The mayor of Okuma, a town near the Fukushima Daiichi plant that was hastily evacuated when a huge earthquake and tsunami crippled the reactors’ cooling systems on March 11, 2011, has vowed to lead residents back home as soon as radiation levels are low enough. But the slow pace of the government’s cleanup efforts, and the risk of another leak from the plant’s reactors, forced local officials to admit in September that it might be at least a decade before the town could be resettled.
A growing number of evacuees from Okuma have become pessimistic about ever living there again. At a temporary housing complex here in Aizu-Wakamatsu, a city 60 miles west of the plant, the mostly elderly residents say they do not have that much time or energy left to rebuild their town.
Many said they preferred plans that got them out of temporary housing but helped them maintain the friendships and communal bonds built over a lifetime, like rebuilding the town farther away from the plant.
Government radiation monitoring in areas near Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is unreliable, Greenpeace charged on Tuesday, with heavily populated areas exposed to 13 times the legal limit.
The environmental group said authorities were wasting time cleaning up evacuated areas and should prioritise decontamination efforts in places where people live, work and play.
Greenpeace found that in some parks and school facilities in Fukushima city, home to 285,000 people, radiation levels were above three microsieverts per hour. Japan’s recommended radiation limit is 0.23 microsieverts per hour.
“We also found that official monitoring posts placed by the government systematically underestimate the radiation levels,” said Rianne Teule, Greenpeace’s radiation expert, adding that some machines are shielded from radiation by surrounding metal and concrete structures.
The government approved a long-term goal Friday for reducing exposure to radiation in Fukushima Prefecture to levels in line with international standards as part of the policy for reconstruction and recovery from the nuclear crisis.
The Cabinet approved the goal of cutting the annual radiation dose to 1 millisievert or less, excluding exposure to natural radioactivity, in the prefecture hosting the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant, but it failed to meet a call to boost subsidies to firms starting firms or expanding operations.
The current evacuation order around the plant is designed to prevent exposure of more than 20 millisieverts of radiation a year, based on information from the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
The government will be responsible for removing radioactive materials from all areas with levels exceeding 1 millisievert per year — stricter than the 5 millisieverts initially considered — according to an Environment Ministry preliminary report that stops short of saying where the waste will be temporarily, or permanently, stored.
The changed threshold came after many local governments lashed out, prompting Environment Minister Goshi Hosono to repeatedly say the central government will expand the areas it takes responsibility for.
Under the plan, the government will aim to halve radiation levels by August 2013 from August 2011 in areas whose contamination runs between 1 and 20 millisieverts per year.
Tokyo’s Setagaya ward in the western part of the capital plans to run radiation tests in 258 locations following the discovery of radiation above safety levels that required partially blocking off a sidewalk.
Setagaya ward, which has a population of more than 840,000 people, plans to decontaminate the area after radiation levels as high as 2.707 microsieverts per hour were detected at the site in the Tsurumaki 5-chome area, according to a statement by the ward.
The 2.7 microsieverts an hour equates to a dose of 14.2 millisieverts per year, or more than 14 times the internationally recommended level for the general public, according to a Science Ministry formula.
Yahoo Japan Corp. on Friday started showing real-time radiation levels at 11 locations in Japan on a special online map using data gathered by a group of academics in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. A Yahoo Japan official said the beta service, using data measured by a team from Keio University, is aimed at providing access to readings in addition to those released by the government. The readings, updated every five minutes, are taken at 11 points located mainly in northeastern and eastern Japan including Tokyo, Nihonmatsu in Fukushima Prefecture, Sendai and the city of Chiba. It will increase the number of observation points in the future, the official said.
The first readings from American data-collection flights over the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan show that the worst contamination has not spread beyond the 19-mile range of highest concern established by Japanese authorities.
But another day of frantic efforts to cool nuclear fuel in the troubled reactors and in the plant’s spent-fuel pools resulted in little or no progress, according to United States government officials.
Japanese officials said they would continue those efforts, but were also racing to restore electric power to the site to get equipment going again, leaving open the question of why that effort did not begin days ago, at the first signs that the critical backup cooling systems for the reactors had failed.
The data was collected by the Aerial Measuring System, among the most sophisticated devices rushed to Japan by the Obama administration in an effort to help contain a nuclear crisis that a top American nuclear official said Thursday could go on for weeks.