In decontamination pilot projects conducted by Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), many different techniques were tested to determine their applicability to remediate areas evacuated after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident following the Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. In addition to buildings, roads and farmland, the forest adjacent to living areas was one of the main decontamination targets.
The projects evaluated the radioactive contamination of trees and the effectiveness of decontaminating a highly contaminated evergreen forest. This forest was located 1.3 km southwest of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and is dominated by Japanese cedar trees and fir trees.
As the first step, three Japanese cedar trees and three fir trees were cut down and the distributions of radioactive cesium (Cs) were measured in each. The total concentrations of 134Cs and 137Cs in the leaves and branches were about 1 MBq/kg for both cedar and fir trees, and were appreciably higher than in the bark for cedar. The concentrations in the outer part of the trunks (under the bark) were lower, on the order of 10 kBq/kg, and those in the core of the trunks were lower than 1 kBq/kg for both kinds of trees. The observation that the Cs concentrations are higher in the outer part of trees, is compatible with the assumption that radio-Cs was mostly adsorbed on the surface of trees and partly penetrated into the trunks through the bark.
Evolution of air dose rates in a 100 × 60 m pasture adjacent to the forest was monitored during decontamination of the forest and of the pasture itself. The dose rates in the pasture decreased drastically after stripping contaminated topsoil from the pasture and decreased slightly more after stripping contaminated topsoil of the forest floor and pruning the trees. Cutting down and removing 84 trees in the outermost area (10-m width) of the forest also slightly decreased these dose rates. After decontamination, the residual dose rates around the highly contaminated forest were mostly attributed to radioactive Cs existing in or on trees and topsoil in the untouched forest beyond the decontaminated area.