The thousands of radiation-monitoring posts installed in Fukushima Prefecture after the 2011 nuclear crisis have malfunctioned nearly 4,000 times, sources said Sunday as the Nuclear Regulation Authority prepares to remove them after spending ¥500 million a year on repair costs.
“It’s all about the budget in the end. They can’t reuse the devices and there seem to be no concrete plans,” said Terumi Kataoka, a housewife in Aizuwakamatsu who formed a group of mothers to petition the NRA last month to keep the monitors in place. The NRA refused.
Around 3,000 of the monitors were installed in the wake of the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant following the March 2011 mega-quake and tsunami. The NRA, which operates the monitoring posts, plans to remove around 80 percent of them by the end of fiscal 2020 on the grounds that radiation levels in some areas have fallen and stabilized.
But the move is being viewed by some as an attempt to cut costs because the government is also looking to terminate its special budgetary account for rebuilding Tohoku by the same year.
Some municipalities and residents oppose scrapping the monitoring posts because they will no longer be able to gauge the risk to their health. They were installed in kindergartens, schools and other places to measure radiation in the air, according to the NRA.
But in the five years since the network was activated in fiscal 2013, the system has been plagued by problems including inaccurate readings and data-transmission failures. The tally of cases stands at 3,955.
Each time, the undisclosed makers of the device and security companies were called to fix it, costing the central government about ¥500 million a year.
In March, the NRA decided to remove about 2,400 of the monitoring posts from areas outside the 12 municipalities near the wrecked power plant and reuse some of them in the municipalities.
Local citizens’ groups have asked the NRA not to remove the monitoring posts until the plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., is decommissioned. That project is expected to take decades.
Kataoka asked the NRA to disclose information on its plans to reuse the devices, but she was told no official documents on the plans had been drafted yet.
On Monday, Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori urged the central government to investigate the cause of the monitor malfunctions and take measures to address the issue.
“The accuracy of the system is important,” he said.
Safecast, a global volunteer-based citizen science organization formed in 2011 to monitor radiation from the Fukushima disaster, said some devices had to be replaced because they didn’t work or were not made to the required specifications. Many were placed in locations that had notably lower ambient radiation than their surroundings, and so were not adequately representative of the situation, it added.
“Removing the units seems like a huge step away from transparency,” said Azby Brown, lead researcher at Safecast.
Brown said the public will certainly view the move with suspicion and increasingly mistrust the government, while the continuity of the database is lost.