” On Dec. 4, the Fukushima prefectural government notified the national government that it would accept a proposal to dispose of the radioactive designated waste (see below) stored in the prefecture, where a catastrophic accident struck Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant due to the 2011 earthquake. The Fukushima prefectural government’s recent decision signifies a step forward in efforts to rehabilitate the nuclear disaster-hit prefecture. However, the latest move poses a dilemma: In some neighboring prefectures that are home to a large amount of such designated waste, there are persistent calls for their waste to be concentrated in Fukushima Prefecture.
The government’s proposal would entail the use of the Fukushima Eco-tech Clean Center, an existing private-sector disposal plant in the town of Tomioka, to bury a portion of the designated waste stored in the prefecture. The waste subject to this disposal will consist of garbage and other waste material whose radiation levels stand at 100,000 becquerels or less per kilogram.
Two years ago, the national government formally presented the proposal to the Fukushima prefectural government. This coincided with the national government’s move to unveil another plan aimed at building an interim storage facility in the prefecture. This facility would be used to store, for extended periods, garbage whose radioactive levels exceed 100,000 becquerels per kilogram as well as a massive amount of contaminated soil. There has been a constant increase in the amount of contaminated soil as a result of ongoing decontamination work. The interim storage facility is currently being built.
“These facilities are two halves of the same whole,” an Environment Ministry official said. “Both will be indispensable for stably storing a huge amount of radioactive waste.”
The two facilities can be described as “unwanted” by local residents. Still, both will serve to rehabilitate the areas affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster. The interim storage facility is indispensable for decontamination work, while the disposal plant is needed to expedite the return of evacuees to their hometowns.
One example is Naraha, a town that lies adjacent to Tomioka. A road that is used to carry supplies and other necessary materials to the Eco-tech Clean Center disposal plant in Tomioka passes through Naraha.
Therefore, residents and officials in Naraha were among those from whom the national government sought support for its designated waste burial project. At the same time, Naraha needed the facility due to the increase in the number of evacuees returning to the town. Their return means a growth in the amount of garbage from the demolition or repair of their houses.
In the wake of the nuclear disaster, an evacuation directive was issued to residents in most parts of Naraha, but it was lifted in September this year. Progress has since been made in rebuilding the evacuees’ homes so they could return to their hometown. The task of demolishing their houses has been assumed by the Environment Ministry.
According to the ministry, about 1,200 applications for house demolition had been submitted by late November, and approximately 490 houses have been demolished. The ministry hopes to complete housing demolition by the end of fiscal 2016.
The Eco-tech Clean Center plant will be used to dispose of such waste as burned ash from a temporary incinerator that will likely be put to work in November 2016.
“In some areas [of Naraha], there remain stacks of waste lumber at temporary storage sites near residential quarters,” a senior official of the Naraha town government said. “Failing to address this problem could make evacuees reluctant to return home. The disposal plant is highly significant for making progress in post-disaster reconstruction.”
In the wake of the nuclear accident, the government has worked to address waste disposal-related issues, based on the principle that radioactive waste generated in each disaster-hit prefecture should be stored and disposed of within that area. This rule was laid down under the Democratic Party of Japan-led government in November 2011, followed by a Cabinet decision finalizing the principle.
Later, the national government said it would seek to build a new disposal facility in each of five prefectures where a large amount of designated waste matter is stored — Tochigi, Chiba, Ibaraki, Miyagi and Gunma. These prefectures follow Fukushima in the amount of such stored waste. The government also drew up a plan to use existing disposal facilities in Tokyo and five other prefectures to bury the designated waste stored there.
However, little progress has been made in disposal plant construction projects in the five prefectures. To the contrary, even stronger objections were raised to the projects in these areas after the Fukushima prefectural government announced the decision to accept the national government’s proposal.
Attempt to focus burden
Kazuhisa Mikata, mayor of Shioya, Tochigi Prefecture, declared at the Environment Ministry on Dec. 7 that his town would not host a facility to dispose of radioactive waste from the prefecture, which was produced as a result of the 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
“I can’t understand it,” replied Shinji Inoue, state minister of the environment. As Inoue was about to leave the room in disgust, Mikata stopped him and said, “Our land was not supposed to be a candidate site from the very beginning.”
Since November last year, Mikata’s opinion that radioactive waste should be collected and disposed of exclusively in areas where it has become difficult for people to live for generations has been posted on the town’s web site. This has been taken to mean that all the radioactive waste should be disposed of in Fukushima Prefecture.
Not many heads of local governments have expressed this view publicly. However, Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai said at a press conference on Dec. 7, “It would be desirable if all the nuclear waste in the five [affected] prefectures was completely removed from them.”
In Miyagi Prefecture, the city of Kurihara and the towns of Taiwa and Kami were designated as candidate sites for a radioactive waste disposal facility. But the three municipal governments notified the central government on Dec. 13 that they would not become candidate sites to hold the facility.
Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori is wary of such opinions. When he told the central government of his intention to permit the establishment of a disposal facility in the prefecture, Uchibori said, “I would like to confirm here again that radioactive waste in each prefecture should be disposed of locally by the central government.”
Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa replied, “We’ll uphold a plan to dispose of radioactive waste in each prefecture.”
However, there remain concerns that voices demanding disposal of radioactive waste outside the five prefectures of Tochigi, Chiba, Ibaraki, Miyagi and Gunma could lead to the opinion in the future that all the radioactive waste should be gathered together in Fukushima Prefecture.
Radioactive substances lose radiation gradually as time passes. Indeed, because of the passage of time, some radioactive waste has failed to meet the levels of radioactivity required to be classified as designated waste, which must contain over 8,000 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive substances.
Based on such lower levels of radioactivity and the progress in the disposal of designated waste in Fukushima Prefecture, the central government will continue to try to persuade the five prefectures to accept the establishment of facilities to dispose of radioactive waste in their communities.
“How will the other prefectures react if they are requested to cooperate because Fukushima Prefecture, which suffered most from the nuclear accident, has accepted the establishment of a disposal facility in it?” asked a senior official of the Environment Ministry.
Will they keep refusing the construction of facilities that might cause problems? Next spring marks the fifth anniversary of the nuclear accident. Not much time is left to answer that question.
This government-set designation is applied to waste matter whose radioactive level exceeds 8,000 becquerels per kilogram. Designated waste includes such things as sewer sludge and ash from burned trees and plants. According to the Environment Ministry, a total of about 166,300 tons of designated waste was stored in Tokyo and 11 prefectures, including Fukushima, as of the end of September. The waste in question has been kept in storehouses at sewage disposal facilities. ”