One year since the 3/11 disasters, the devastated areas face many difficult problems. One big problem is how to dispose of the large amounts of debris that the massive earthquake and tsunami left.
The central and local governments need to cooperate to accelerate the disposal of the debris. Much of the debris remains in temporary storage and is hampering the efficient use of land. It also poses hygiene problems and is a fire risk.
According to the Environment Ministry, the disasters left an estimated 22.5 million tons of debris in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures — about 1.6 times the amount of debris caused by the January 1995 great Kobe earthquake. Of the total, only 1.42 million tons have been disposed of.
The debris in Fukushima Prefecture is to be disposed of inside the prefecture. Of about 20 million tons of debris in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, some 4 million tons must be disposed of outside the prefectures because that amount is beyond the two prefectures’ disposal capabilities.
As of early March, only 6.3 percent of the debris in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures had been disposed of.
The disposal issue is made more complicated by radiation problems caused by the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The Environment Ministry has asked local governments outside the disaster-hit areas to accept and dispose of debris whose radioactive cesium concentration is below 240-480 becquerels per kilogram.
More than 80 percent of local governments surveyed in February by Kyodo News said that they will not accept debris or that it is difficult for them to accept it, citing such reasons as the shortage of facilities and fears about radiation.
Only a limited number of local governments, such as Tokyo , Aomori and Akita prefectures, have started accepting debris or have signed agreements with disaster-hit local governments to accept debris. The central government has belatedly decided to help local governments with disposal costs and the measurement of radiation levels. It also should provide necessary technical information for assuring safety and help local governments secure disposal sites.
The central government should remember that local residents’ distrust of it and Tepco over the Fukushima nuclear crisis is discouraging local governments from accepting debris.