Final resting place of radioactive soil still up in the air


Japan has yet to devise a final disposal plan for radioactive soil that will be stored at an interim facility in Fukushima Prefecture on the understanding that the soil will be moved elsewhere within 30 years.

In February, the central government began building the interim facility, which straddles the towns of Okuma and Futaba, to store radioactive soil.

The work began weeks ahead of the fourth anniversary of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Deliveries of soil began Friday on the Okuma side, now that the prefectural government has agreed to store contaminated soil collected as part of ongoing decontamination work. Shipments to Futaba were set to commence Friday as well, but the date has now been delayed.

In October 2011, the central government vowed to transfer the radioactive soil to a permanent storage facility outside Fukushima within 30 years of the first soil being shipped to the interim dump site.

The government made the promise in order to dispel local concerns that the interim facility could become the final disposal site.

In November, a law was enacted to clarify the state’s responsibility for fulfilling the pledge.

However, the interim facility itself faces problems. In particular, the Environment Ministry’s negotiations with owners to buy land for the core part of the facility have made little headway.

Several landowners are unhappy with the low acquisition prices set by the ministry, based on the collapsed value of land after the triple meltdown.

“I can’t agree with the proposed prices,” said Yoshiharu Monma, 57, head of a group of local landowners. The land acquisition means expelling those who suffered most from the nuclear disaster out of their hometowns, he said. “It’s unthinkable to sell the land at a price that is lower than the pre-accident level.”

Meanwhile, finding final disposal sites is proving to be even more difficult.

Planning to establish final disposal sites in five prefectures outside Fukushima, the ministry picked candidate sites but has faced strong opposition from residents at those locations.

To make final disposal sites acceptable for locals, the ministry is considering reducing the volume of contaminated soil to be dumped there. Specifically, it plans to dispose only of highly contaminated soil at the sites and use less contaminated soil in public works projects.

“If the disposal volume is cut markedly, there may be municipalities that will accept (hosting disposal) sites,” said a senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s task force to promote post-disaster reconstruction.

In fiscal 2015, the ministry will launch full-fledged work to develop low-cost technologies to separate soil in accordance with radioactivity levels. It will also run tests on which less-tainted soil will be mixed with other materials and used for roadbeds under asphalt.

Once these measures are in place, the ministry plans to select final disposal sites.

A ministry official said there is little time to develop such technologies, considering the 30-year deadline. “We hope to speed up the work as much as possible,” the official added.

But it is not certain the public will accept the reuse of contaminated soil.

“Opposition to reusing such soil may emerge,” the ministry official acknowledged, adding it is “a challenge for us to achieve not only safe soil but also the (sense) of safety.”

  • Richard Solomon

    Is the government serious when it suggests that it will ‘reuse’ less contaminated soil?!? Who would want such soil underneath road beds or in other locations? Perhaps the soil should be used in PM Abe’s garden or under the driveway to his home. Would he agree to this? I doubt it!!