more than half the population) called on the mayor of their community to reject the government's plans. At the same time, they are currently within the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process, where they hope to secure reasonable compensation for the losses they have suffered.

"The gap between the amount of high and low compensation payments is widening drastically, and the Iitate village people will have to keep living a sad life in bitterness, separated from each other and away from their home. The Iitate people's fate is another of numerous cases in the past where Japan abandoned its people, as with the Ashio mining pollution and Minamata disease. We can not allow this to happen again," said Yasushi Tadano, the lawyer defending the people of Iitate.

Greenpeace is a global, independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.

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