"There were no technical experts there for the waste management side," he said. "They did some good work with chemical monitoring but in total, risk assessment, risk management, unfortunately they did not have that expertise."
Ultimately, just as they are choosing to live with contamination from chemicals and other toxins, the authorities may have to reconsider their determination to completely clean up the radiation, given the effort's cost and limited effectiveness, experts say.
Regarding the nuclear accident, "there has been so much emphasis on decontamination that no other options were considered," said Hiroshi Suzuki, a professor emeritus at Tohoku University in Sendai and chairman of the Fukushima Prefectural Reconstruction Committee.
Some places, such as playgrounds, obviously must be cleaned up. But others, such as forests, should just be left alone, since gathering or burning radioactive materials concentrates them — the opposite of what is needed since the more diluted they are, the better.
To a certain extent, policy is being dictated by politics, said Suzuki.
Before the accident, residents believed they were completely safe, he said. "The authorities want to be able to tell them once again that the area is safe. To do this they need to return it to the state that it was in before the accident."
Naraha resident Yoshimasa Murakami, a 79-year-old farmer, said he has low expectations.
A month after the government started cleaning his spacious home he has not seen a major decrease in radiation, he said while sitting on a balcony overlooking his traditional Japanese garden.
He set a dosimeter on the grass. It measured radiation nearly five times the target level and almost the same as the 1.09 microsieverts per hour found when officials surveyed it in December.
Murakami had come to the house for the day. He, his wife and daughter now live 50 kilometers (30 miles) away in Koriyama city.
He visits a few times a week to keep an eye on the cleanup workers. At nearly 80, Murakami says he doesn't mind about the radiation, but his wife does. And if he returns, his other relatives and grandchildren will be afraid to visit.
"Then, what's the point?" he said.
"I don't think decontamination is going to work," Murakami said. "The nuclear crisis is not fully over, and you never know, something still can go wrong."
Yamaguchi reported from Naraha and Tokyo, and Kurtenbach from Tokyo and Minami Sanriku.