CNIC Statement: With no decontamination, evacuation orders in radioactive areas of Fukushima should not be lifted

CNIC Statement

22 June, 2020

The Asahi newspaper reported on June 3 that the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry, the Environment Ministry and the Reconstruction Agency are investigating ways that evacuation orders, which still remain in some areas of Fukushima Prefecture due to the radioactive contamination caused by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, could be lifted without decontaminating the areas. The Nuclear Regulation Authority was consulted regarding the safety of allowing people back into the areas without decontaminating them first and a meeting of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters has been called to review the conditions for lifting evacuations orders. This was triggered by Iitate Village in Fukushima Prefecture requesting the government, on 26 February, to allow them to create a ‘Recovery Park’ in the Nagadoro District of their village which is presently designated at a ‘Difficult-to-Return-Zone.’ This designation essentially means that people cannot enter because of the radiation danger, but Iitate Village wants the government to change the designation so that residents are able to enter freely.

The five towns and villages surrounding Iitate (Namie, Futaba, Okuma, Tomioka and Katsurao) maintain that decontamination is a prerequisite to lifting evacuation orders. Regarding lifting of restrictions in ‘Difficult-to-Return Zones’, the Fukushima Prefecture Governor, Uchibori Masao, commented: “It is very important to have comprehensive dialogues with the local municipalities regarding the basic policy of reducing radiation levels and the decontamination procedure.”

 On June 11 the bipartisan Diet Member coalition against nuclear power (Genpatsu Zero-no-kai) had a hearing with the Cabinet Office’s team which supports victims of the nuclear disaster. The person from the team who attended the hearing said that, regarding lifting restrictions, “if there is a strong request from the local municipality, while ensuring the public is safe is a prerequisite, we are considering what type of evacuation order mechanism would be most appropriate.”

The conditions for lifting evacuation orders have been decided by the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters and approved by Cabinet. They are:

1)    The annual radiation dose, calculated from air dose rates, can be confirmed to be 20 mSv or below.

2)    Infrastructure and services necessary for daily life have been basically restored; sufficient progress in decontamination work, centered on the living environment of children;

3)    There has been adequate dialogue between the prefecture and municipal authorities and the residents.

Lifting evacuation orders with no decontamination completely disregards these conditions and therefore cannot be allowed.

There are three problems. The first one is that an accumulated annual dose of 20 mSv or less cannot be said to be safe. There is much research which shows that being exposed to 20 mSv or less per year can have impacts on human bodies. If the restrictions are lifted, children will be able to freely enter these areas, and there is a danger that the radiation they are exposed to will affect their health.

Secondly, there are several laws in Japan which set the radiation exposure limit for the general public at 1 mSv per year. Even if the natural decay of radioactive nuclides has brought the annual air dose rate to below 20 mSv, practically all of the present ‘Difficult-to-Return Zones’ are above 1 mSv per year. The restrictions are only supposed to be lifted after decontamination has brought radiation levels down to 1 mSv or below.

Thirdly, risks are already high if the restrictions are lifted when the annual radiation dose is below 20 mSv, but doing this without even decontaminating would make a dangerous exception. It would also violate the Act on Special Measures Against Radioactive Material Pollution, which states that decontamination is the “national responsibility”.

Even if Iitate Village is making this request, the national government should certainly not be allowed to abandon its responsibility and break the law by allowing the evacuation orders to be lifted with no decontamination.

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