September 12, 2014
In the Tohoku and Kanto regions, the 2011 crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has produced a massive amount of waste tainted with radioactive substances that were released into the air from the power plant.
However, the central government is having difficulty finding locations to build final disposal sites, where the waste will be buried underground. At this stage, there are no clear prospects for construction plans anywhere in the regions.
“Authorities say it’s safe, but will it really be safe, even when we’re hit by tornadoes or typhoons? I hope it moves somewhere else soon,” said a rice farmer in his 60s in Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, referring to one of the warehouses of “designated waste” that stand in an area of farmland near his rice paddies. The city is one of the most famous rice-producing areas in the prefecture.
Waste with cesium levels higher than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram will receive an environmental ministry designation based on the special measures law on handling environmental pollution caused by radioactive substances. The amount in Tokyo and 11 other prefectures totaled about 146,000 tons as of June 30, according to the Environment Ministry.
As a construction plan for final disposal site has been substantially delayed, the contaminated rice straw will remain in the warehouses for the time being.
Final disposal risks
The central government is responsible for the disposal of designated waste in each prefecture. For prefectures with relatively small amounts of designated waste, plans have been made to bury the waste underground in existing disposal facilities. However, the government plans to newly build final disposal sites for Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba prefectures, where there are large amounts of such waste.
At the envisioned facilities, waste will be put into containers and bags, which will then be stored inside a concrete double-walled structure to be buried underground. After being buried, the structure will be covered with a second layer of concrete and soil.
The amount of additional radioactivity along the borders of the facilities’ premises is expected to be less than 0.01 millisievert a year, according the Environment Ministry. As the average radiation dosage in nature is said to be 2.1 millisieverts per year, an official of the ministry said, “The health effects of radiation exposure at the final disposal facilities are considered a negligible risk.”
Vehement local protests
However, little progress has been made in deciding on the final disposal sites, as municipalities have been worried that the presence of such facilities will hurt their image.
The central government picked a state-owned forest in the town of Shioya, Tochigi Prefecture as a candidate site for final disposal and made a proposal to the town in July. Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata vehemently opposed the plan, saying, “I’ll do everything I can to block this plan.” The town is home to Shojinzawa spring — which is designated as one of the nation’s 100 remarkable water spots. Local residents are also conducting an opposition movement to protect the natural environment.
In Gunma, Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures, candidate sites have yet to be selected.
On the other hand, Miyagi Prefecture decided in August to accept the government’s proposal for a detailed inspection of the city of Kurihara and the two towns of Taiwa and Kami as candidate sites for final disposal facilities.
Meanwhile, in Fukushima Prefecture, details have finally emerged for a construction plan for midterm storage facilities that will contain polluted soil, incinerated ash from burning highly contaminated items and other materials — waste that has been preventing the prefecture from moving forward with reconstruction.
Source: Yomiuri Shimbun