Japan minister gives up pay over Fukushima soil dump

TOKYO - A Japanese minister said Friday he would give up his US$240,000 (S$320,000) annual salary after his staff discarded mildly radioactive soil sent for testing by a worried local near the country's atomic crisis zone.

Goshi Hosono said he would refuse the 1.5 million yen (S$25,000) he receives each month as environment minister for the whole time he remains in office to make amends for his staff's treatment of the concerned resident.

The soil in question was not dangerous.

"I have heavy responsibility as the head of this organisation," said Hosono, who also serves as the government's point man on the nuclear clean-up.

Hosono's decision came a day after he said an official had dumped a small amount of low-level radioactive soil sent to the ministry by a resident of Fukushima city, 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The plant has sent radiation into the air, soil and sea since it was badly damaged in the March earthquake and tsunami.

The sender said the soil was taken from his garden and he wanted the ministry to store and clean it.

The ministry said analysis of the soil showed radiation of 0.18 microsieverts per hour, about the same as soil in areas around Tokyo.

After a discussion, one member of staff took the package and poured it on an empty lot near his home in Saitama prefecture, northeast of the capital.

The soil was later collected, and officials involved and their supervisors received disciplinary measures including temporary pay cuts, job transfers and warnings, Hosono said.

Hosono, a telegenic rising star in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, will retain the 1.3-million-yen monthly salary he separately receives as a member of parliament.