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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

EDITORIAL: Storing radioactive debris should not be regarded as Fukushima’s problem

The Kumagawa district of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, is a candidate site for the planned intermediate storage facility.

September 02, 2014
Fukushima Prefecture and two towns, Okuma and Futaba, have accepted the central government’s plan to construct an intermediate storage facility for radioactive soil and other polluted material generated by the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The central government will soon start negotiations with landowners in the two towns, which jointly host the crippled nuclear plant, to buy the necessary land for the facility.

Temporary storage sites for radioactive debris in the prefecture will soon be filled to the brim. This is causing delays in decontamination work.

An intermediate storage facility is vital infrastructure for cleaning up the mess left by the nuclear disaster.

Concerns have arisen that efforts to rebuild the shattered livelihoods and communities in Fukushima could be seriously hampered if no community would accept the facility.

We welcome the decision by the three local governments as a first step toward building the facility.
The process leading to this point, however, raises concerns about the future.

The way the whole burden has been imposed on specific local communities makes us wonder if the implications of cleanup work and of continuing nuclear power generation can be shared by the entire nation.

Three years have passed since the central government called for the acceptance of the storage facility.
In the end, the government offered more than 300 billion yen (about $2.9 billion) of grants to help local residents rebuild their lives and support the prefecture’s reconstruction efforts.

The prices at which the government buys land to build the facility will be based on current market prices, apart from compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co, the nuclear plant’s operator. The prefectural government will subsidize the differences between the purchase prices and the pre-accident prices.

Given the heavy burden of hosting the storage facility, generous financial support to the landowners and the local governments is inevitable.

But money divides people. When a certain area receives money in exchange for accepting a burden, people outside the area tend to pay little attention to the burden, saying, “They got the money.”

Compensation for damage caused by the Fukushima disaster has created rifts based on complicated emotions between disaster-affected areas and other areas, between the evacuation zones and the rest of Fukushima Prefecture, and even between residents of the same communities because of differences in the amounts of money they have received.

Such rifts emerged both when the nuclear power plant was built and after the accident when TEPCO decided on compensation to victims.

Money is not a silver bullet to solve these kinds of problems.

In addition, half a year after it asked for the acceptance of the storage facility, the government started negotiations focused on the two towns.

Most parts of the two towns have high levels of radiation, making it effectively impossible for their residents to return home in the foreseeable future.

Storing radioactive debris in areas with high radiation levels may be reasonable from the viewpoint of preventing the spread of polluted material. Even so, the government’s approach may have narrowed the scope of the problem to talks with specific areas.

Essentially, the potential risks inherent in nuclear power generation and the burdens of dealing with its legacies are issues that should be considered by the whole nation.

During meetings to explain the intermediate storage facility to local residents, some participants expressed their wishes to see it located in Tokyo. Others argued that the burden should be shared with areas that consume electricity generated by nuclear power.

These comments are natural responses to the proposal if the decision is based on the principle that the burden should be shared fairly by the beneficiaries.

We will face the same problem when we try to determine who should shoulder the burden from the disposal of aged nuclear reactors and spent nuclear fuel.

It is crucial to seek a solution that won’t divide the people.

Even if the proposed intermediate storage facility is built, many other challenges must be tackled.

Source: Asahi Shimbun
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