FUKUSHIMA – The Environment Ministry plans to use radiation-tainted soil to build roads in Fukushima Prefecture, starting with trials in the city of Nihonmatsu next month.
But in the face of fierce protests from safety-minded residents, the ministry is struggling to advance the plan.
“Don’t scatter contaminated soil on roads,” one resident yelled during a Thursday briefing by Environment Ministry officials in Nihonmatsu.
The officials repeatedly tried to soothe them with safety assurances, but to no avail.
“Ensuring safety is different from having the public feeling at ease,” said Bunsaku Takamiya, a 62-year-old farmer who lives near a road targeted for the plan. He claims the project will produce groundless rumors that nearby farm produce is unsafe.
Seven years after the March 2011 core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Takamiya has finally been able to ship his produce in Fukushima without worry. Then the ministry’s soil plan surfaced.
A woman in the neighborhood agrees.
“The nature and air here are assets for the residents. I don’t want them to take it away from us,” she said.
Under the plan, tainted soil will be buried under a 200-meter stretch of road in the city. The soil, packed in black plastic bags, has been sitting in temporary storage.
The plan is to take about 500 cu. meters of the soil, bury it under the road at a depth of 50 cm or more, cover it with clean soil to block radiation, and pave over it with asphalt. The ministry intends to take measurements for the project in May.
Fukushima is estimated to have collected about 22 million cu. meters of tainted soil at most. The ministry plans to put it in temporary storage before transporting it to a final disposal site outside the prefecture.
The idea is to reduce the amount. The ministry thus intends to use soil with cesium emitting a maximum of 8,000 becquerels per kg in public works projects nationwide.
The average radiation level for soil used for road construction is estimated at about 1,000 becquerels per kg, the ministry says.
The ministry has already conducted experiments to raise ground levels in Minamisoma with the tainted soil, saying “a certain level” of safety was confirmed.
Similar plans are on the horizon regarding landfill to be used for gardening in the village of Iitate. But it is first time it will be used in a place where evacuations weren’t issued after the March 2011 meltdowns.
Given the protests, an official linked to the ministry said, “It’s difficult to proceed as is.”