A major delay in the government’s decontamination efforts in areas around the Fukushima Daiichi plant is seriously affecting the lives of evacuees who hope to return to their homes.
The Environment Ministry on Tuesday admitted that it cannot finish the project in 7 cities and towns by its initial deadline set for the end of next March.
The ministry attributes the delay to difficulty in obtaining agreements from evacuees living in different locations, and securing sites to store radioactive soil.
In Iitate Village, only 3 percent of the houses have been decontaminated despite the ministry’s initial plan to finish the work for the village by next March.
Some people have expressed concern that the work for the village will not be done even by the end of March 2015.
59-year-old Koichi Sato reopened his concrete mold factory in the village last October. He was one of a few residents who returned to the village that early.
He had expected the ministry to clean up his factory by last March as scheduled. But the work has not started.
He says some firms have refused to do business with him for fear of high radiation levels. His factory’s sales have dropped to one-third of the volume before the nuclear accident. Large piles of unsold molds occupy the factory compound.
Sato says he may have to close his factory if the decontamination work continues to be delayed.
The delay is also mentally affecting evacuees of the village.
67-year-old Masayuki Saito commutes to the village every other day from his shelter in Kawamata Town to maintain his house, which has not been decontaminated.
The radiation level in his garden remains above 1 microsievert per hour — more than 4 times the government-set long-term target.
Saito’s grandchildren, who used to live with him, no longer go to their house for fear of radiation.
He says he wants the ministry to start the decontamination work as soon as possible and hopes that he and other evacuees can return to their homes.
He says the delay is mentally affecting elderly people who endure difficulties at shelters while hoping to return to their hometowns.
He says the delay is also preventing young people from planning their futures.
Iitate Mayor Norio Kanno says he has expressed to the ministry his concern that it might not be able to meet the deadline. He says it’s regrettable that the ministry is reviewing the cleanup schedule.
He urges the ministry to meet the deadline and warns that the minds and bodies of the evacuees will fall apart if its decontamination project is not completed.