Government OKs multiple-site storage of radioactive waste

JIJI, Kyodo

The Environment Ministry has allowed Ibaraki Prefecture to continue storing waste contaminated with radioactive substances from the March 2011 nuclear disaster in multiple locations for the time being.

The ministry on Thursday supported ongoing use of the multiple-site storage option at a meeting with officials from Ibaraki Prefecture and 14 municipalities in the prefecture that are currently storing such designated waste on a temporary basis.

This is the first time the ministry, which has upheld a policy to construct one designated waste disposal facility in each of the prefectures of Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba, to give the green light to multiple-site storage within a prefecture.

On Friday, Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa said at a news conference the ministry will continue coordinating with local municipalities to deal with the issue.

As part of the process, she said, it would consult with the community to move forward with lifting the designation on waste where radiation levels have lowered and consolidate remaining waste.

Designated waste, including incineration ash, sewage sludge and paddy straw, is contaminated with radioactive substances exceeding 8,000 becquerels per kilogram as a result of the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused by a major earthquake and tsunami.

Although the ministry has been pursuing the policy of concentrating such waste in one location in each of the five prefectures for disposal, the construction of disposal facilities has yet to transpire five years after the nuclear accident amid strong opposition from local residents.

The ministry’s decision to tolerate multiple-site storage is apparently intended to overcome the situation.

The ministry plans to have the municipalities in Ibaraki Prefecture continue safely storing designated waste for now, and have them dispose of the waste as general waste after radiation levels fall below 8,000 becquerels per kilogram.

As a result, the ministry forecasts that the amount of designated waste in the prefecture will drop to about 0.6 ton in about 10 years from 3,643 tons at present.

It will examine whether multiple-site storage can be continued in Gunma and Chiba prefectures, where municipalities are storing designated waste indoors just like those in Ibaraki Prefecture.

At Thursday’s meeting, the ministry proposed rules that would require the central and local governments to hold talks in advance if the radioactive waste designation is to be lifted.

The ministry also indicated a plan to consider providing financial support to municipalities that dispose of the waste after removal of the designation as radioactive waste at their existing facilities.