2013年1月8日 星期二


In Japan, a Painfully Slow Sweep

NARAHA, Japan — The decontamination crews at a deserted elementary school here are at the forefront of what Japan says is the most ambitious radiological cleanup the world has seen, one that promised to draw on cutting-edge technology from across the globe.
But much of the work at the Naraha-Minami Elementary School, about 12 miles away from the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, tells another story. For eight hours a day, construction workers blast buildings with water, cut grass and shovel dirt and foliage into big black plastic bags — which, with nowhere to go, dot Naraha’s landscape like funeral mounds.
More than a year and a half since the nuclear crisis, much of Japan’s post-Fukushima cleanup remains primitive, slapdash and bereft of the cleanup methods lauded by government scientists as effective in removing harmful radioactive cesium from the environment.
Local businesses that responded to a government call to research and develop decontamination methods have found themselves largely left out. American and other foreign companies with proven expertise in environmental remediation, invited to Japan in June to show off their technologies, have similarly found little scope to participate.
Recent reports in the local media of cleanup crews dumping contaminated soil and leaves into rivers has focused attention on the sloppiness of the cleanup.
“What’s happening on the ground is a disgrace,” said Masafumi Shiga, president of Shiga Toso, a refurbishing company based in Iwaki, Fukushima. The company developed a more effective and safer way to remove cesium from concrete without using water, which could repollute the environment. “We’ve been ready to help for ages, but they say they’ve got their own way of cleaning up,” he said.
Shiga Toso’s technology was tested and identified by government scientists as “fit to deploy immediately,” but it has been used only at two small locations, including a concrete drain at the Naraha-Minami school.
Instead, both the central and local governments have handed over much of the 1 trillion yen decontamination effort to Japan’s largest construction companies. The politically connected companies have little radiological cleanup expertise and critics say they have cut corners to employ primitive — even potentially hazardous — techniques.
The construction companies have the great advantage of available manpower. Here in Naraha, about 1,500 cleanup workers are deployed every day to power-spray buildings, scrape soil off fields, and remove fallen leaves and undergrowth from forests and mountains, according to an official at the Maeda Corporation, which is in charge of the cleanup.
That number, the official said, will soon rise to 2,000, a large deployment rarely seen on even large-sale projects like dams and bridges.
The construction companies suggest new technologies may work, but are not necessarily cost-effective.
“In such a big undertaking, cost-effectiveness becomes very important,” said Takeshi Nishikawa, an executive based in Fukushima for the Kashima Corporation, Japan’s largest construction company. The company is in charge of the cleanup in the city of Tamura, a part of which lies within the 12-mile exclusion zone. “We bring skills and expertise to the project,” Mr. Nishikawa said.
Kashima also built the reactor buildings for all six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, leading some critics to question why control of the cleanup effort has been left to companies with deep ties to the nuclear industry.
Also worrying, industry experts say, are cleanup methods used by the construction companies that create loose contamination that can become airborne or enter the water.
At many sites, contaminated runoff from cleanup projects is not fully recovered and is being released into the environment, multiple people involved in the decontamination work said.
In some of the more heavily contaminated parts of Fukushima, which covers about 100 square miles, the central government aims to reduce radiation exposure levels to below 20 millisieverts a year by 2014, a level the government says is safe for the general public. But experts doubt whether this is achievable, especially with current cleanup methods.
After some recent bad press, the central government has promised to step up checks of the decontamination work. “We will not betray the trust of the local communities,” Shinji Inoue, the environment vice minister, said Monday.
There had been high hopes about the government’s disaster reconstruction plan. It was announced four months after the March 2011 disaster, which declared Japan would draw on the most advanced decontamination know-how possible.
But confusion over who would conduct and pay for the cleanup slowed the government response. It took nine months for the central government to decide that it would take charge of decontamination work in 11 of the heaviest-contaminated towns and cities in Fukushima, leaving the rest for local governments to handle.
In October, the state-backed research organization, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, announced that it was soliciting new decontamination technology from across the country.
By early November, the agency had identified 25 technologies that its own tests showed removed harmful cesium from the environment.
A new system to trap, filter and recycle contaminated runoff, developed by the local machinery maker Fukushima Komatsu Forklift, was one of technologies. But since then, the company has not been called on to participate in the state-led cleanup.
“For the big general contractors, it’s all about the bottom line,” said Masao Sakai, an executive at the company. “New technology is available to prevent harmful runoff, but they stick to the same old methods.”
The Japanese government also made an initial effort to contact foreign companies for decontamination support. It invited 32 companies from the United States that specialize in remediation technologies like strip-painting and waste minimization, to show off their expertise to Japanese government officials, experts and companies involved in the cleanup.
Opinions on the trip’s effectiveness vary among participants, but in the six months since, not a single foreign company has been employed in Japan’s cleanup, according to the trip’s participants and Japan’s Environment Ministry.
Japanese officials said adapting overseas technologies presented a particular challenge.
“Even if a method works overseas, the soil in Japan is different, for example,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director at the environment ministry, who is in charge of the Fukushima cleanup. “And if we have foreigners roaming around Fukushima, they might scare the old grandmas and granddads there.”
Some local residents are losing faith in the decontamination effort.
“I thought Japan was a technologically advanced country. I thought we’d be able to clean up better than this,” said Yoshiko Suganami, a legal worker who was forced to abandon her home and office over two miles from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. “It’s clear the decontamination drive isn’t really about us any more.”
Most of the clients at Ms. Suganami’s new practice in Fukushima city are also nuclear refugees who have lost their jobs and homes and are trying to avert bankruptcy. She said few expect to ever return.
Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Tokyo.


Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

不過樽葉南小學(Naraha-Minami Elementary School)的大部分工作卻與之大相徑庭。這所小學距福島第一核電站(Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant)的廢墟大概12英里(約合19公里),每天八個小時,建築工人用水沖刷建築物、割草,並將土壤和植物枝葉鏟進一隻只黑色大塑料袋中。這些塑料 袋無處可去,讓樽葉顯示出了亂葬崗般的景象。
福島縣磐城市一家裝修公司,志賀塗裝株式會社(Shiga Toso)的社長志賀晶文(Masafumi Shiga)說,“現場發生的事情很丟臉。”這家公司開發了一種更有效也更安全的方法,來去除混凝土中的銫,這種方法無需採用污染環境的水洗方式。他說, “我們等了很長時間來幫忙,但是他們說有自己的清理方法。”
但建築公司擁有巨大的勞動力優勢。在樽葉,負責去污工作是前田建設工業株式會社(Maeda Corporation)。該公司一名管理人員稱,每天有約1500名清污工人朝房屋噴射高壓水、鏟走地表的土壤,並將樹林和山區的落葉和灌木移除。
日本最大的建築公司鹿島建設株式會社(Kajima Corporation)負責田村市的清理工作,其中部分區域位於12英里禁區內。該公司駐福島的高管西川驍(Takeshi Nishikawa,音譯)說,“在這種大型項目中,划算是非常重要的。我們可以把技能和專業知識引入到項目中。”
在最近出現不利報道之後,中央政府承諾會加強對去污作業的檢查力度。“我們不會背叛當地社區的信任,”環境省副大臣井上信治(Shinji Inoue)在周一說。
10月,受到政府資助的研究組織日本原子能機構(Japan Atomic Energy Agency)宣布,他們正在從該國各地徵求新的去污技術。
由當地機械製造商福島小松鏟車株式會社(Fukushima Komatsu Forklift)研發的儲存、過濾和回收污染廢水的新系統就是這些技術中的一項。但自那以後,政府並沒有在國家主導的去污工程中聘請該公司。
“對大型承包公司來說,他們關注的是盈虧問題,”該公司的一名管理人員酒井正夫(Masao Sakai,音譯)說。“他們本可以使用新的技術來阻止有害廢水,但他們還是死守老方法。”
“舉個例子,即使一種方法在國外是可行的,但日本的土質和國外不同,”負責福島去污工作的環境省的一位次長西山英彥(Hidehiko Nishiyama)說。“如果有外國人在福島遊盪,他們可能會嚇壞當地的老奶奶和老爺爺。”
“我原以為日本是一個擁有先進技術的國家。我原以為我們的去污工作會做得更好,”法律工作者菅波良子(Yoshiko Suganami,音譯)說。她被迫離開了自己距離福島第一核電站兩英里遠處的家和辦公室。“很明顯,去污行動已與人民沒有太大關係了。”
Makiko Inoue自東京對本文有報道貢獻。