Prepare for decontamination

Decontamination — financed with government money — of areas contaminated with radioactive substances released by Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant will start this year. As a preparatory step, the government has designated 102 municipalities in Fukushima and seven other prefectures in the Tohoku and Kanto regions as places for studying contamination situations.

After such studies, the municipalities will pick specific areas for decontamination and write detailed work plans. Areas with radiation levels of at least 1 millisievert per year (minus background radiation) will be subject to decontamination. In 11 municipalities of Fukushima Prefecture, the government will be directly involved in decontamination and disposal of radioactive waste.

Even if decontamination is done, it does not mean that evacuees can come back to their homes immediately. Many such people feel ill at ease about their future, which will increase as time goes by.

The government should refrain from making politically motivated announcements that will give a false hope to local residents. Instead it should provide accurate information about the contamination situation in all present no-go zones so that the evacuees can have clearer pictures of their futures.

In the 11 municipalities of Fukushima Prefecture, areas will be divided into three categories — areas where returning will be difficult for many years to come, areas where restrictions will be placed on residence, and areas where evacuation orders will be lifted in a short time.

For the first category, the government should consider buying up land and houses to help evacuees start new lives elsewhere.

It will be also important for the government to show the prospects of restoration of lifelines and infrastructure, and enterprises and shops coming back to the communities. The basic principle should be to carefully listen to citizens’ demands, complaints and opinions, and work together with them to devise plans for the future.

The government should pay close attention to the need for decontaminating forests in mountainous areas. Each time rain falls, radioactive substances is washed away from forests to low-lying areas. Decontaminating residential areas and agricultural fields alone may not bring a lasting solution to the contamination problems.