Towns doubt plan to lift hot zone advisory

Kyodo

The heads of five municipalities in Fukushima’s hot zone are concerned about government plans to lift the evacuation advisory and say more needs to be done to protect residents from radiation.

The chiefs of the five local governments said they are especially worried about decontamination and disposal of radioactive waste from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant — the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl — that has tainted much of area.

The five municipalities are situated between 20 and 30 km from the crisis-hit nuclear plant. Children, pregnant women and people who need medical support have been advised to evacuate, and schools and kindergartens were closed based on a government advisory issued on April 22.

The advisory covers the entire town of Hirono and parts of Naraha, the village of Kawauchi, and the cities of Tamura and Minamisoma, where roughly 59,000 residents have been told to prepare to evacuate or remain indoors in the event of an emergency. About 25,000 have already left.

In August, the central government said it would lift the evacuation advisory in the near future because there is only a slight risk of the plant’s cooling system failing again and because radiation levels in the area are very low.

Since the five municipalities have submitted recovery plans that spell out the details of how they will decontaminate their areas and rebuild basic infrastructure, the government is looking to lift the advisory by the end of the month.

But Hirono Mayor Motohoshi Yamada has criticized the process used to make the decision and said that decontamination should be carried out first before giving residents the green light to return.

According Hirono’s recovery plan, all residents are expected to return by the end of 2012.

“We will not allow our residents to return home unless their safety is secured,” Yamada said. “We are also concerned about how to finance the cost of the decontamination work.”

Other mayors are also concerned about decontamination — especially when it comes to drafting the currently nonexistent criteria that will be used to declare their neighborhoods safe.

Minamisoma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai said the city began attempting cleanup activities in August but has found it difficult to decontaminate the mountains, farmlands and rivers because they have nothing to go by.

“There are no benchmark figures to refer to in our efforts to lower radiation and reassure our residents. We will proactively release information so that they can judge themselves whether to return home,” Sakurai said.

Minamisoma, whose residents account for some 80 percent of the 59,000 residents covered by the advisory, asked citizens in July to return by the end of August, but hasn’t issued any further instructions since.

Tamura Mayor Yukei Tomitsuka urged the central government to clarify target levels for the decontamination work because the city lacks the expertise to do so itself.

Kawauchi Mayor Yuko Endo said villagers are uneasy because they don’t know how long decontamination will take or what will happen to the radioactive waste it generates.

Naraha Mayor Takashi Kusano said the town will not urge residents to return even after the evacuation advisory is lifted because most of the residential areas are in the 20-km radius hot zone.

Nuke panel goes abroad

Kyodo

An independent panel set up by the government has decided to ask several overseas experts to join its probe into the causes of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, sources said Saturday.

The panel, headed by Yotaro Hatamura, honorary professor at the University of Tokyo, is picking foreign experts to serve as advisers next year as it aims to secure international trust in Tokyo’s investigation into the matter, the sources said.

Both the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., which is overseen by the government, are being heavily criticized by the public for either withholding or being late to disseminate critical information on the accident.