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Radiation fears slow Japan tsunami clear-up
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 27, 2012

Giant piles of debris from Japan's earthquake and tsunami scar the country's once picturesque northeast coast -- and the clear-up is hamstrung by fears the rubbish may be contaminated by radiation.

Decades-worth of waste was left behind when the waters receded in March last year after claiming more than 19,000 lives.

The survivors are desperate to rebuild, but must first get rid of more than 22 million tonnes of rubbish -- far too much for the disaster-struck region to deal with alone.

But despite appeals to national solidarity, worries over nuclear contamination from the crippled Fukushima power plant mean virtually no one elsewhere in Japan wants the debris processed near them.

"We hope everything will be taken away as quickly as possible so we can go back to normal life," said one man from the devastated town of Onagawa.

According to Environment Minister Goshi Hosono facilities across the entire country will have to be brought into play to deal with the 16 million tonnes of debris from Miyagi prefecture and 4.42 million tonnes from Iwate -- amounts that dwarf the annual average waste generated by both areas.

Hosono, who is also responsible for handling the atomic crisis, agrees the 2.28 million tonnes of waste in Fukushima will have to be treated on site as radioactive elements have been released into the environment in the prefecture.

When the disaster struck a national outpouring of empathy brought with it offers of help from all over the country.

But these have since dried up and now there are few volunteers for taking waste from Miyagi and Iwate, amid fears it could be contaminated and would be dangerous to burn despite the use of filters in incinerators.

"We want to finish (the clean-up) in three years, but if things continue at the current rate that seems difficult, so we must accelerate," said Hosono.

"We are taking additional measures, such as constructing temporary incineration sites, but even that will not be enough" without other municipalities playing a part, he said.

The city of Tokyo has already agreed to take some of the debris, "but other localities have not decided anything," he complained.

The government has sought to reassure opponents with a dedicated website aiming to explain exactly how the waste is dealt with.

It says the incinerators have fine enough filters to prevent radiation being released, and only waste below specific radiation levels will be burned in conventional facilities.

Hosono says ash produced by the incineration is safe.

"The radioactivity measured in the ash is 133 becquerels per kilogramme, which is lower than the temporary level set for food, so there is no danger and no need to worry," he said.

According to his ministry, radiation limits have been set for clear-up workers at one millisievert per year, the same as that allowed for the general public under normal circumstances. Incineration plants are not allowed to expose local residents to more than 0.01 millisieverts per year.

The Tokyo authority's own website also details the precautions being taken there, and explains how many times radiation is measured to ensure that nothing dangerous makes it to the capital from Miyagi and Iwate.

Even so that has not been enough to assuage the fears of some people living in the megacity.

"We received some 4,000 letters of complaint (about this)," Masami Imai, director of the city's waste department, told AFP.

"In more than 85 percent of them, citizens say they are worried about radioactivity or even say that we should refuse to import this debris.

"They worry about their children, they are afraid that radiation levels are too high."

Radiation experts agree that children are at greatest risk from cancers and genetic defects because they are still growing, are more prone to thyroid cancers, and because they will have more time to develop health defects.

But Yoshiaki Suda, mayor of Onagawa, appealed for sympathy.

"We want to rebuild at all costs," he said. "To do that we have to clear the rubble as soon as possible.

"I wish people in Tokyo and other areas would understand the situation we are in."

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Five Japan committees keep no disaster records
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 27, 2012 - Five government teams dealing with Japan's tsunami and nuclear catastrophes kept no detailed records, an official said Friday, adding to a growing picture of chaos in Tokyo's disaster response.

Earlier this week the government said the nuclear disaster task force that ordered tens of thousands of evacuations had no written record of its decision-making process -- an essential component of disaster management.

Now the government has admitted having no minutes from a further four emergency committees, an admission likely to worsen the view of Tokyo's response to the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

The five emergency bodies include the main disaster headquarters and the disaster victims assistance team, as well as the nuclear disaster task force, which was headed by then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and included all of his ministers.

These three committees failed to keep even brief summaries of their meetings, while two other task forces have only partial summaries.

Such records are usually thought of as essential for careful and coherent planning to mitigate the impact of future disasters.

Several other emergency committees kept only summaries of their meetings, leaving blanks in the record of how top officials addressed the aftermath of the tsunami and the atomic accident it spawned at Fukushima as reactors went into meltdown, spewing radiation over a wide area.

Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada has instructed ministers to create summaries of the meetings by the end of February, an official at the Cabinet Office said.

Okada plans to hold a press conference later Friday to explain how the government failed to keep the records, the official said.

Kazuhiro Hayakawa, associate professor of administrative law at Omiya Law School said the lack of a written record was "ridiculous" and almost certainly a contravention of the legal requirement to keep minutes.

"No matter how much of an emergency it was, it is absurd that they did not keep records of the meetings, which were no doubt subject to the Archive Management Law" requiring a written record, he said.

"I doubt it was intentional on the part of the government. But I suspect government officials lacked a clear chain of command to order the creation of the records.

"This failure has deprived us of the possibility of studying what exactly happened" immediately after the disaster, he said.

Opposition parties leapt on the admission, calling it an example of the inexperience of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

"This is symbolic of the recklessness of the government," said Hirofumi Nakasone of the leading opposition Liberal Democratic Party.


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TEPCO uses camera to survey Fukushima reactor
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 19, 2012
The operators of the tsunami-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant said Thursday they had passed an industrial camera into one of the wrecked reactors, in their first attempt to directly check the interior. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said it had managed to derive some new information from the first images taken by the endoscope in the survey at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plan ... read more

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