TOTTORI – A governmental nuclear research and development institute began work here Monday to ship soil contaminated with uranium to the United States, but the work was soon suspended when a bag packed with radioactive soil accidentally fell off a truck.
The work to transport the contaminated soil from Yurihama, Tottori Prefecture, to the U.S. for disposal has been put on hold until steps are taken to ensure the safety of shipments, officials at the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute said. Initially, the work was to last 19 days.
Some 40 workers began packing the soil at around 8:30 a.m. and prepared eight bags for shipment. But at 10 a.m., one of the bags fell from a truck while being transported, causing slight injuries to a worker.
The institute said the bag was not damaged.
The original schedule called for 33 bags to be shipped Monday, the institute said.
The shipment of contaminated soil is aimed at paving the way for a solution to a long-standing legal row between the local community and the nuclear research and development institute that erupted after the existence of the contaminated soil came to light in 1988.
However, because the soil to be shipped constitutes only 10 percent of the total amount of contaminated soil, the issue is unlikely to be resolved quickly.
Of the 3,000 cu. meters of contaminated soil in the town’s Katamo district, the institute will dispose of 290 cu. meters with a relatively high surface-radiation level.
According to the institute’s plan, the soil will be transported to Kobe port by truck. After clearing customs, it will be shipped to the United States on a container vessel in early October.
In the U.S., a contractor of the institute will dispose of the soil at a cost of about 660 million yen, and use the extracted uranium for power generation there, institute officials said, without specifying the exact destination and contracting party.
The soil originated from test drilling for uranium by the institute’s predecessor, Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp., around Ningyo Pass on the border of Tottori and Okayama prefectures in the 1950s and 1960s.
It was revealed in August 1988 that the soil had been left behind in the Katamo district, triggering an outcry from the local community.
In November 2000, the Katamo community association filed a lawsuit against the institute with the Tottori District Court and obtained an order to clear away all of the soil.
The court order for removal was upheld by a higher court and finalized by the Supreme Court last October after a protracted legal battle.
The institute has been paying 750,000 yen per day to the local community, as ordered by the Tottori District Court, for failing to remove the soil before the court-appointed deadline of March 10 this year.
The institute unveiled a plan in February to temporarily keep the soil at its waste-storage site at another location in Yurihama, but the prefecture blocked the move.