Fukushima Prefecture’s nuclear waste dilemma

Behind the Scenes / Waste disposal site a dilemma for Fukushima, Japan Times 21 Dec 15  By Yuki Inamura and Keita Aimoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writes

On Dec. 4, the Fukushima prefectural government notified the national government that it would accept a proposal to dispose of the radioactive designated waste [definition below page] stored in the prefecture, where a catastrophic accident struck Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant due to the 2011 earthquake. The Fukushima prefectural government’s recent decision signifies a step forward in efforts to rehabilitate the nuclear disaster-hit prefecture. However, the latest move poses a dilemma: In some neighboring prefectures that are home to a large amount of such designated waste, there are persistent calls for their waste to be concentrated in Fukushima Prefecture.

The government’s proposal would entail the use of the Fukushima Eco-tech Clean Center, an existing private-sector disposal plant in the town of Tomioka, to bury a portion of the designated waste stored in the prefecture. The waste subject to this disposal will consist of garbage and other waste material whose radiation levels stand at 100,000 becquerels or less per kilogram.

Two years ago, the national government formally presented the proposal to the Fukushima prefectural government. This coincided with the national government’s move to unveil another plan aimed at building an interim storage facility in the prefecture. This facility would be used to store, for extended periods, garbage whose radioactive levels exceed 100,000 becquerels per kilogram as well as a massive amount of contaminated soil. There has been a constant increase in the amount of contaminated soil as a result of ongoing decontamination work. The interim storage facility is currently being built.

“These facilities are two halves of the same whole,” an Environment Ministry official said. “Both will be indispensable for stably storing a huge amount of radioactive waste.”

The two facilities can be described as “unwanted” by local residents. Still, both will serve to rehabilitate the areas affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster. The interim storage facility is indispensable for decontamination work, while the disposal plant is needed to expedite the return of evacuees to their hometowns.

One example is Naraha, a town that lies adjacent to Tomioka. A road that is used to carry supplies and other necessary materials to the Eco-tech Clean Center disposal plant in Tomioka passes through Naraha.

Therefore, residents and officials in Naraha were among those from whom the national government sought support for its designated waste burial project. At the same time, Naraha needed the facility due to the increase in the number of evacuees returning to the town. Their return means a growth in the amount of garbage from the demolition or repair of their houses……

Since November last year, Mikata’s opinion that radioactive waste should be collected and disposed of exclusively in areas where it has become difficult for people to live for generations has been posted on the town’s web site. This has been taken to mean that all the radioactive waste should be disposed of in Fukushima Prefecture.

Not many heads of local governments have expressed this view publicly. However, Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai said at a press conference on Dec. 7, “It would be desirable if all the nuclear waste in the five [affected] prefectures was completely removed from them.”

In Miyagi Prefecture, the city of Kurihara and the towns of Taiwa and Kami were designated as candidate sites for a radioactive waste disposal facility. But the three municipal governments notified the central government on Dec. 13 that they would not become candidate sites to hold the facility.

Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori is wary of such opinions. When he told the central government of his intention to permit the establishment of a disposal facility in the prefecture, Uchibori said, “I would like to confirm here again that radioactive waste in each prefecture should be disposed of locally by the central government.”

Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa replied, “We’ll uphold a plan to dispose of radioactive waste in each prefecture.”

However, there remain concerns that voices demanding disposal of radioactive waste outside the five prefectures of Tochigi, Chiba, Ibaraki, Miyagi and Gunma could lead to the opinion in the future that all the radioactive waste should be gathered together in Fukushima Prefecture…….

“How will the other prefectures react if they are requested to cooperate because Fukushima Prefecture, which suffered most from the nuclear accident, has accepted the establishment of a disposal facility in it?” asked a senior official of the Environment Ministry.

Will they keep refusing the construction of facilities that might cause problems? Next spring marks the fifth anniversary of the nuclear accident. Not much time is left to answer that question.

■ Designated waste

This government-set designation is applied to waste matter whose radioactive level exceeds 8,000 becquerels per kilogram. Designated waste includes such things as sewer sludge and ash from burned trees and plants. According to the Environment Ministry, a total of about 166,300 tons of designated waste was stored in Tokyo and 11 prefectures, including Fukushima, as of the end of September. The waste in question has been kept in storehouses at sewage disposal facilities.  http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0002632836

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