” Running out of space to stockpile soil and water contaminated with radiation from the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in March 2011, the Japanese government is offering billions in subsidies for communities that agree to store the debris.
An environmental group says the “subsidies” are more akin to bribes and that communities approached by the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), the operator of the crippled facility, will feel obliged to agree.
Tokyo has offered to pay an annual subsidy of 301 billion yen (HK$22.8 billion) to the Fukushima prefectural government and the towns of Okuma and Futaba in return for permission to construct a temporary storage facility for 25.5 million cubic metres of soil and debris contaminated with radiation.
The government has committed to finding a permanent solution to dealing with the debris within 30 years, the amount of time that experts believe the two towns will be uninhabitable because of high levels of radiation.
An earlier plan to nationalise 16 sq km across the boundaries of the two towns to serve as a temporary dumping site had to be abandoned when residents objected out of concern that the location would eventually become the final disposal site.
Yesterday, Tepco began pumping up groundwater from beneath the Fukushima plant and storing it in tanks. The utility intends to test the radioactivity of the water and examine whether levels can be reduced.
If that can be achieved, Tepco has applied to the nuclear regulatory authorities to release the water into the Pacific Ocean, although local fishermen are expected to voice opposition. The government is likely to step in to provide additional subsidies to help sway the fishermen.
“Any community or organisation that receives these payments feels beholden to the government or Tepco, and that’s ironic because those are the very two entities that created this problem in the first place,” said Aileen Mioko-Smith, of Kyoto-based Green Action Japan.
The government’s attitude towards the issue was summed up in June, she pointed out, when Nobuteru Ishihara, the minister given the task of overseeing the recovery from the nuclear disaster, let slip that he considered finding a final storage space for the waste as merely a question of how much money the government offered local authorities.
“I was shocked that he was being so honest as to blurt out something like that,” said Mioko-Smith. “But that is their attitude; people will give in if they raise the amount high enough.”
In an editorial, the left-leaning Mainichi Shimbun called on the government “not to resort to money in settling the matter, but instead to explain repeatedly the necessity and safety of the storage facility and the future path of the host town so as to gain residents’ understanding”.
The paper noted the subsidies would come from higher taxes and higher electricity charges. “