” FUKUSHIMA–Highly radioactive soil that should by law be removed by the central government has been left dumped in the corner of a schoolyard here because the construction of a local storage site for waste has been stalled.
Students at the school were not given an official warning that the radioactive soil was potentially hazardous to their health.
When a teacher scooped up soil samples at the site and had their radiation levels measured by two nonprofit monitoring entities–one in Fukushima and another in Tokyo–the results showed 27,000-33,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram.
The law stipulates that the central government is responsible for disposing of waste measuring more than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram.
But as a central government project to build an interim storage site for highly radioactive waste near the nuclear power plant has been stalled, the school appears to have no alternative to indefinitely keeping it in the schoolyard.
Principal Seiichi Takano at Fukushima North High School said the school does not plan to take extra safety measures with regard to the storage of the polluted dirt, saying the waste is not believed to be outright dangerous.
“The prefectural board of education has not set any criteria for us to conclude at what levels of radiation are hazardous to people,” he said.
The fallout is a result of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, which unfolded following the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11, 2011.
Before the cleanup operation at the school in the city’s Iizaka district on May 24-25, the teacher who took the samples called on school officials to take precautionary measures and issue an alert for students.
“Since it is highly radioactive, we should remind students and staff of the potential danger while taking a step to prevent the spread of polluted dust during cleanup,” said the teacher.
Highly radioactive dirt, which was mixed with tree branches and plants, amounted to 20 cubic meters, according to cleanup workers. It had been left for several years in an area near the parking lot for bicycles used by students.
School officials say they plan to bury the bags by digging deep holes on the school premises to temporarily store them, but they have no idea when they will finally be removed.
The polluted dirt in the latest cleanup first came to the attention of school officials in March when a preliminary survey detected 1.6 microsieverts per hour of radiation at a point 1 meter from the surface of the ground near the bicycle parking lot. The survey is routine before any cleanup gets under way in earnest.
A cleanup operation is conducted with the aim of lowering radiation exposure to below 0.23 microsieverts per hour, a long-term goal the central government has set to limit residents’ annual additional exposure to a maximum of 1 millisievert.
In the previous decontamination operation, the school’s playground was cleaned in August 2011 before classes were resumed for that academic year after a break after the nuclear accident.
A large amount of contaminated soil–far more radioactive than in the current incident–is still buried in the schoolyard for temporary storage.
Cleanup resumed only this spring for the rest of the school premises and its neighborhood in line with a general cleanup plan in Fukushima.
An official with the prefectural board of education said it is not considering additional safety measures concerning the storage of polluted soil kept at the school.
“We are going to ensure safety by taking an approach similar to the existing one before the polluted soil is transported to the interim storage facility,” said a board official. ”
by Masakazu Honda