Opinions on the trip’s effectiveness vary among participants, but in the six months since, not a single foreign company has been employed in Japan’s cleanup, according to the trip’s participants and Japan’s Environment Ministry.
“Japan has a rich history in nuclear energy, but as you know, the U.S. has a much more diverse experience in dealing with the cleanup of very complicated nuclear processing facilities. We’ve been cleaning it up since World War II,” said Casey Bunker, a director at RJ Lee, a scientific consulting company based in Pennsylvania that took part in the visit.
“There was a little of, ‘Hey, bring your tools over and show us how it works.’ But they ultimately wanted to do it themselves, to fix things themselves,” Bunker said. “There didn’t seem to be a lot of interest in a consultative relationship moving forward.”
Japanese officials said adapting overseas technologies presented a particular challenge.
“Even if a method works overseas, the soil in Japan is different, for example,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director at the Environment Ministry who is in charge of the Fukushima cleanup. “And if we have foreigners roaming around Fukushima, they might scare the old grandmas and granddads there.”
Some local residents are losing faith in the decontamination effort.
“I thought Japan was a technologically advanced country. I thought we’d be able to clean up better than this,” said Yoshiko Suganami, a legal worker who was forced to abandon her home and office 4km from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. “It’s clear the decontamination drive isn’t really about us anymore.”
Most of the clients at Suganami’s new practice in Fukushima city are also nuclear refugees who have lost their jobs and homes and are trying to avert bankruptcy. She said few expect to ever return.
Additional reporting by Makiko Inoue