Contamination of Japan compared to the cleanup Criteria of Maralinga

On the 15th of March 2011, the words of the Chief Scientist of Britain, Lord Beddington, were transmitted and streamed around the world by the BBC. I watched him speak on local TV in Adelaide. If there were a meltdown, he said, “you would get an explosion and radioactive material would be emitted. But it would be emitted to about 500 meters and it would be a relatively short duration of the order of an hour or so. Compare that with Chernobyl…” (BBC material rebroadcast by SBS TV Australia, 15 March 2011.)

Let me do the other thing, Mr. Beddington, and compare Fukushima with that British mess known as Maralinga nuclear weapons test site, South Australia.

After many years, the traditional owners of Maralinga have finally gotten their land back, after having been forcibly removed, trucked and railed to distant places. Constant assurances of safety of the Maralinga lands, issued by English authorities, came to an end in the 1980s when the Royal Commission into the bomb tests found that the lands remained dangerous for habitation.

The Southern Australian government, the Aboriginal owners of the land and indeed the Australian government had to undertake actions and negotiations which secured funding for the cleanup of the Maralinga lands.

The cleanup commenced in the 1990s. During the cleanup, the hope of vitrification of the nuclear waste failed. An explosion occurred due to the presence of undisclosed substances being present. And so the less satisfactory shallow trench method of disposal was used. The original project manager, Alan Parkinson, sacked for his objections at the cost cutting and less that best practice disposal, has written extensively on the subject.

By the 21st century, the Traditional owners of the Maralinga lands were able to return home. The people had entered into negotiations with governments, and had aimed for the best cleanup possible. In the end the agreed cleanup criteria were a compromise both government bean counters and the people agreed to live with.

Two Australian government documents inform the public of the clean up criteria for Maralinga. These are 1. The Website, “Maralinga Site Cleanup” and 2. “Maralinga”. Both resources are published by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, ARPANSA.

Quoting from ARPANSA’s “Maralinga”, we find the following discussion regarding the cleanup criteria:

“The aim of the rehabilitation of the Maralinga range was therefore to reduce the risk arising from exposure to radiation of individual Aborigines, living an outstation lifestyle, to a level that was acceptable to the Aboriginal community and the Australian Government [TAG, 1990].

Plutonium, being an alpha emitter, presents a health risk only if it enters the body. Of the three pathways for entry into the body (viz. inhalation, ingestion, or through cuts and wounds), inhalation of plutonium and subsequent retention in the lungs gives rise to a risk of lung cancer. However, if the plutonium enters the body through one of the other pathways the greater risk is of bone cancer (osteosarcoma) or cancer of the liver [Stover ; Jee, 1972]. The degree to which each of these exposure pathways contributes to potential dose depends on the type of lifestyle practised by occupants of the land [TAG, 1990]. …..

The aim of the Maralinga rehabilitation was to ensure that the risk to potential inhabitants from exposure to radioactive contamination would be acceptable. The dividing line between acceptability and unacceptability of risk [TAG, 1990] was determined to be an annual committed dose of 5 mSv, assuming full time occupancy by Aborigines living an outstation lifestyle. This corresponds to an annual risk of fatal cancer following the inhalation or ingestion of contaminated soil of not more than 1 in 10,000 by the fiftieth year of life [Technical Advisory Group, TAG, 1990]. The value of 5 mSv is broadly consistent with the intervention level of 10 mSv that has recently been proposed by the International Commission on Radiological Protection [§6.1 in ICRP, 1999] and which is under consideration by the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA, 2002]. Both of these international bodies are proposing that, in future, a generic reference level of around 10 mSv be set, under which intervention is generally not justified.

Two actions were undertaken to achieve this limitation of possible radiation dose. First, where levels of radioactivity were so high that a dose of 5 mSv could be received in a short time, the contamination would be removed and safely buried in disposal trenches. In areas where there was no acute hazard but permanent occupation could result in doses exceeding 5 mSv, restrictions on land-use would be imposed…..

“MARTAC criteria for the removal of contaminated particles and fragments states that no particles of 241Am activity greater than 100 kBq and no observable contaminated fragments should remain outside the soil-removal contour or within the rehabilitated area at the conclusion of the operation. There should also be no more than an average of one discrete particle of activity greater than 20 kBq per 10 m2….”
(Source: “Maralinga”, ARPANSA, Australian government.)

It can be seen that the process of decontamination at Maralinga incorporated 1. Investigations which found previous claims of safety made by various government were false. 2. Actions undertaken aimed at securing funding from the responsible agents (the British and Australian governments. 3. Consultations between Australian government and the owners of the Maralinga lands took place. 4. Agreement was reached between government and the owners of the land which allowed the cleanup of Maralinga to proceed. At no stage was perfection achieved, and some stages resulted in dismay and disappointment. In the event, the clean up proceeded, was completed and the long delayed return of the Maralinga peoples took place. (This short summary cannot convey the suffering over many years inflicted upon the Maralinga Tjarutja people. The battle for return was long and hard. Many died of old age waiting. The full story beyond this comparison of Maralinga and Fukushima.)

I wonder what Lord Beddington would say today about Maralinga. Something like “It went up, it flayed around, and came down again. Perfectly safe.” Regardless, this Baloney was maintained and published over many years prior to 1984 by the British government and its agents. Only to be proven to be a lie, a lie which prevented the start of final cleanup in the 1990s. Costly repetition at the least, cruel denial of homeland and enforced dispossession of a people for decades.

The truth eventually comes out. Better to be honest in the first place, it is less costly.

Within the cleanup criteria of Maralinga we see several important things:

1. The acknowledgement of additional risk being present after the cleanup – “risk of fatal cancer following the inhalation or ingestion of contaminated soil of not more than 1 in 10,000 by the fiftieth year of life..” This awareness of imposed risk was agreed to by both the owners of the land and the Australian government.

2. The annual limit, after cleanup, of 5 Smv, at which the above additional risk results.

3. The remaining radioactive fragments after cleanup could not exceed an agreed amount: “There should also be no more than an average of one discrete particle of activity greater than 20 kBq per 10 m2….”

4. Even though the then proposed (and now in effect) ICRP intervention limit (the level of contamination which mandates cleanup, as I understand it) was and is 10 mSv pa, the Australian government set the cleanup criteria, in consultation with the traditional owners, at half that, ie 5mSv.)

My purpose here is not to debate the adequacy or otherwise of the ICRP intervention limit (now higher – 10 mSv than it was previously). My purpose is to compare, in flagrant disregard of Beddington, Fukushima, not with Chernobyl, but with a place Australians should be familiar. Maralinga. Happy is the nation able to afford nuclear remediation back to 1944 levels.

The budget for the Maralinga cleanup was $104 million (Australian dollars) (source: )


Using one of the the most conservative sources available, the World Nuclear Association, and its document “Fukushima Accident” (Updated September 2014) published at, we are presented with the following:

“Eleven municipalities in the former restricted zone or planned evacuation area, within 20 km of the plant or where annual cumulative radiation dose is greater than 20 mSv, are designated Special Decontamination Areas, where decontamination work is being implemented by the government. A further 100 municipalities in eight prefectures, where dose rates are equivalent to over 1 mSv per year are classed as Intensive Decontamination Survey Areas, where decontamination is being implemented by each municipality with funding and technical support from the national government. In the Special Decontamination Areas, decontamination is proceeding and was complete to target levels in one municipality by June 2013….

Return of evacuees

Permanent return remains a high priority, and the evacuation zone is being decontaminated where required and possible, so that evacuees (81,000 from this accident according to METI) can return without undue delay. There are many cases of evacuation stress including transfer trauma among evacuees, and once the situation had stabilised at the plant these outweighed the radiological hazards of returning, with over 1000 deaths reported (see below). There were also 267,000 tsunami survivor refugees remaining displaced in February 2014.

In December 2011 the government said that where annual radiation dose would be below 20 mSv/yr, the government would help residents return home as soon as possible and assist local municipalities with decontamination and repair of infrastructure. In areas where radiation levels are over 20 mSv/yr evacuees will be asked to continue living elsewhere for “a few years” until the government completes decontamination and recovery work. The government will consider purchasing land and houses from residents of these areas if the evacuees wish to sell them.

From April 2012 part of the 20-km radius area and the portion of Minami Soma city extending north from it, were re-categorised by the Environment Ministry: below 20 mSv/yr, evacuation called off; 20-50 mSv/yr “restrict residency”, allowing entry for specific purposes with no protective equipment required and remediation action to be completed in March 2014 (now 2017); and over 50 mSv/yr “difficulty of return”, with restricted entry and remediation deferred. These restricted areas, comprising about half of the 20-km radius evacuation zone, are not expected to drop below 20 mSv/yr before about March 2016. Such areas add to those devastated by the tsunami, where rebuilding is very uncertain.

From July 2012 to August 2013 this zoning was extended by METI to all municipalities affected by radioactive fallout, both within the 20 km zone and extending beyond it to about 45 km northwest. The extended area includes Iitate, Minami Soma, Namie, Tomioka, Katsurao and Kawamata. Within the 20 km zone, Futaba, close to the plant, was the only municipality still closed to any return of evacuees, but the government relaxed restrictions for the town in May 2013. Most of the houses were destroyed in the tsunami, so return of evacuees is limited by that. Of the total evacuees from around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, some 72,800 lived in the towns and villages of Futaba district. The Futaba district was heavily dependent economically on the plant, with much of its industry geared towards the power sector.

In November 2013 the NRA decided to change the way radiation exposure was estimated. Instead of airborne surveys being the basis, personal dosimeters would be used, giving very much more accurate figures, often much less than airborne estimates. The same criteria would be used, as above, with 20 mSv/yr being the threshold of concern to authorities.”

end quote.

The World Nuclear Association provides the following maps:

In contrast to the above maps which show areas affected by Fukushima nuclear power plant fallout, here is a photograph showing the primary site of decontamination at Maralinga, Taranaki:

Here is a photograph of a special vehicle used for counting hot particles at Maralinga:

It is my observation that in comparison to the decontamination of Japan to that Maralinga, the following factors are of importance:

1. In relation to Maralinga, negotiations took place between authorities and the owners of the then contaminated land. Despite imperfection, agreement was reached over process and targets. The degree of risk calculated by authorities was, despite whatever misgivings, agreed to by the owners of the land prior to the commencement of cleanup.

The process of negotiations in Japan, from my reading of the available Japanese media reports and other sources, is severely lacking. People are have been and still are, resident in areas of Japan under going decontamination. As decontamination work indeed does disturb radioactive material in dust and droplet form, it seems unacceptable that people are expected to reside in such areas while personnel are steam cleaning houses, footpaths and roads.

It is my understanding that where Japanese authorities deem an area safe for residence, then any financial support payable to people enduring evacuation stops, providing an economic imperative to return home. This return being financially impelled whether the people involved agree or disagree with government assurances of safety.

It is my understanding that many Japanese people are in the situation where they are living in areas they consider to be unsafe. Being impelled by the withdrawal or with holding of government support to enable resettlement to areas all parties consider safe, many people in affected areas of Japan are unhappy. The agreement to place people at risk took place purely within government without consultation and negotiation with the individuals and families concerned.


Immediately following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the Japanese government imposed an acceptable limit of 100 mSv per annum on the civilian population. One government adviser resigned in disgust at this limit. Other authorities promoted the limit as being to the benefit of the nation (Yamashita, Fukushima Medical University).

In the event the limit was eventually scrapped. The 20 mSv pa limit took its place. Again, the Japanese government and its authorities proclaimed this limit to be safe.

However, as we have seen, the Maralinga limit of 5 mSv imposes an additional risk of fatal cancer of not more than 1 in 10,000 by the fiftieth year of life ([Technical Advisory Group, TAG, 1990] (inhalation pathway only) ARPANSA)

So what is the degree of risk in the setting of the Fukushima contimated lands in Japan at 20 mSv pa?

Has any civilian been given the option to negotiate more favorable conditions with the Japanese government? If not, why not? This compulsory risk in some parts of Japan seems to me be to be in the order of four times the risk suffered by Australians who reoccupied their Maralinga lands.

Is this really the best that the Japanese government can do? Is it the best nuclear industry can do?

A feature of the Maralinga cleanup was the acknowledgement of the existence of the “hot particle”. As a result an maximum limit per unit area of radioactive particles of small physical size but comparatively high radioactivity was set. The limit was set at an average of one discrete particle of activity greater than 20 kBq per 10 m2….”
(Source: “Maralinga”, ARPANSA, Australian government.)

As far as I am aware, no special vehicles counting hot particles per unit area are combing the streets, houses or fields of Japan

In fact, the usefulness of steam cleaning of property as performed in Japan has been questioned by experts such as Glasstone. The burning of contaminated debris in bulk, after being transport to uncontaminated areas, was not performed with Maralinga debris. Such a practice would have brought protest from citizens and government alike. Yet, more than one person was imprisoned for persisting in his published opposition to such a disposal practice in Japan.

Community Consultation has not been a hallmark of the post Fukushima Daiichi era in Japan. It can be seen that the process of re occupying contaminated land has been command led from distant authorities with little regard for individual concerns. In fact, for many months open expression of disagreement by affected people was labelled “radiophobic” by Japanese and world nuclear authorities.

In comparison those same authorities would stand condemned if they dare accuse any victim of Maralinga a “phobe” of any kind. Yet people in Japan are economically mandated to return to homes contaminated to a level 4 times higher than that present at Maralinga today.

Within a population there will be a diversity of opinion. This diversity has not been taken into account by authorities in Japan. Where an evacuee would rather remain away from home, that should be acknowledged. Where an evacuee would rather return early, after assessment of risk and discussion, that too should be acknowledged and considered by authorities.

If that is too complicated a process for the modern nuclear state of Japan, what am I to conclude about it’s ability to serve the wishes of its people?

No doubt, Japan, due to the nuclear disaster, has lost more home island territory than it did as a result of World War 2, but even so, if it does not possess the economic and technical means to clean its nuclear mess up, is nuclear power economic or democratic?

How are people to respond to what are effectively, edicts to return to contaminated lands – to one degree or another more contaminated today than they were in February 2011 – if no vote is taken, no discussion occurs, and a wrong is inflicted in the view of the people.
Is there only the law to resort to? How much does that cost?

If you want your babies to grow up in an area akin to Maralinga rather than in an area akin to the Japanese exclusion zone – that is, at contamination of the level of 5 mSv pa (the lesser in this comparison) rather than at the level deemed safe by the experts in Tokyo – that at 20 mSv pa max., what do you do when told to return home to that higher figure by government?

If everyone demanded a cleanup to 5 mSv, would Japan go broke?

Is 5 mSv risk free?


Would I, if I had children, place them at risk at either 5 or 20 mSv for the sake of the nation? If I did, would I be happy about it?

It seems that Japan has no choice but to impose such considerations onto its affected people. If it has a choice, what consideration is so compelling as to force families against their will, with no other economically viable option, to return to lands and homes considered officially safe but which remain contaminated to one degree or another?

(Remembering, as I do, the long decades of official reassurances that Maralinga from 1962 to 1983 was as clean as a whistle. When in fact of course, nothing could be further from the truth.)

The following is sourced from concerning the children attending school in contaminated areas of Koriyama city, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

April 26th, 2013
The Fukushima Collective Evacuation Trial Lawyers

1. On April 24th, 2013, the Sendai High Court 2nd Civil Affairs ruled to reject an appeal that 14 children at elementary schools and junior-high schools in Koriyama city, Fukushima Prefecture filed a lawsuit against the city to injunct compulsory education activities in radiation-contaminated environment over 1mSv per year and to demand the activities under 1mSv per year environment, which is so-called the Fukushima Collective Evacuation Trial.

2. The outline of the judges’ statement is as follows. (For a better understanding of the document, we added several supporting sentences.)

(1) Considering the health damage caused by the Chernobyl Disaster, the results of the Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey and the current level of background radiation dose in Koriyama City, it would be fair to conclude that there is a concern that the children who are constantly exposed to low-dose radiation would suffer from future health problems. Taking the limited effects of decontamination into account, this issue of radiation exposure will not be resolved unless the children are removed from Koriyama City.
(2) Although the middle and long term concerns remain, it is nonetheless also difficult to accept that these conditions would immediately lead to the irreversible health problems.
(3) Children are constantly exposed to radiation over 1mSv/y in life outside of schools. As long as those children live in Koriyama City, it is impossible to reduce their annual exposure dose below 1mSv/y even if the City halts the education programmes inside the school facilities. However, the children do not own the right to do so.
(4) The evidences do not prove that continuing Koriyama City’s education programmes hold a significant risk which will immediately harm the health condition and security of the students. Therefore, we do not consider it is unjust. Education of children in principal has to be directed by the educational institution in the children’s home town. Hence, the educational institution in the place of refuge would not override the original institution and establish extra education programmes. Children’s purpose to avoid future health problems can be satisfied through voluntary evacuation and attending schools in the place of refuge. In other words, children do cannot claim Koriyama City the right to education in the place of refuge and the City as well do not have an obligation to exercise education programmes in the place of refuge.
(5) It cannot be approved that the children are unable to evacuate voluntarily, and the collective evacuation is not necessarily.

3. Nevertheless the ruling clearly recognized effects of low-level exposure against lives, bodies and health of children in the 2-(1), it stated “(A)lthough there will be risks in the future, it is difficult to acknowledge any proofs that irreversible bad effects emerge immediately” in the (2). However, according to the Fukushima Health Management Survey which is quoted in the ruling, 3 out of 38,000 children has been made a definite diagnosis of childhood thyroid cancer which is said to emerge in 1 out of a million, and another 7 children are highly suspected. No longer danger is in the future, children are at high risk of irreversible bad effect right now. In terms of high risk, the ruling is completely false recognition and should be retracted.

4. We, the lawyers have emphasized that Koriyama city which has constitutional duty to educate children should educate them in a safe environment; more specifically, has duty to evacuate them. As for a site to establish elementary and junior-high schools, “essentially municipality has to establish schools in neighborhood, however can establish them in elsewhere for inevitable reasons” (MEXT Circular Notice on April 23rd, 1959). Moreover, we have insisted how difficult to decide to evacuate voluntarily in Fukushima Prefecture now because of economic reasons, children’s feelings and safe radiation-exposed PRs made by administrations. However, the ruling rejected our appeal or almost ignored without answering the aforementioned points, with an idiosyncratic logic that the city has nothing to do if children evacuated voluntarily and has nothing to take measures to avoid exposure under 1mSv per year.
In conclusion, the Court fairly evaluated a danger of damage emergence against lives and bodies of children referring to Chernobyl’s reports and the result of Fukushima Health Management Survey, and characterized “concerned emergence of damage to lives, bodies, and health of the children due to radiation exposure and grave consequences”, furthermore went into depth that a collective evacuation is “a considerable alternative for one of measures to avoid damage of exposure as a drastic policy of educational administration ”; nonetheless, the Court denied children’s right to demand evacuation for the city and stated they will watch this serious on-going human rights violation with folded arms as administration of justice. We strongly reclaim that this is nothing but abandoning the most important duty which administration of justice bear as the last stronghold of human rights.

5. Municipality including Koriyama city, Fukushima Prefecture and the Government have to take the aforementioned 2-(1) seriously, and have to make fundamental moves toward avoiding children’s exposure as soon as possible.

In the end, we need further support from every sensible citizen in Japan and all over the world in order to mobilize administrations for collective evacuation. As lawyers’ team, we keep our best to realize children’s collective evacuation earliest possible.
Thank you
Posted 27th April 2013 by sokai

end quote.

“The 2nd Fukushima Collective Evacuation Trial”

Our book, “Fukushima: Dispossession or Denuclearization?” aims to be a useful one which hopes to achieve something worthwhile. This is why the editors and authors decided to donate the proceeds of sales of the book to the 2nd Fukushima Collective Evacuation Trial.

In the first time, the judges found that “it would be fair to conclude that there is a concern that the children who are constantly exposed to low-dose radiation would suffer from future health problems. Taking the limited effects of decontamination into account, this issue of radiation exposure will not be resolved unless the children are removed from Koriyama City.”

However, the court found that the children should still attend school in the contaminated city.

The lawyers representing the families and their children, we feel, are deserving of support and assistance.