Possibly radiated items stolen at site 3 km from Fukushima plant

OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Potentially highly radiated items have been stolen from a temporary storage site for contaminated waste here and were likely put up for sale, The Asahi Shinbun has learned.

Although the site is strictly controlled, managers on the front line said there is a limit in what they can do to monitor the waste. So it is unknown if or how many possibly dangerous goods have been sold to unsuspecting buyers.

The site, located about 3 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, features a home improvement center that was abandoned after the triple meltdown in March 2011. The building and merchandise inside were left untouched.

The site and the surrounding area are now used for temporary storage.

Nishimatsu Construction Co., a second-tier general contractor, has been commissioned to demolish the commercial facility.

The special measures law concerning the handling of radioactive materials states that contaminated waste should be taken to temporary storage sites to measure their radiation levels before deciding where they should be disposed of.

The Environment Ministry said it received a report in late April about bicycles being taken from the temporary storage site and put on sale nearby.

When Nishimatsu Construction investigated the case, a secondary subcontractor said one of its workers took two bicycles from the site to give them to the children of an acquaintance.

The bicycles were later recovered, the company said.

The ministry did not disclose the incident on its website, saying the details could not be confirmed.

“We had no way of knowing if the bicycles taken from the site were the same ones as those mentioned in the company’s report,” a ministry official said.

Nishimatsu Construction also reported to the ministry that pipes of an air conditioner installed in the attic of the home improvement center were stolen in March this year.

The ministry has yet to announce the theft.

RISK OF RESALE

Each entrance to the temporary storage site has a gate to keep out unregistered workers and vehicles.

But an on-site manager said it was practically impossible to check all the comings and goings of people and vehicles.

“A total of 1,000 workers were involved in the demolition project, with 30 to 40 of them coming in and going out of the site on a steady basis,” the manager said. “Frankly speaking, if they put merchandise into their pockets and took them outside, I wouldn’t know.”

A worker said several 4-ton trucks have entered the demolition site on a few occasions after employees of Nishimatsu Construction, which oversees the site, finished their shifts and left their posts.

“The truck beds were covered with tarps, so I don’t know what was inside,” the worker said.

He added that a rumor was going around that merchandise taken from the demolition site was being sold on flea market app Mercari.

The manager said Nishimatsu Construction also checked Mercari, but it couldn’t identify the bicycles taken from the home improvement center because there were so many bikes offered for sale on the app.

The company has installed security cameras on various worksites within the temporary storage area.

Recently, four former workers were arrested on suspicion of stealing iron scraps from a demolition site of a library and folklore museum, which lie within the “difficult-to-return zone” in Okuma.

It is impossible to recover the iron scraps because they were already sold and distributed in the market, according to the Environment Ministry.

(This story was written by Yukiko Sakamoto, Nobuyuki Takiguchi and Takaoki Yamamoto.)

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