In Japan, a Painfully Slow Sweep
[link to www.nytimes.com
More than a year and a half since the nuclear crisis, much of Japan’s post-Fukushima cleanup remains primitive, slapdash and bereft of the cleanup methods lauded by government scientists as effective in removing harmful radioactive cesium from the environment.
Local businesses that responded to a government call to research and develop decontamination methods have found themselves largely left out. American and other foreign companies with proven expertise in environmental remediation, invited to Japan in June to show off their technologies, have similarly found little scope to participate.
Recent reports in the local media of cleanup crews dumping contaminated soil and leaves into rivers have focused attention on the sloppiness of the cleanup.
“What’s happening on the ground is a disgrace,” said Masafumi Shiga, president of Shiga Toso, a refurbishing company based in Iwaki, Fukushima. The company developed a more effective and safer way to remove cesium from concrete without using water, which could repollute the environment. “We’ve been ready to help for ages, but they say they’ve got their own way of cleaning up,” he said.
Shiga Toso’s technology was tested and identified by government scientists as “fit to deploy immediately,” but it has been used only at two small locations, including a concrete drain at the Naraha-Minami school.
Instead, both the central and local governments have handed over much of the 1 trillion yen decontamination effort to Japan’s largest construction companies. The politically connected companies have little radiological cleanup expertise and critics say they have cut corners to employ primitive — even potentially hazardous — techniques.
“In such a big undertaking, cost-effectiveness becomes very important,” said Takeshi Nishikawa, an executive based in Fukushima for the Kajima Corporation, Japan’s largest construction company. The company is in charge of the cleanup in the city of Tamura, a part of which lies within the 12-mile exclusion zone. “We bring skills and expertise to the project,” Mr. Nishikawa said.
Kajima also built the reactor buildings for all six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, leading some critics to question why control of the cleanup effort has been left to companies with deep ties to the nuclear industry.Also worrying, industry experts say, are cleanup methods used by the construction companies that create loose contamination that can become airborne or enter the water.