One of the first demonstrations conducted by Wang’s team was at a Japanese school still in routine use. The contamination was widespread and included troubling accumulations of radiation in biological materials. While the asphalt driveway was contaminated, the grass next to it was four times as radioactive as the asphalt. The worst were the patches of fungus on the bleachers at the school’s baseball field, which had sucked-up radionuclides to such a degree that they were emitting radiation at 70-times the contaminated asphalt.
Engelhard described the chilling phenomena of the fungus-turned-radiation-sponge as, “a remarkable example of biological amplification.”
Wang said it more bluntly, “A boy sitting on that patch to watch a baseball game could do real damage to his gonads.”
More disturbingly, during the June 2011 trip, the American decon crew was stunned at how little the government disaster-response “experts” they encountered understood about radiation. After observing the radiation officials’ attempts to use their radiation meters, industrial hygienist Engelhard said, “They didn’t seem to understand what their radiation sensor equipment did, or how to work it.”
On subsequent trips to Japan, Engelhard found that the expertise of the Japanese radiation techs he met was much higher.
“I can only presume that during our first trip, Japan’s ‘first string’ radiological experts were actually in the hottest zones around the Fukushima plant itself, and we were seeing third-string officials,” he said. “Still, it was pretty disconcerting to consider how little the first bunch seemed to understand.”
In Fukushima City, more than 40 miles northwest of the nuclear plant, Engelhard made another disquieting discovery at a lighted sign where the real-time radiation dose rate was allegedly being posted for local residents. However, when Engelhard stood next to the sign and turned on his own detection gear, he found the actual radiation dosage was up to 50% higher than what the sign was reporting.
“I don’t know if they had a sensor calibration problem or the number was being deliberately under-reported. But the information being fed to the citizens of Fukushima City by that sign was wrong,” Engelhard said.
During the first trip, when Wang asked an official from Fukushima prefecture what testing methodology to use when recording post-decontamination sensor readings, he was rebuked.
“Don’t be an idiot. Don’t average your results, report only the lowest number you get,” the prefecture official informed him. That technique is a shady practice that had Wang followed it, would have resulted in under-reporting real radiation levels.
On all four trips, Wang’s team was greeted with enthusiasm and relief by many in Japan’s business community. Several Japanese companies offered to partner with the California firm to import the technology and equipment, and Wang never doubted his Japanese business partners tried their utmost to break through the governmental logjam.
Despite the enthusiasm from the audiences who saw the demonstrations, closing in on two years after the Fukushima disaster, no PowerPlus equipment has been sold, and no decontamination contracts have been forthcoming. Far from unique, this cold reception by the Japanese government was identical to experience of dozens of both Japanese and US firms with decontamination expertise to offer. Health physicist Wayne Schofield is not surprised at PowerPlus’ lack of headway, noting that another company he consults for, a leader in the radiation remediation field in the US, has spent even more money on clean-up demonstrations than Wang’s company, and had just as poor a reception. According to Schofield, the US radiation remediation industry grapevine has it that the bizarre freeze-out by the Japanese government has happened to nearly every company in the field. The reasons given by Japanese officials for not making use of foreign expertise approaches the bizzare, including a statement by Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director of the enviorment ministry, that foreign techinques won’t work because “the soil in Japan is different…and if we have foreigners roaming around Fukushima, they might scare the old grandmas and granddads.”
Japanese cleanup firms firms have fared little better than their foreign counterparts. Instead, cleanup contracts have gone to Japan’s major construction firms, companies with political clout, but grossly lacking in decontamination capability. Disgusted at the shoddy cleanup work being done by the construction firms, Masafumi Shiga, president of a refurbishing company in Fukushima, told the New York Times simply, “What’s happening on the ground is a disgrace.”
Read more at Cleanup From Fukushima Daiichi: Technological Disaster Or Crisis In Governance?