Koizumi’s nuclear power questions – The Japan Times editorial

” While political repercussions continue over former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s surprise calls for ending nuclear power generation in Japan, what the once popular leader points out are all sensible and legitimate questions about Japan’s energy policy that remain unanswered by members of the Abe administration. Any energy policy that fails to squarely answer the questions posed by Koizumi will not have any credibility.

Koizumi, who kept largely out of the media spotlight after retiring as lawmaker in 2009, has been speaking out in recent months that Japan should end its reliance on nuclear power. He says the Fukushima nuclear disaster changed his perception of nuclear power as a low-cost and safe source of energy and now says, “There is nothing more costly than nuclear power.” He urges the government to divert the massive energy and money needed to maintain nuclear power in Japan into more investments in the development and promotion of renewable energy sources.

Many of his former Liberal Democratic Party colleagues initially tried to dismiss Koizumi as a retired politician who has nothing to do with the party today. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who served in key Cabinet and LDP positions during Koizumi’s 2001-2006 rule, said it is “irresponsible” to commit to ending nuclear energy at this point. Meanwhile, hopes have emerged within the opposition camp that an alliance with Koizumi — who drew strong popular support while in office — on the zero nuclear agenda could provide them with ammunition against the LDP’s dominance in the Diet.

The political ripple effects — and some criticism over his flip-flop after promoting nuclear power while in office — aside, what seems missing in the controversy are discussions on the very real and pressing issues highlighted by Koizumi. He points to poor prospects for finding a permanent storage site for highly radioactive waste after spent fuel is reprocessed. This problem — for which Japan’s nuclear power industry has long been likened to a “condominium without a toilet” — has been set aside since well before the Fukushima crisis.

Abe has told the Diet that a technology has been established to store such waste in geological layers deep underground. Koizumi says the problem is that despite the existence of this technology, the government has been unable for more than a decade to find a candidate site anywhere in Japan. And this technology, Koizumi says, might be problematic in this quake-prone country — a point that Abe conveniently neglects to mention. Given the safety concerns over nuclear power following the triple meltdowns at the Fukushima plant, it is even more doubtful that a candidate site will ever be found, Koizumi says. Thus radioactive waste will continue to pile up as long as nuclear power plants are operated.

Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle program is at a standstill. Completion of a fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, has been delayed for years, and the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, has been idled for much of the time since a sodium leak and fire in 1995. Meanwhile, storage space for spent nuclear fuel from reactors around the country, and in the Rokkasho complex, is nearly 70 percent full.

As Koizumi points out, the myth that nuclear power is cheaper than other sources of energy is thrown in doubt when the expenses for siting nuclear plants, their future decommissioning and waste disposal are included. And on top of this there is the massive cost of dealing with the aftermath of the Fukushima No. 1 meltdowns, including compensation, which far exceeds the financial capacity of its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. This is necessitating the injection of a huge amount of taxpayer money.

Abe’s rebuttal is that increased fossil fuel imports for thermal power generation to make up for the nuclear plant shutdowns is costing the nation trillions of yen a year. But his rhetoric does not answer the question whether nuclear power is really the affordable source of energy — as it has long been touted to be by the government — especially after the costs of compensation and decontamination in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis are taken into account.

Abe has vowed to scrap the nuclear phaseout policy of the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration that his LDP ousted from power last year. But the prime minister has yet to present a new vision for the nation’s energy policy — except to say that he would reduce as much as possible Japan’s reliance on nuclear power while maximizing energy-saving efforts and development of alternative energy.

While the future of Japan’s energy policy remains elusive and the Fukushima nuclear crisis is continuing, Abe has been pushing for the sale of Japanese nuclear power plant technology overseas as part of his bid to boost infrastructure exports. When Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and France’s Areva clinched a joint-venture deal in October to build a nuclear power plant with four advanced reactors in Turkey, Abe said Japan “is responsible for helping improve the safety of atomic power in the world by sharing the experience and lessons” from the disaster at the Fukushima plant — whose situation he has described as “under control.”

At home the Abe administration and the LDP are pushing for the restart of some idled nuclear reactors once they have cleared a new set of safety criteria, even though radiation-contaminated water continues to leak from the Fukushima compound nearly 2½ years after the meltdowns.

Abe should lay out a new energy vision that will fully address the doubts about nuclear power raised by Koizumi. His legitimate concerns are likely shared by a large part of the public — a majority of whom, according to media surveys, oppose restart of the idled nuclear reactors. As Koizumi says, only Japan’s political leaders can set the direction for the nation’s energy policy. The Abe administration has an obligation to choose a path that ensures Japan will not have to contend with another nuclear power plant disaster in the future. ”

by The Japan Times

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DPJ leaders deny urging cover-up of Fukushima meltdown — The Asahi Shimbun

” Former government leaders vehemently rejected suggestions in a report that they were pulling the strings behind a suspected meltdown cover-up when the Fukushima nuclear disaster was unfolding in 2011.

The report, compiled by an investigation panel commissioned by Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled nuclear power plant, said Masataka Shimizu, who was TEPCO president at the time of the accident, instructed employees not to use the term “meltdown,” leading to a delay in the official announcement.

But the report also implied that Shimizu was acting on orders from high up in the government.

Yukio Edano, who was chief Cabinet secretary of the Democratic Party of Japan-led government when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis on March 11, 2011, described the report as preposterous.

“As far as I know, it is unthinkable for government officials back then to ask TEPCO to do such a thing,” Edano, now the secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Party, told reporters on June 16.

He accused the panel of merely skimming the surface of the matter and sidestepping the truth behind the instructions to avoid using the term “meltdown.”

“It is utterly irresponsible for the panel to say that it did not uncover that (Shimizu) was instructed by who and what,” he said.

The third-party panel of legal experts said in the report released on June 16 that it can be assumed that Shimizu understood that he was requested by the prime minister’s office to seek its approval beforehand if the company were to announce the “meltdown.”

The panel also said it would be difficult to conclude that TEPCO’s delay in declaring the meltdown was a “deliberate cover-up.”

“Since TEPCO released information on radiation levels inside the reactors and other related data at that time, just not using the term meltdown cannot be described as an act of a deliberate cover-up,” the panel said.

TEPCO declared the meltdown at three reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in May 2011, two months after it occurred.

According to the report, Shimizu entered the chief Cabinet secretary’s office, which is located at the prime minister’s office building, by himself on March 13, 2011. The following day, Sakae Muto, vice president of TEPCO, explained the conditions of the reactors at the plant.

During the news conference, Shimizu handed a memo to Muto through a TEPCO public relations official, telling him not to use the word “meltdown” on the instructions of the prime minister’s office, according to the panel.

Naoto Kan, who was prime minister at the time of the disaster, denied giving the instruction to TEPCO.

“I myself have never given directions to TEPCO not to use the expression ‘meltdown,’” Kan, a member of the Democratic Party, said in a statement.

One reason for the lack of clarity in the report is that Shimizu, who was interviewed twice for a total of four hours, said, “I do not remember very well” with regard to who gave what instructions.

Another TEPCO employee interviewed by the panel said Shimizu “was under tremendous pressure and must not have a detailed recollection.”

The panel interviewed about 60 former and current TEPCO officials but no government officials and bureaucrats who were involved in dealing with the crisis.

“Our authority to investigate is limited, and it is difficult (to uncover the entire truth) in such a short time,” said Yasuhisa Tanaka, the lawyer who headed the investigation.

Tanaka and another panel member, Zenzo Sasaki, a former prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, were also in charge of the third-party investigation into the accident conducted in 2013.

That investigation, based on interviews of TEPCO officials, came under fire for “only arbitrarily presenting TEPCO’s argument that is convenient to the company.”

The findings by the latest panel showed TEPCO officials looking into the nuclear disaster were aware of Shimizu’s order not to use “meltdown,” but TEPCO’s in-house investigation team did not include it in its report in 2012, apparently believing it was not significant enough to mention.

“TEPCO’s efforts to share information inside the company were insufficient,” Tanaka said. “It lacked consideration for local governments, which should have been top priority.”

The revelation that Shimizu ordered the avoidance of “meltdown” fueled feelings of distrust toward TEPCO among local governments hosting TEPCO nuclear power plants.

“We are still in this stage of the investigation even five years after the accident,” said Toshitsuna Watanabe, mayor of Okuma, which co-hosts the crippled Fukushima plant.

Hirohiko Izumida, governor of Niigata Prefecture, home to TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, called for a further investigation to reveal the whole picture of the Fukushima disaster.

“We need to step up efforts to uncover what has not been sufficiently investigated before,” he said. “TEPCO, as an organization, should make a sincere response without hiding anything.”

The latest panel was established in March at the request of the Niigata prefectural government’s technology committee, which aims to determine why TEPCO waited until May 2011 to announce the triple meltdown.

TEPCO initially said it did not have the criteria for defining and determining a meltdown.

But it announced in February this year that the company “found” an in-house manual that explained whether a meltdown was taking place. ”

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Utility head blamed for late mention of Fukushima ‘meltdown’ — The Daily Star; DPJ leaders deny urging cover-up of Fukushima meltdown — The Asahi Shimbun

The AP via The Daily Star:

” TOKYO: An outside investigation team appointed by the operator of Japan’s damaged Fukushima nuclear plant said Thursday that an instruction from the company’s then-president to avoid using the term “meltdown” delayed the full disclosure of the status of three reactors.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. described the condition of the three reactors as less serious “core damage” for two months after a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the plant.

The panel of three TEPCO-commissioned lawyers said the company used the milder term despite knowing that the damage far exceeded its meaning, because of the instructions by then-President Masataka Shimizu. The report said he was apparently under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, but that the panel did not find direct evidence of that.

TEPCO reported to the authorities on March 14, 2011, that the damage, based on a computer simulation, involved 25 to 55 percent of the fuel but did not say it constituted a “meltdown,” the report said. The company’s internal manual defined a “meltdown” as a core condition with damage exceeding 5 percent of the fuel.

In May 2011, TEPCO finally used the description after another computer simulation showed fuel in one reactor had almost entirely melted and fallen to the bottom of the primary containment chamber, and that the two other reactor cores had melted significantly.

TEPCO has been accused of softening its language to cover up the seriousness of the disaster. But the investigation found TEPCO’s delayed acknowledgement did not break any law.

In the 70-page report, the lawyers said Shimizu instructed his deputy not to use the word “meltdown” during news conferences immediately after the crisis when officials were peppered with questions about the reactor conditions. TEPCO’s vice president at the time, Sakae Muto, had used the phrase “possibility of meltdown” until March 14, 2011.

Video of a news conference that day shows a company official rushing over to Muto when he was about to respond to a question about the conditions of the reactors, showing him a memo and hissing into his ear, “The Prime Minister’s Office says never to use this word.”

Yasuhisa Tanaka, the lawyer who headed the investigation, said interviews of 70 former and current TEPCO officials, including Muto and Shimizu, showed that Muto had planned to use the word “meltdown” until he saw the memo, which has since not been found.

“Mr. Shimizu’s understanding was the term ‘meltdown’ could not be used without permission from the Prime Minister’s Office,” Tanaka told a news conference at TEPCO headquarters. “The notion that the word should be avoided was shared company-wide. But we don’t believe it was a cover-up.”

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Japan’s nuclear regulatory unit at the time of the accident, was also reluctant to use the word. Two spokesmen were replaced between March 12 and 13, 2011, after suggesting meltdowns had occurred.

Government and parliamentary investigations have suggested officials, seeking to play down the severity of the Fukushima Dai-ichi crisis, resisted using the term. Tanaka said his investigation, which did not interview government officials, could not track down what exactly happened between Shimizu and the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Prime Minister’s Office has denied putting any pressure on TEPCO and the safety agency over language. But previous investigations of the accident show it demanded they coordinate with the office and unify approaches before making any announcement.

TEPCO has said the delay in confirming the meltdown didn’t affect the company’s emergency response at the plant. Although the reactors have been stabilized significantly, the company is still struggling with the plant’s decades-long decommissioning.

Delays in the announcement of meltdowns surfaced earlier this year in a separate investigation in which TEPCO acknowledged that a company manual had been overlooked, reversing its earlier position that it had no internal criteria for a meltdown. TEPCO has eliminated the definition of a meltdown from the manual that was revised after the Fukushima accident. ”

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The Asahi Shimbun:

” Former government leaders vehemently rejected suggestions in a report that they were pulling the strings behind a suspected meltdown cover-up when the Fukushima nuclear disaster was unfolding in 2011.

The report, compiled by an investigation panel commissioned by Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled nuclear power plant, said Masataka Shimizu, who was TEPCO president at the time of the accident, instructed employees not to use the term “meltdown,” leading to a delay in the official announcement.

But the report also implied that Shimizu was acting on orders from high up in the government.

Yukio Edano, who was chief Cabinet secretary of the Democratic Party of Japan-led government when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis on March 11, 2011, described the report as preposterous.

“As far as I know, it is unthinkable for government officials back then to ask TEPCO to do such a thing,” Edano, now the secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Party, told reporters on June 16.

He accused the panel of merely skimming the surface of the matter and sidestepping the truth behind the instructions to avoid using the term “meltdown.”

“It is utterly irresponsible for the panel to say that it did not uncover that (Shimizu) was instructed by who and what,” he said.

The third-party panel of legal experts said in the report released on June 16 that it can be assumed that Shimizu understood that he was requested by the prime minister’s office to seek its approval beforehand if the company were to announce the “meltdown.”

The panel also said it would be difficult to conclude that TEPCO’s delay in declaring the meltdown was a “deliberate cover-up.”

“Since TEPCO released information on radiation levels inside the reactors and other related data at that time, just not using the term meltdown cannot be described as an act of a deliberate cover-up,” the panel said.

TEPCO declared the meltdown at three reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in May 2011, two months after it occurred.

According to the report, Shimizu entered the chief Cabinet secretary’s office, which is located at the prime minister’s office building, by himself on March 13, 2011. The following day, Sakae Muto, vice president of TEPCO, explained the conditions of the reactors at the plant.

During the news conference, Shimizu handed a memo to Muto through a TEPCO public relations official, telling him not to use the word “meltdown” on the instructions of the prime minister’s office, according to the panel.

Naoto Kan, who was prime minister at the time of the disaster, denied giving the instruction to TEPCO.

“I myself have never given directions to TEPCO not to use the expression ‘meltdown,’” Kan, a member of the Democratic Party, said in a statement.

One reason for the lack of clarity in the report is that Shimizu, who was interviewed twice for a total of four hours, said, “I do not remember very well” with regard to who gave what instructions.

Another TEPCO employee interviewed by the panel said Shimizu “was under tremendous pressure and must not have a detailed recollection.”

The panel interviewed about 60 former and current TEPCO officials but no government officials and bureaucrats who were involved in dealing with the crisis.

“Our authority to investigate is limited, and it is difficult (to uncover the entire truth) in such a short time,” said Yasuhisa Tanaka, the lawyer who headed the investigation.

Tanaka and another panel member, Zenzo Sasaki, a former prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, were also in charge of the third-party investigation into the accident conducted in 2013.

That investigation, based on interviews of TEPCO officials, came under fire for “only arbitrarily presenting TEPCO’s argument that is convenient to the company.”

The findings by the latest panel showed TEPCO officials looking into the nuclear disaster were aware of Shimizu’s order not to use “meltdown,” but TEPCO’s in-house investigation team did not include it in its report in 2012, apparently believing it was not significant enough to mention.

“TEPCO’s efforts to share information inside the company were insufficient,” Tanaka said. “It lacked consideration for local governments, which should have been top priority.”

The revelation that Shimizu ordered the avoidance of “meltdown” fueled feelings of distrust toward TEPCO among local governments hosting TEPCO nuclear power plants.

“We are still in this stage of the investigation even five years after the accident,” said Toshitsuna Watanabe, mayor of Okuma, which co-hosts the crippled Fukushima plant.

Hirohiko Izumida, governor of Niigata Prefecture, home to TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, called for a further investigation to reveal the whole picture of the Fukushima disaster.

“We need to step up efforts to uncover what has not been sufficiently investigated before,” he said. “TEPCO, as an organization, should make a sincere response without hiding anything.”

The latest panel was established in March at the request of the Niigata prefectural government’s technology committee, which aims to determine why TEPCO waited until May 2011 to announce the triple meltdown.

TEPCO initially said it did not have the criteria for defining and determining a meltdown.

But it announced in February this year that the company “found” an in-house manual that explained whether a meltdown was taking place. ”

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Updated 2/16/16: Environment minister withdraws radiation remark, apologizes to Fukushima residents — The Asahi Shimbun; Japan’s environment minister denies mocking radiation fears of Fukushima residents — The Japan Times

Posted Feb. 16, 2016, The Asahi Shimbun:

” Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa retracted her remark about the government having “no scientific grounds” for its radiation decontamination target in the Fukushima nuclear disaster, saying she wanted to rebuild trust with local residents.

As the minister in charge of overseeing the decontamination efforts in Fukushima Prefecture, Marukawa, 45, said Feb. 12 she wants to “sincerely apologize to residents in Fukushima.”

During a speech in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, on Feb. 7, she labeled the government’s long-term goal of reducing radiation levels near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to an annual dose of 1 millisievert or less as having “absolutely no scientific grounds.”

A local newspaper, The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, picked up the story and reported her comments on Feb. 8, which she promptly denied having made.

At Diet sessions on Feb. 9 and 10, Marukawa stated that she had “no recollection of using such wording” in the speech.

Nevertheless, she told the news conference on the evening of Feb. 12 that she had decided of her own volition to “retract the remark in order to maintain a relationship of trust with residents in Fukushima.”

Marukawa went on to say that the government’s decontamination target is “indeed scientific in the sense that it was set as a result of thorough discussions by scientists.”

Her acknowledgment of making the faux pas will likely prompt the opposition camp to go on the offensive during Diet sessions in the coming week. For the time being, at least, Marukawa is standing firm. She said she has no intention of stepping down and wants to continue fulfilling her duties.

The decontamination goal was set by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government of the time on the basis of recommendations by the International Commission on Radiological Protection in the aftermath of the triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

After the newspaper covered her remarks, Marukawa told reporters on Feb. 8 that she did not remember using such wording as “scientifically ungrounded.” She repeated the plea at Lower House Budget Committee sessions on Feb. 9 and 10.

During a regular news conference after the Feb. 12 morning Cabinet meeting, the minister finally acknowledged the possibility of making the remark.

She eventually retracted the comment later the day after obtaining a memorandum of her speech and confirming the content with attendants. ”

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Posted Feb. 12, 2016, The Japan Times:

” Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa came under fire Tuesday for what opposition lawmakers called an insensitive gaffe that appeared to ridicule the fears of people in Fukushima Prefecture over radiation exposure.

At the center of the controversy was a remark she reportedly made Sunday during a speech in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.

The Nagano-based Shinano Mainichi Shimbun on Monday quoted the Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker as saying, “There are always those ‘anti-radiation’ people, as you may call them, who are worried about radiation no matter how low the levels are.”

According to the newspaper, Marukawa then went on to attack the government’s official goal of reducing contamination near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant to an annual dose of 1 millisievert, calling it a “scientifically groundless” figure decided by her Democratic Party of Japan predecessor.

On Tuesday, DPJ lawmaker Rintaro Ogata said Marukawa’s comments sounded as though she were deriding those suffering from radiation exposure fears in Fukushima.

Marukawa said she has no clear recollection of the remark as the event went unrecorded due to the absence of her secretary.

Nonetheless, she said she felt “misquoted” by the newspaper, though she added: “I would like to apologize for not expressing my views clearly enough.”

The DPJ, which was in power when the triple disaster hit Japan in 2011, set the annual 1-millisievert target based on an estimation by the International Commission on Radiological Protection that acceptable radiation exposure levels range from 1 to 20 millisieverts per year in the aftermath of a nuclear accident.

Marukawa denied that she called the target “scientifically groundless” and instead emphasized that the DPJ should have more thoroughly explained the rationale behind it. ”

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Fukushima nuclear crisis far from over, Kan says — The Japan Times

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant is not over five years since a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered the meltdowns.

“There is no doubt” radioactive materials have been seeping into the sea after mixing with groundwater, Kan, who has been a vocal critic of nuclear energy since the crisis started, told the National Press Club in Washington.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly said the issue of water contaminated with radioactive substances at the Fukushima plant is “under control,” including when he was making a pitch for Tokyo as host of the 2020 Olympic Games.

Kan disputes this. “The accident is still unfolding,” he said.

Kan was prime minister when the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl occurred following the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Kan, a lawmaker of the Democratic Party of Japan, also criticized Abe’s decision to raise the ratio of electricity produced by atomic energy to 20-22 percent of the nation’s total output by 2030.

“The goal is not achievable” unless Japan extends the maximum legal period of reactor operations or builds a new nuclear plant, Kan said.

Most nuclear reactors remain off line in Japan, but various operators are seeking restarts.

Kansai Electric Power Co. is set to reactivate a reactor at its Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture on Friday, in what would be the third restart since new safety standards were put in place. ”

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Behind the scenes: Waste disposal site a dilemma for Fukushima — The Yomiuri Shimbun

” 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.

Designated waste

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. ”

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