The DEFCON Warning System

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war. Established 1984

Effectiveness of landscape decontamination following the Fukushima nuclear accident: a review

The Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) accident in March 2011 resulted in the contamination of Japanese landscapes with radioactive fallout. Accordingly, the Japanese authorities decided to conduct extensive remediation activities in the impacted region to allow for the relatively rapid return of the local population. The objective of this review is to provide an overview of the decontamination strategies and their potential effectiveness in Japan, focussing on particle-bound radiocesium. In the Fukushima Prefecture, the decision was taken to decontaminate the fallout-impacted landscapes in November 2011 for the 11 municipalities evacuated after the accident (Special Decontamination Zone – SDZ – 1117 km2) and for the 40 non-evacuated municipalities affected by lower, although still significant, levels of radioactivity (Intensive Contamination Survey Areas, 7836 km2). Decontamination activities predominantly targeted agricultural landscapes and residential areas. No decontamination activities are currently planned for the majority of forested areas, which cover ∼75 % of the main fallout-impacted region. Research investigating the effectiveness of decontamination activities underlined the need to undertake concerted actions at the catchment scale to avoid renewed contamination from the catchment headwaters after the completion of remediation activities. Although the impact of decontamination on the radioactive dose rates for the local population remains a subject of debate in the literature and in the local communities, outdoor workers in the SDZ represent a group of the local population that may exceed the long-term dosimetric target of 1 mSv yr−1. Decontamination activities generated ∼20 million m3 of soil waste by early 2019. The volume of waste generated by decontamination may be decreased through incineration of combustible material and recycling of the less contaminated soil for civil engineering structures. However, most of this material will have to be stored for ∼30 years at interim facilities opened in 2017 in the vicinity of the FDNPP before being potentially transported to final disposal sites outside of the Fukushima Prefecture. Further research is required to investigate the perennial contribution of radiocesium from forest sources. In addition, the re-cultivation of farmland after decontamination raises additional questions associated with the fertility of remediated soils and the potential transfer of residual radiocesium to the plants. Overall, we believe it is important to synthesise the remediation lessons learnt following the FDNPP nuclear accident, which could be fundamental if a similar catastrophe occurs somewhere on Earth in the future.

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Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.

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