There are significant questions over where radioactive material from the 2011 nuclear accident will be permanently stored after plans to build repositories have encountered heavy opposition from candidate municipalities.
The central government plans to move the material from existing temporary storage sites in the 12 prefectures where it was collected to final disposal facilities in five prefectures: Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba.
The facilities will house radioactive waste that exceeds 8,000 becquerels per kilogram. This includes incineration ash, sewage sludge, compost and paddy straw. As of the end of last September, the 12 prefectures had 152,236 tons of such waste designated by the environment minister.
The government has selected potential sites for final disposal facilities in Tochigi and Miyagi, but the projects remain stalled amid strong opposition from local officials and residents.
One potential site is on state-owned land in the town of Shioya, Tochigi Prefecture. But the selection provoked a fierce backlash from nearby residents due to the site’s proximity to the town’s Jojinzawa hot spring, the water of which was selected by the Environment Ministry as one of the 100 best in Japan.
Shioya Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata submitted to the ministry a petition signed by about 170,000 people demanding the waste be put elsewhere. He argued that all waste should be disposed of in neighboring Fukushima Prefecture, where the nuclear plant is sited.
In an attempt to break the deadlock, Tochigi Gov. Tomikazu Fukuda suggested that the ministry consider excavating waste buried at the proposed disposal facility once radioactive cesium levels fall and then restoring the site to its original state.
The proposal reflects his hope of allaying local fears by ensuring that the facility does not become a final one.
But it is not clear whether the proposal will win the support of local residents. A panel of experts appointed by the ministry noted that it would be hard to remove waste from a sturdy disposal facility made of concrete.
In Miyagi Prefecture, three state-owned sites have been selected as potential final disposal facilities, but drilling surveys designed to identify which one is the most suitable have been pushed back to the spring at the earliest amid local opposition.
In Kami, Mayor Hirobumi Inomata and local residents blocked Environment Ministry officials during a visit they made to the Miyagi town to conduct a survey.
The municipal assembly, meanwhile, adopted an ordinance for the better protection of local water sources.
The central government is looking at the possibility of using private land for a disposal facility in Chiba Prefecture due to a shortage of suitable state-owned land in the area. With the approach of the March deadline for waste storage at the current provisional facility, which straddles the cities of Abiko and Inzai, municipalities that put waste there have begun to remove it at the request of the prefectural government.
Gunma and Ibaraki prefectures are so far behind they have not even decided how to select candidate sites.
“As the waste can’t be left indefinitely in temporary storage facilities, we hope to create facilities as early as possible in order to ensure safety,” said one official of the Environment Ministry.
Fukushima Prefecture has by far the largest volume of designated waste, totaling 127,513 tons.
The government plans to use existing disposal facilities, as well as an interim facility to be constructed in the towns of Okuma and Futaba to store highly contaminated soil with radioactive concentration of over 100,000 becquerels per kilogram for up to 30 years. It aims to start taking waste to the planned facility in early 2015, but negotiations on buying the land from its owners have made little headway.