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Fukushima Fallout − Crooked clean-up, exasperated evacuees

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor

A 16-member International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission has lavished praise on Fukushima clean-up operations but wants authorities to work harder to convince Japanese citizens to accept higher radiation doses.[1] The IAEA was peddling similar lies in July 2011, when IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said clean-up work was "moving very smoothly".[2]

By contrast, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper has run a series of articles this year under the title 'Crooked Cleanup'.[3] The articles detail a myriad of problems including the involvement of criminal gangs in decontamination work; lax background checks; contractors tipped off about 'surprise' inspections of decontamination work; shoddy work practices such as radioactive debris being dumped in rivers; contractors lying about their decontamination work; Environment Ministry officials failing to act on a flood of complaints about shoddy work; work being concentrated around radiation monitors with little or no work carried out at less proximate locations; and much, much more.

A recent Greenpeace survey found that decontamination work has been effective for houses and many parts of major routes, but some lesser-used public roads still have high contamination levels, as do large areas of farmland and mountain areas. Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace radiation protection adviser, said the decontaminated houses and roads were like "islands" and "corridors" in an otherwise polluted region. It would be "unrealistic" to ask residents to stay off contaminated roads and farmland, he said.[4] Tomoya Yamauchi, a professor of radiation physics at Kobe University, said he found that some decontaminated road surfaces in Fukushima had readings 18 times the target level because caesium had accumulated in cracks in the asphalt.[12]

Securing sites to store contaminated waste is proving extremely difficult. Citizens and local governments have opposed three-year 'temporary storage sites' which the national government wants to establish pending the construction of a mid-term waste storage facility. An Environment Ministry official said: "Given that no prospects are in sight for building an intermediate storage facility for soil and other waste from the decontamination process, people are distrustful and are concerned that such waste could be left abandoned in these temporary storage sites."[7]

As a result, waste is stored under tarpaulins across much of the Fukushima Prefecture, sometimes close to schools and homes.[5] About 150,000 tons of contaminated waste have been left in the open under tarpaulins − about 30% of all waste from the crisis − due to delays establishing temporary storage sites. A total of 372 temporary storage sites are planned, but so far only 139 have been established.[6]


Some evacuees will have to wait up to three years longer before they can return home as clean-up operations fall behind schedule. The Environment Ministry is revising the timetable for six of 11 municipalities in the exclusion zone. The original plan called for completing all decontamination work by March 2014.[8] Decontamination efforts are on schedule in only four municipalities. "I have run out of patience," farmer Muneo Kanno told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. "We villagers are brimming with distrust of the central government and are concerned about whether we can eventually return. We are left deprived of our lives, and our return has been kept on hold."[9]

Meanwhile there is an unfolding discussion and debate concerning the likelihood that some evacuees will never be able to return home because of the difficulty of reducing radiation to habitable levels.[10,11]

Even in locations where decontamination operations have been completed, many former residents are reluctant to return. Reasons include concerns over the lack of jobs, services, and infrastructure; agricultural restrictions; houses being torn down because of extensive mildew; the unstable situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant and concerns about the adequacy of decontamination work.[12]

Reuters reported in August that just over 500 of the 3,000 former residents of the town of Kawauchi have returned and the "same pattern has played out across Fukushima as the nuclear accident turned the slow drip of urban flight by younger residents into a torrent, creating a demographic skew that decontamination is unlikely to reverse."[12]

Referring to a man he met during a visit to Japan in 2011, Gregory Jaczko, former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told an audience in New York on October 8: "There is nothing more challenging than to look into the eyes of a grandfather who no longer sees his children because they had to move on to find jobs. That is the tragedy and human toll that the Fukushima disaster has enacted on nearly 100,000 people in Japan. You cannot put those impacts in dollar terms, but they are very real."[13]

Some ugly victim-blaming is emerging. Nuclear apologist Leslie Corrice says evacuees "don't want to go home because being a Fukushima evacuee is a serious money-making life-style, and they don't want to lose their lucrative income."[14] Likewise, an official from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said some people don't want to return to their former homes because they don't want the compensation money from TEPCO to end. A single mother evacuated from near Kawauchi responded to the official's statement: "There's no jobs, no shops open, nothing. It's become an incredibly difficult place to live and yet they're saying 'You can go home now'. ... It's so unfair to say that. It's not that simple."[12]

[1] 21 Oct 2013, 'IAEA Expert Remediation Mission to Japan Issues Preliminary Report',
[2] Reuters, 25 July 2011, 'Fukushima cleanup going well, according to UN atomic watchdog',
[4] AFP, 10 Oct 2013, 'Fukushima decontamination insufficient: Greenpeace',
[5] 11 Sept 2013,
[6] Japan News, 14 Sept 2013
[7] 11 Sept 2013, 'Ministry angers residents by pushing back Fukushima cleanup',
[8] BBC, 21 Oct 2013,
[9] 11 Sept 2013, 'Ministry angers residents by pushing back Fukushima cleanup',
[10] 12 Nov 2013, 'Fukushima evacuees express anger, resignation at government policy shift',
[11] 4 Nov 2013, 'Debate begins for governments over Ishiba's no-return remark',
[12] Sophie Knight, 14 Aug 2013, 'Insight: Japan's nuclear clean-up: costly, complex and at risk of failing',
[13] David Biello, 'The Nuclear Odyssey of Naoto Kan, Japan's Prime Minister during Fukushima',
[14] 30 Oct 2013, 'The Business of Being a Fukushima Refugee',

More information on the plight of evacuees:


(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)