Fukushima debris disposal falling short

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

The disposal of debris in Fukushima Prefecture from the March 2011 calamities will not be completed by the end of fiscal 2013, as originally planned, the Environment Ministry admitted Tuesday.

According to the ministry, the magnitude 9.0 quake and the monstrous waves it spawned generated 25.9 million tons of rubble in the three worst-affected prefectures in Tohoku — Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. In response, the government set a deadline for completing the removal process by the March 2014 end of this fiscal year.

But while Miyagi and Iwate are likely to meet this target, Fukushima hasn’t been able to keep pace, mainly because the ensuing nuclear crisis has severely hindered and delayed cleanup efforts.

“As for Fukushima, completion (of the debris removal) will be difficult” to achieve by the target date in light of the three meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara told reporters.

He said his ministry will come up with a new time frame and disclose it this summer.

“We will do our best to accelerate the process,” Ishihara vowed.

Although Miyagi and Iwate remain unable to process and dispose of the vast amount of rubble left behind by the quake and tsunami, more than a dozen prefectures have volunteered to accept nearly 700,000 tons of debris for incineration or burial.

But the circumstances are different in Fukushima, where most of the rubble around the wrecked nuclear plant remains untouched. Even the processing of debris that workers have managed to gather has been delayed, as the central and prefectural governments have struggled to secure temporary storage facilities and find ways to lower the rubble’s radiation levels.

The ministry also revealed Tuesday that 3.2 million tons of tsunami-related debris, or 32 percent of the total, had been removed from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima as of March 31. In addition, around 9.2 million tons of quake-related rubble, some 58 percent of the total, had been removed from the three prefectures by the April 1 start of fiscal 2013.

In a related development, the government’s nuclear disaster headquarters decided Tuesday to realign the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, and divide it into two evacuation zones based on estimated annual radiation doses. The entire town is currently a no-go zone.

As of May 28, most of Futaba will be classified as an area with annual radiation levels in excess of 50 millisieverts and residents will be prevented from returning for at least the next four years. But the other parts of the town, where the radiation doses measure 20 millisieverts or less, will be redesignated as an area for which preparations will be made for lifting the evacuation order.

Futaba will be the 10th of 11 municipalities around Fukushima No. 1 to be reclassified by the central government.

Information from Jiji added

Nuke regulators’ confab

kyodo

Nuclear regulators from nine countries including Japan, the U.S. and South Korea are discussing their responses to the Fukushima nuclear crisis in a closed meeting in Tokyo.

The three-day International Nuclear Regulators Association meeting, chaired by Shunichi Tanaka, head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, began Monday and is being held behind closed doors to “enable participants to communicate candidly,” officials said.

On Wednesday the participants are to inspect work to contain the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the officials said.

Tanaka was expected to report to the meeting about the nation’s new nuclear safety regulations and enhanced measures based on lessons learned from the catastrophe.

The association’s nine member countries, which include Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Spain and Sweden, take turns hosting these meeting.

It was previously held in Japan in 2004.