Communication as important as clean-up, says IAEA

21 October 2013

While praising Japan's efforts to decontaminate the area around the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant, an international expert mission suggests that authorities should improve their communications with the public.

The 16-member team assembled by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited Japan between 14-21 October at the request of the country's government. It was the second such mission sent by the IAEA following the March 2011 accident. The main purpose of the mission was to evaluate the progress of the on-going remediation works achieved since the previous mission two years ago.

"In remediation situations, any level of individual radiation dose in the range of 1 to 20 mSv per year is acceptable and in line with the international standards."

IAEA mission

In its preliminary report, the team of experts said that decontaminating large areas of land "represents a huge effort." However, it noted that "Japan is allocating enormous resources to developing strategies and plans and implementing remediation activities, with the aim of enhancing the living conditions of the people affected by the nuclear accident, including enabling evacuated people to return." This work includes washing down buildings and the removal of the top layer of soil.

Eleven municipalities in the former restricted zone or planned evacuation area, within 20 km of the plant or where annual cumulative radiation dose is greater than 20 mSv, are designated Special Decontamination Areas, where decontamination work is being implemented by the government. A further 100 municipalities in eight prefectures, where air dose rates are over 0.23 µSv per hour (equivalent to over 1 mSv per year) are classed as Intensive Decontamination Areas, where decontamination is being implemented by each municipality with funding and technical support from the national government.

Mission findings

The team said that a "large amount of crucial information" has been produced since the accident that will "help drive decision-making processes." However, "It is clearly important to foster confidence both in accuracy of the information itself and in how it is interpreted, especially in terms of safety perceptions."

The mission said that there is "demonstrable evidence that successful communication and engagement processes are being adopted at the national, prefectural and municipal level." However, it called for better communication about its clean-up efforts and the risks that radiation poses to the public.

It encourages Japanese institutions "to increase efforts to communicate that in remediation situations, any level of individual radiation dose in the range of 1 to 20 mSv per year is acceptable and in line with the international standards."

The team of experts suggest that some clean-up measures can be carried out after evacuation orders are lifted. However, it said that the government should put more emphasis on explaining to the public that its long-term goal of achieving an additional individual dose of 1 mSv/y cannot be achieved solely by decontamination work.

The team recommends that a "step-by-step approach" should be adopted towards achieving this long-term goal. "The benefits of this strategy, which would allow resources to be reallocated to the recovery of essential infrastructure to enhance living conditions, should be carefully communicated to the public."

Communicating the entire remediation and reconstruction programs "could reduce some uncertainties and provide greater confidence in the decisions being made." 

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News