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A long road ahead remains for the final disposal of soil and other debris tainted by the March 2011 nuclear accident, despite progress being made in its temporary storage.

The transfer of the waste to an interim storage site is expected to be completed in the fiscal year starting next month.

The soil and other radioactive waste, collected during decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture, excluding those from “difficult-to-return” zones, are being placed in the site, which straddles the towns of Futaba and Okuma in the prefecture. The towns host Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Meanwhile, the government has yet to present a road map for the final disposal of the waste at a facility outside the prefecture by March 2045.

The roughly 1,600-hectare interim storage site surrounds the Fukushima No. 1 plant and is slated to hold about 14 million cubic meters of debris. About 10.48 million cubic meters, or around 75% of the total, has already been transported to the site.

Plants and trees are first weeded out from the debris. The resulting soil is then carried to a facility at the interim site on a conveyer belt and stored there based on the levels of radioactive cesium in it.

Under law, the contaminated waste must be disposed of at a final storage site outside Fukushima within 30 years of the interim site first being used.

The Environment Ministry hopes to use part of the soil for public works projects in order to reduce the amount of debris subject to the final disposal. But opposition to the plan among locals has hampered progress.

Many Fukushima residents voice worries about the future.

“People outside Fukushima may question why they have to accept soil from decontamination work in Fukushima,” an 80-year-old woman from Okuma said, suggesting that the soil is likely to be stuck in the interim storage site with the government being unable to find a final disposal site.

According to an online survey by the Environment Ministry in October last year, 81% of respondents outside Fukushima said that they have never heard about the requirement for debris from decontamination work in Fukushima to be stored outside the prefecture for final disposal or that they have heard about the matter but know nothing about it.

The ministry plans to hold town hall forums with citizens around the country in fiscal 2021 to seek widespread understanding on the issue.

“The towns of Futaba and Okuma made the difficult decision of accepting (soil and other debris for temporary storage) at the request of the central government,” Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori told Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi in an online meeting in mid-February.

“I want the central government to fulfill, as its responsibility, its promise of conducting the final disposal outside Fukushima,” Uchibori said.

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