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NRA's radioactive soil concerns omitted from minutes of closed-door meeting

Concerns raised by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on how radioactive soil from the Fukushima nuclear disaster would be reused were omitted from the minutes of closed-door meetings on the issue, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

It has already come to light that comments from the Ministry of the Environment that could be interpreted as attempting to manipulate the conclusions of the meetings were left out when the minutes were publicly released. The latest revelation means yet another important part of the minutes is missing.

The meetings were held by the Ministry of the Environment between January and May last year with various radiation experts in attendance. In June, the experts decided to manage and reuse contaminated soil with levels of radioactivity under 8,000 becquerels of cesium per kilogram in public construction projects.

Related legislation reads "When deciding on technical standards to prevent radiation-related health problems, the Radiation Council must be consulted." The publicly released meeting minutes quote an Environment Ministry representative as saying, "We need to think about the consultations with the council. When we discussed the issue with the NRA, it placed importance on our management (of the reused soil)." The quote shows that the ministry had talked to the NRA, which has jurisdiction over the council, about consultations with the body.

However, a source has disclosed that even though the ministry representative mentioned specific concerns brought up by the NRA, saying, "The Nuclear Regulation Authority was most concerned about where the soil will be used, and whether it might be used in the yards of regular households," this comment was omitted from the minutes.

Furthermore, in a rough draft of the minutes obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun, during the fourth round of Environment Ministry meetings in February last year, an official stated, "Afterwards we will ask all committee members to review the meeting minutes. After that, during next fiscal year, we are thinking of receiving your support in dealing with the Nuclear Regulation Authority." However, these words were deleted from the publicly released minutes.

The ministry was unable to give a satisfactory explanation for the concerns raised by the NRA, and so there has been no consultation with the Radiation Council to set health standards. However, according to both the ministry and the NRA, they have discussed the issue of consultations with the committee and agree they are not yet necessary.

According to internal rules created by the authority in December 2013, the Radiation Council only needs to be consulted when setting standards by law or relevant regulations. The standards decided through the ministry meetings are only "basic ideas" before they are set by law or regulations.

The ministry plans to reuse contaminated soil on an experimental basis. An NRA representative commented, "Once the plans for the experiment are in place, we understand that they will discuss the issue with us again."

Even the existence of the closed-door meetings was originally not announced, but after repeated requests for information disclosure, the ministry revealed the meeting minutes in August last year. While the release was called a "full release," comments including ones that could be taken as attempting to manipulate the discussion toward a conclusion of using 8,000 becquerels per kilogram as an upper limit when reusing soil were deleted from the records. After this came to light, Environment Minister Koichi Yamamoto said the minutes were "meeting summaries that only included the points of what was said."

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