The Mainichi: What Can Japan Learn From its 1986 Disaster?
April 26 will mark the 26th anniversary of the worst case of nuclear contamination in history: The 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Since the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March last year, the Japanese government has shown interest in decontamination and other projects around Chernobyl as a reference point for efforts to deal with its own nuclear disaster. However, in northern Ukraine, where the radioactive husks of the former Soviet power station lies, large-scale decontamination work has been abandoned as largely ineffective, and disaster refugees are no closer to going home. I am a little less than 10 kilometers from the Chernobyl nuclear plant, in a warehouse-like building with a long, narrow trough for waste water cut into the floor. This is where workers clad in protective suits scrub down vehicles and heavy machinery that have gone into high-radiation areas. The scrubbing is done by hand, until the radiation emissions from the truck or the bulldozer drops below 0.5 microsieverts per hour. Just after the 1986 disaster, in which one of the Chernobyl plant's reactors exploded, blowing off the reactor housing roof and spewing radioactive material into the air, Soviet authorities swung into a full-scale decontamination effort, including burying contaminated soil, and washing and then melting down contaminated machinery. However, in the 14 years between the disaster and the year 2000, when the last operating reactor at the plant was finally shut down, authorities apparently judged that there had been "little improvement" in soil conditions, and they decided to halt soil decontamination!