” The transfer of soil, contaminated four years ago with radioactive materials from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, to an interim storage facility began in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Friday.
The Environment Ministry plans to move the contaminated soil — currently being kept at more than 75,000 locations in the prefecture’s 43 villages, towns and cities — to the facility gradually. Work to remove the soil, seen as an impediment to reconstruction efforts, has finally been launched.
The construction of the facility is planned in a coastal area of about 1,600 hectares that straddles the line between the towns of Okuma and Futaba. The facility, which is designed to prevent leaks of radioactive substances, is capable of storing up to 22 million cubic meters of soil and other radioactive waste for a maximum of 30 years.
For a period of one year, the transfer will be conducted on a trial basis. During the period, 10 million cubic meters of soil will be moved from the villages, towns and cities affected by the nuclear crisis at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant. The ministry intends to proceed with the transfer by centralizing operations to monitor the radiation doses of the soil and the status of the trucks used for its transport.
The land where the facility is planned to be built is linked to more than 2,300 landowners. So far, only one land sales contract has been agreed. The government has acquired only less than 1 percent of the land required to build the facility. As the entire plot is within an area designated a difficult-to-return-to zone because of high radiation levels, land acquisition and construction for the facility are likely to face further challenges.
Meanwhile, it had also been planned for soil transfers to start in Futaba on Friday, but the municipal government asked on Thursday for the work to be postponed. The ministry then rescheduled the start of those transfers to March 25. The municipality appears to have given consideration to residents who plan to visit their ancestors’ graves during the week of the equinox, through March 24.
Negotiations between the central and local governments had run into turbulence over conditions for the facility’s construction. With the prefectural government having sought public understanding — with commitments to enact a law guaranteeing soil kept at the interim facility will be moved out of the prefecture within 30 years for final disposal, and a pledge from the central government for about ¥301 billion in financial support — the prefecture accepted construction of the facility in August.
As the land acquisition was delayed, the central government postponed the start of the transfer that had initially been planned for January, and construction began in February.
On Friday, work to transfer the contaminated soil began at about 7 a.m. at a temporary storage site in Okuma. A crane moved bags containing the soil, which had accumulated at the location, and the bags were tagged with bar codes and loaded onto trucks.
“The start of the transfer is an important step forward to accelerate decontamination and reconstruction efforts in Fukushima,” Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki said at a press conference Friday. “We’d like to make every effort to build the facility and transfer the soil while explaining sincerely to landowners and local residents.” ”