SHIZUOKA – The city of Shimada in Shizuoka Prefecture on Thursday began incinerating tsunami debris from Tohoku on a trial basis to check radiation levels and assess the potential risk to local residents.
If municipal authorities confirm radiation levels are within a safe range, the city will formally agree to accept debris from the disaster-hit town of Yamada in Iwate Prefecture from next month.
The deal would make Shimada only the second municipality after Tokyo to accept shipments of rubble from disaster areas for incineration at local facilities. A number of municipalities nationwide have drawn up similar plans, but have met stiff opposition from their citizens.
Yamada shipped 10 tons of tsunami debris to Shimada for its trial run. The city will mix about 56 tons of local household garbage among the debris and burn it through Friday in two furnaces at a nearby waste incineration plant.
Environment Minister Goshi Hosono, Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu and Shimada Mayor Katsuro Sakurai were all present at the plant Thursday to witness the start of the incineration trial.
“I want the leaders of local governments who are concerned about the disaster-hit areas to cooperate (in debris disposal),” Hosono said.
But while he was speaking, about 30 local residents staged a demonstration outside the facility to protest the trial, voicing their safety concerns and calling on municipal authorities to stop burning the rubble.
“We are worried about environmental pollution and the health hazards,” one of the protesters said, while another demanded that authorities explain the contamination risks to residents in much greater detail.
“I believe you will be able to accept (the debris incineration) if you can confirm the safety,” Hosono said, encouraging the residents to check contamination levels when the city allows the public to inspect the ashes from the trial.
The city plans to allow residents to check the ashes Monday at both the plant and the municipal office to allay fears about radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Authorities will even provide residents with dosimeters to test contamination levels.
Municipal inspectors will also check the levels of radioactive cesium in gas emissions and ashes at the plant, as well as atmospheric radiation levels at nearby elementary schools.
The results of the trial incineration are due to be released by March 24.
Provided the cesium concentration in the ashes is less than 500 becquerels per kilogram and that various other safety standards are met, Mayor Sakurai will announce by the end of March if Shimada will officially start accepting disaster debris from Yamada.
The trial incineration follows notes that Shimada authorities exchanged with Iwate and Shizuoka prefectures Feb. 1. Sakurai had expressed his city’s readiness to accept debris in December.