All by Themselves?

The nuclear disaster caused by the Tohoku tsunami at the Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has led to confusion, governmental fumbling, and months with no cleanup. Now, the Fukushima Prefectural government, in collaboration with the Japanese Society of Radiation Safety Management, is giving residents instructions on how to do their own cleanup, and recommending that they do so. Seriously? DIY nuclear cleanup? Apparently so, because the Prefecture has published guidelines:

Fukushima Prefecture’s guidelines recommend wearing a hat, face mask, gloves, waterproof boots, long-sleeved shirt and long pants to lessen external and internal exposure, and experts add that the garb should be disposable.

When decontamination efforts involve use of water, the guideline advises rain gear and eye protection, plus a helmet and safety line when cleaning roofs.

The Prefecture has spent five months trying to come up with a plan that gets residents safely involved in the cleanup from the nuclear disaster, while accepting responsibility for some of the more dangerous work such as roof cleaning and trimming of tall trees.

But people pull plants out of yards and gardens, reducing Cesium-134 contamination simply by disposing of the plants that contain it. How does one “dispose of” radioactive plants, soil, and rocks? Bag it all in plastic and bury it in a hole with at least 20-30 cm of layers of tarps and soil. Eventually, the municipalities will pick up the buried material and move it to landfills, whence it will eventually go to a “secure” location.

The government is hoping for a 10% reduction in over-all contamination, but rainfall and cesium-134 half-life degradation of about two years should create a 40%-60% reduction, without any human help, in the same areas people are attempting cleanup.

One scientist said that the government seems to be simply waiting for nature to do the work, but giving homeowners make-work in the meantime. It’s hard to tell, sometimes, just what the Japanese federal government is playing at. One wonders whether the federal government of the USA would have any better plan when such a nuclear disaster occur at a US power plant.

Chuck Larlham