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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Fukushima 22 000 Olympic swimming pools of contaminated soil

Look closely at this picture! This is one of the great land storage sites of the contaminated soil which has been removed after the Fukushima disaster.
It was published by the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun and I saw for the first time a month ago in Seoul, at the biennial meeting of science journalists from around the world (WCSJ) , for which I had organized a roundtable on nuclear  : « How to inforrm appropriately and accurately about nuclear? ».
This picture was presented by our fellow Toshihide Ueda in his PowerPoint, he was the scientific and medical news main journalist on Asahi Shimbun, who for ten years covered nuclear issues for the Asahi Shimbun.
An impressive picture when one realizes the size of the truck (center of photo) and of the cranes.
These little black things piled on a blue waterproof tarpaulin, those are thousands of very large bags ...

Credit: Asahi Shimbun / getty images. This photo was taken near the town of Tomioka.

In my story in the heart of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which I visited June 12, 2015, where many bags also litter the place, I had asked the question of what would happen to them?
Knowing that there are about twenty sites where they currently are stacked.
They are called ISF, for "interim storage facility".
It is planned that their content will be transferred "in thirty years" on a permanent site - which can not be located on the territory of Fukushima Prefecture (following an agreement between the government and local authorities).
But can we believe it? What place in Japan will then accept this storage?
Whereas radioactivity, mainly due to cesium will have decreased by only half (the half-life of radioactive cesium 137 is 30 years). And the memory of Fukushima will not yet be erased ...

What form this final stockage will take? Will the soil be compacted?
For it is not a small volume that it is today. According to the IRSN (French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety), "the volume of waste related to decontamination is estimated between 28 and 55 million m3 ".
In other words, if we look for a meaningful equivalent between 11 000 and 22 000 Olympic swimming pools ...
For comparison, by volume, a center like the one in Aube, France, managed by Andra, reserved for low and medium short-lived radioactive waste (in operation since 1992), has a 1 million m3 capacity and that of very low activity has a 650 000 m3 capacity.

A whole series of other questions we could ask.
The bags that we see in the photo how long will they last without being altered and spill their contents?
Will the Groundwater under those storage areas not be threatened , despite the waterproof tarpaulins (in principle) that are installed tight on the ground?
And that will really happen to the already scrapped decontaminated areas?
Will they not become re-contaminated, thanks to the rainfall which swell the streams, draining the particles coming down from the hills and mountains around ...

Credit: Dominique Leglu. Seoul, June 10, 2015, World congress of science journalists (WCSJ). At the lectern, Toshihide Ueda (right) shows the photo of the storage site of the city of Tomioka, during the round table devoted to nuclear energy.

I remembered an interview that Prof. Hiroaki Koide (assistant at research laboratory in the nuclear reactor at the University of Tokyo) had granted nine months after the debut of the Fukushima disaster (Le Monde, paper edition Thursday, 8 December 2011).
To the question of our colleague Philippe Pons "The government wants to turn the page: the motto is" rebuilding "," decontaminating "...,  he replied  : "[...] Decontamination is a new source of profit for the government and reconstruction, a windfall for civil engineering companies. If we want to decontaminate, it is the entire Fukushima prefecture that must be decontaminated. But where do we transport the irradiated soil? "
When Shinzo Kimura, associate professor at the University Dokkyo came to Paris on 18 June 2015 for a conference on the health consequences of the disaster, I asked him the what he thought, four years later, about the soil decontamination operations.
The response of the radiation protection specialist, who fights locally to help people deal with the issue of contamination, illustrates the difficulty of deciding on the situation: "I am both for and against. We must do the maximum. But this removal has little impact. It can not succeed. "
IRSN cites an example, the decontamination plan of the “special decontamination area " located in the territory of the Municipality of Tamura.
[...] Completed it reduced notably the radiological environment in residential areas from 28 to 56%. "

Clearly, it is a vicious circle in which a government after a disaster of the kind Fukushima is caught - that contaminated an area of 13 783 km² (1/10 of New York State) and the life of its 2 millions inhabitants.
If the government does nothing it will be accused of gross negligence (or worse) vis-à-vis of its population. If it does something there is no evidence that the results are convincing.
Especially in the intermediate phase, as currently around Fukushima, where multiple "small storages" are developping, awaiting to be transferred and regrouped in the ISF, until the hypothetical final storage. And not to mention the security issues that these places, of course, do not fail to cause. A real headache.  

Credit: Pallava Bagla. June 12, 2015, in Fukushima

Translated by Hervé Courtois
Source : Science pour vous et moi

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