Friday, March 1, 2013

Winifred Bird: A Tale of Two Forests: Addressing Postnuclear Radiation at Chernobyl and Fukushima

March 1, 2013 Environmental Health Perspectives.

I strongly recommend reading the entire article. I've excerpted a small portion:


The Fukushima Disaster

[Unlike the Ukraine's policy of maintaining the Chernobyl exclusion zone] Japan, however, is not yet resigned to either permanently banning residents or exposing them to drastically elevated levels of radiation as a consequence of its own nuclear disaster. Instead, it is attempting to carve a third path forward.

Immediately following the meltdown at the Fukushima plant in March 2011, the Japanese government did evacuate nearby residents. The evacuated area was smaller than that around Chernobyl but far more densely populated, encompassing coastline, farms, and forests in 11 municipalities. At least 157,000 people were either ordered to leave this zone or voluntarily left their homes in other parts of Fukushima.22 But by the summer of 2011, the central government had already launched a recovery plan aimed at getting them back.23

The strategy centered on extensive decontamination. Isotopes of cesium and other radionuclides were to be removed by early 2014 from houses, roads, farms, public buildings, and wooded areas within 20 m of living areas in all but the most heavily contaminated parts of the exclusion zone (defined as those where the air dose rates for residents could exceed 50 mSv/yr).24 The government determined that in the long term this meant getting air dose rates from Fukushima fallout below 1 mSv/yr, although specific targets for 2014 were much more modest.25 Some of that reduction would happen through natural decay; Fukushima has a higher ratio of short-lived cesium-134 than areas surrounding Chernobyl.26 The rest required hands-on work.

The Japanese Ministry of Environment was put in charge of the project, which has a budget of more than US$6 billion for 2013 alone.27 Inside the exclusion zone, the central government was directly responsible for overseeing the work; beyond it, local governments managed the process. Soon contractors and ordinary citizens were hosing down, wiping off, and vacuuming up invisible particles from the surfaces of houses, roads, and schools throughout eastern and central Fukushima, while backhoes scraped soil from fields and stripped grass from parks.28 In woodlands near houses, the people raked up leaves and removed lower branches from trees.29

The work continues with mixed success. Radioactive cesium can in some cases be washed or wiped off smooth surfaces like tile, but it easily becomes stuck in the crevices of uneven materials and binds strongly to clay. Decontaminating large areas covered in vegetation, such as parks and gardens, usually means removing and disposing of whatever the cesium is stuck to. Grass and weeds, for instance, are cut, not washed, and dirt is usually removed or deep-plowed, according to Kathryn Higley, head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University. The process is labor-intensive, expensive, and prone to corner-cutting.30 To make matters worse, rain, wind, animals, and people can move irradiated debris around, recontaminating areas that have already been treated.31 As the cleanup proceeded, many Fukushima residents interviewed for this story say they began to suspect that forested slopes were a key source of recontamination—although research has not yet proved this.

MAJIA HERE: Again, I strongly recommend reading the entire article.

The issue it raises about whether de-contamination works is a very important one.

Imagine trying to somehow gather the most contaminated water, soil, plants and animals when radiation was dispersed widely

What do you do with tons and tons and tons of radioactive debris?

 Who is financially responsible for mapping, de-contaminating, and storing the formidable fallout contaminated waste?
Japan's fiscal solution is to spread the pain. See my previous posts below.

Japan's storage solution is incineration, but this solution is motivated by desperation.  See my discussion and documentation here

The US is facing essentially the same problem at Hanford and many other sites. 

What a mess we have created.


  1. Majia's Blog: Nuclear Decontamination Law in Japan
    Dec 31, 2011 – "The government will be responsible for the decontamination of no-entry ... In April, the Japanese government claimed that dumping radioactive ...
  2. Majia's Blog: New Decontamination Plan in Japan
    Oct 11, 2011 – The government will be responsible for the decontamination of ... Where are "local governments" going to store all of the radioactive debris?
  3. Majia's Blog: What To Do With Japan's Radioactive Soil
    Oct 9, 2011 – The central government will handle soil decontamination in the six ... This policy to shift responsibility locally is absurd. ... Search This Blog ...


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