Monday, August 8, 2011

Minami Soma City Embarks on Decontamination on its Own, But Where Will The Radioactive Dirt Go?

Minami Soma City, where the mayor of the town went on Youtube a few days after the March 11 earthquake and pleaded for food and water, has started to decontaminate the city on its own without the national or prefectural government assistance.

From Yomiuri Shinbun (8/8/2011):


On August 8, Minami Soma City in Fukushima Prefecture started the decontamination effort to remove radioactive materials released from the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident. The decontamination will be carried out city-wide except for the no-entry zone. The decontamination work started on August 8 at Kashima Elementary School in Kashima district of the city.


The goal of the city-wide decontamination is to lower the radiation level in anticipation for the elimination of the emergency evacuation-ready zone. The surface soil of the school yards at elementary and junior high schools and kindergartens will be removed, and the walls and the roofs of the school buildings will be washed, using the pressure washers.

 鹿島小学校では、この日午前8時から市内の建設業者が重機3台を使って校庭の表土を約5センチ削り取る作業を開始。削った土は、校庭に掘った穴に 埋める。同市は、当面の除染にかかる費用9億6000万円を今年度補正予算に組み込み、8~9月を強化月間としている。公立の小中学校と幼稚園、保育園、 児童館など、9月末までに警戒区域を除く市内35施設で順次実施する予定。

At Kashima Elementary School, a construction company in the city started to remove about 5 centimeters of the surface soil in the school yard, using 3 power shovels. The removed soil will be buried in a hole that has been dug in the yard. The city has allocated 900 million yen (US$11.6 million/8.17 million euro) in the supplementary budget for this fiscal year, and designated August and September as "Decontamination month". By the end of September, the city plans to carry out decontamination at all 35 public elementary and junior high schools, kindergartens, nursery schools, and children's centers except for those located inside the no-entry zone.

(Private kindergartens and nursery schools are not included?)

Minami Soma City has everything - planned evacuation zone, emergency evacuation-ready zone (these two are about to be phased out), no-entry zone. The city has already send the notice to residents who have evacuated from the city to return.

I have my doubts about Minami Soma's decontamination efforts, and here are some of them:

First, where will the radioactive dirt and sludge go? If Fukushima City is any indication, it will be "temporarily" buried in somebody's backyard without that somebody being notified. Burying in the hole in the school yard cannot be the permanent solution.

Second, how low will the radiation go? Again, if Fukushima City's result, and Minami Soma's very own result, is any indication, the radiation may go down by half. But then what? Having the air radiation level from 2 microsieverts/hour to 1 microsieverts/hour for example may be great on paper, but it is far from the level Minami Soma residents with small children should feel safe returning to the city.

Third, as Professor Kodama said, to turn radiation contamination in one number - air radiation in microsievert/hour - misses the real picture of contamination. Iodine goes to thyroid, cesium goes to bladder, strontium goes to the bone. Even for the internal radiation, the effective dose for the entire body may not mean much.

And lastly, who is going to train the ordinary residents into part-time radiation workers? Professor Kodama's Radioisotope Center is supposedly helping Minami Soma City, but if you look at the decontamination manual issued by Minami Soma, it is no different than what Fukushima Prefecture has issued for residents. Not much protection beyond masks and gloves to deal with radiation.

Without the bigger, systematic plan that includes the final processing and disposal of radioactive materials, any decontamination effort may simply displace radiation from one place to another.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't they have to collect the pressure washer water or else risk blowing the radiation off of roofs with a hose and having radioactive water flow onto the ground surrounding the building? I respect what they are trying to do - they realize the gov is against them but I think they need expertise/help and they won't get it from inside Japan.

Shadowfax said...

So they removed the top foot of earth,the reactors are still spreading radioactive materials.( for months more if not years/decades)They can keep scraping away the radioactive earth and hiding it in the mountains til they get down to bedrock,then they can move somewhere else and start again until the entire island of Japan is one big radioactive dump/wasteland.

Anonymous said...

Hey, keep up the good work.

By the way, the New York Times today is publishing (online anyway) an article titled "Japan Hid Radiation Path, Leaving Evacuees In Peril." It's quite thorough and very damning and can be found at:

Please check it out and if you haven't already, translate it into Japanese. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Put the dirt on barges and dump it in the sea in one of those super deep trenches. It will stay down there until it is either absorbed by tectonic forces and or is no longer radioactive.

Anonymous said...

There is only one way and its to remove it from the face of the Earth.
Putt it back into the Earth.
Every thing fromdecontamening, to waist storages, lett there be nothing left of the Nuck ind. on the Face of the Earth.
And it has to last for mileniums, and that Laydies and Gentlemen is a Fact.
Japan has tunneldrilling expiriences and equipment, use it.
Even storing inside mountains are risky(earthquaks), is still inside the mountain.

There is no other long term storage posebilitys, the second is not in our capasety as a "siviliced" world, the Space.

Wery simple.

Marc Sheffner said...

I respect what they are trying to do - they realize the gov is against them but I think they need expertise/help and they won't get it from inside Japan.

The government isn't against them, but it's not capable of helping every community, village and area that needs help. This is just bigger than government can manage. I think it reveals as impossible the idea that a group of people can manage an emergency like this. See how well they've "managed" the economy.

I disagree about the lack of expertise help inside Japan. There is probably more of it available here in Japan than anywhere else. The government needs to get out of the way and stop pretending they can manage this emergency. They've taken one step already, but they won't take any unless they're pushed by voters. They could start with Prof. Kodama's suggestions.

moonkai said...

They cannot decontaminate the prefecture... come on!This is a waste of time! If that was possible at all, don't you think Chernobyl would have done a long time ago! Ridiculous. Scrap the floor down to the core of this planet all you want, but the reactors are still spewing all over the place and the winds will deposite this atrocity anywhere the winds wish. Nothing can be done about it !

Anonymous said...

Robbie001 sez:

I share your skepticism about Minami Soma's short term decontamination efforts regardless of how noble the intention. A good portion of the material they don't properly sequester will eventually find it's way back into the environment. Haphazard clandestine waste burial pits are a sure recipe for unintended water table contamination. Detergent powerwashing water needs to be channeled and trapped for waste separation if it is just released into the environment willy nilly it can cause source points for recontamination of remediated soils or the local water table. The amount of soil they need to remove may not be confined to the top 5cm depending on the soil type and level of rain penetration they may need to remove 2 or 3 times that amount or more. On Bikini Island they removed contaminated soil in test patches only to have the local vegetation and other transport mechanisms reconcentrated contamination back near the surface a few years later.

Unfortunately most of the part time remediation workers will learn their lessons on the job at the school of hardknocks. Decontamination efforts can be very dangerous pressure washing mist can be laden with a host dangerous particles. Removing the layer of topsoil can also liberate tons of contaminated dust if conditions are dry enough.

Soil washing has been done before but never on the scale necessary to decontaminate vast areas of Japan.

Various US Radiation Cleanup Standards:

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