TOKYO (majirox news) — Japanese used car dealers who can’t export radioactive cars overseas are dumping them into the Japanese used car market, according to the Asahi Shimbun on Oct. 24. These cars have failed Japan’s dockside radioactive export tests.
“What you are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg,” said one car exporter to the Asahi who refused to be identified. “If a car gives off a high radioactivity count, it’s too much trouble to decontaminate it. It’s better to just sell it in a Japanese car auction where there are no restrictions. It’s like throwing away a bad card you were dealt in poker.”
Dealers re-register cars with their local registrations. Re-registering wipes out all prior local registrations and makes it impossible to know where the car is from without doing a detailed investigation through a branch of the Transportation Department. So the origin of a radioactive car can be easily concealed.
Japanese export inspections stop the export of any radioactive merchandise.
Another automobile exporter said, “I purchased a minivan for 1.23 million yen ($16,000) intending to export it to Southeast Asia. However, when it was brought to dockside and underwent radioactivity testing, it came in at 110 microsieverts, far exceeding Japan’s permissible limit of 5 microsieverts.
“After the car was refused for export, I tried over and over again to decontaminate it. The end result was that I was only able to get it down to 30 microsieverts. So I sold it at an auction in Japan. What do you expect me to do? Take a loss on it?”
Since August, regulations have been toughened up. The export limit is now 0.3 microsieverts. According to the Japan Harbor Transportation Association, as of September about 1% of all cars tested had failed the test, with a few registering over 5 microsieverts. A total of 660 cars have been refused export permission since August.
In Fukushima prefecture, there is a movement to weed out any radioactive used cars from sale. JU Fukushima, which oversees all car auctions in Fukushima prefecture, tests every car and rejects any automobile that is over 1 microsieverts per hour.
According to Yutaka Shioda, managing director of the Japan Automobile Exporters Association, “All cars being auctioned in Japan should undergo radioactivity tests.”
While this may be the ideal, the fact is the cars with Fukushima number plates are difficult to sell because of radiation fears.
A Fukushima prefecture used car dealer told the Asahi, “If they have Fukushima or Iwaki number plates, we re-register the cars elsewhere in the Kanto region and then auction them.”
Masahiro Fukushi, professor of Radioactive Substances Control and Handling at Shuto University in Tokyo, says that there are genuine practical difficulties in the way of decontaminating automobiles. “While it’s easy to wash off any contamination from the exterior of the car, it’s difficult to decontaminate the seats and the interior of the automobile,” he said. “I really think that the government should put forth guidelines about permissible radioactivity levels in used cars so consumers can buy them with confidence.”
Guidelines of some sort are badly needed. The team from the Asahi tracked a car originally left in a parking lot in Fukushima, within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the nuclear accident that had been exposed to what the Asahi calculated were 30 microsieverts hourly of radiation for 26 hours before being moved. This would put the radioactivity of this car well above the Japanese permissible limit of 20 millisieverts per year.
So where is the car now? The Asahi team tracked the car first to an auction in Saitama prefecture where it didn’t sell, and then subsequently to an auction in Chiba prefecture. When the Asahi asked who had purchased the car, the auction company replied, “Sorry, but rules don’t permit us to give out this information.”
So where is the car ? Nobody knows.