The cargo trains dedicated to bringing disaster debris from Tohoku to Tokyo ended operations Monday because the volume of the rubble has been substantially reduced two years and 10 months after a massive offshore earthquake and tsunami wrecked its Pacific coastline in March 2011.
The last such train, carrying debris from Rikuzentakata and Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture, arrived at a cargo terminal in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward on Monday morning. The containers were then put onto trucks.
The trains had been making runs nearly daily since September 2012, when the rubble from cleanup efforts started to get out of hand, said officials from Japan Freight Railway Co., one of the seven companies in the Japan Railways Group.
Efforts to get outside help with the disposal work were hampered by radiation contamination fears from the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s neglected Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
In total, the amount of debris transported by both the special trains and ordinary freight trains reached 184,000 tons, the officials said.
According to the Environment Ministry, the March 2011 disasters are believed to have generated more than 17 million tons of debris in the three hardest-hit prefectures — Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.
In Iwate and Miyagi, the number of incinerators and other disposal facilities climbed substantially after the quake. But the three asked Tokyo and 16 other prefectures outside the disaster zone to help get rid of 650,000 tons of debris to help speed up recovery and reconstruction. As a result, all of the debris from Iwate and Miyagi is likely to be disposed of by March 31.
In the meantime, disposal efforts are expected to drag on in Fukushima because of the heavy radiation spread by Fukushima No. 1 and a lack of places to store it.
The central government is in charge of disposing the debris accumulating in Fukushima’s no-go zone and any surplus that isn’t being dealt with in other parts of the prefecture.
Fukushima’s debris came to 2.5 million tons, which, despite being less than Iwate and Miyagi, is taking more time because of radiation-related difficulties in building disposal and temporary storage facilities.
The government wants to finish transporting all remaining debris in Fukushima to temporary storage by the end of fiscal 2013. It is expected to take several more years to fully complete the disposal work there, government officials said.