Boost rebuilding of Fukushima by promoting waste disposal: The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Dec 12, 2015, The Yomiuri Shimbun calls for speedy decisions to ensure suitable radioactive waste disposal.

In the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, vast amounts of paddy straw, grass and others were contaminated with radioactive materials.

The disposal of "designated waste" will now move forward.

With regard to the plan to establish a disposal facility to bury this waste, the Fukushima prefectural government and the town authorities of Tomioka and Naraha, both located near the power plant, have expressed their intention to permit the establishment of a facility in their communities.

For both towns, it must have been a hard decision for the sake of contributing to the reconstruction of the prefecture as a whole.

When the waste from the six prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba are combined, designated waste totals 164,000 tons.

Of the total, the waste from Fukushima accounts for 138,000 tons.

It is now temporarily stored on farmland and at waste incineration plants, hindering efforts by local residents to rebuild their lives. At the envisaged disposal site, waste containing from 8,000 becquerels to 100,000 becquerels of radioactive substances per kilogram will be buried.

The Environment Ministry plans to construct waste disposal facilities in each of the six prefectures. Fukushima is the first prefecture to agree to set up such a facility.

Waste containing more than 100,000 becquerels of radioactive substances per kilogram that has been collected in Fukushima Prefecture is already being moved into an interim storage facility, although the facility is still under construction in an area straddling the towns of Futaba and Okuma.

It is significant that the arrangements for disposing of the contaminated waste in Fukushima Prefecture have been completed, as this ensures that the designated waste will be buried there.

In Tomioka and Naraha, some people opposed the establishment of the facility, saying, "It will adversely affect the return of residents."

The ministry has proposed to the towns that it would place existing, privately run disposal plants under state control and take safety measures. The ministry also presented steps to promote local economies.

The Fukushima prefectural government has expressed its intention of granting a combined total of 10 billion in subsidies to support the two towns.

The towns probably decided to accept the establishment of the facility because the ministry and the prefectural government cooperated in giving detailed explanations of the need to construct the facility. The ministry must do everything it can to ensure it is managed safely.

In the five other prefectures, plans to build waste disposal facilities have been seriously delayed.

The ministry proposed three candidate sites to establish a facility in Miyagi Prefecture in January last year. But the ministry has been unable to start on-site inspections there, due to the opposition of local residents.

In Tochigi and Chiba prefectures, too, residents in areas near candidate sites strongly oppose the establishment of waste disposal facilities. In Gunma and Ibaraki prefectures, not even the selection of candidate sites has begun.

The ministry made public the result of choosing candidate sites in September 2012. But the ministry withdrew its plans later after local communities strongly protested that they had not been notified in advance about being named candidate sites. Such a mishandling probably led local residents to distrust the ministry.

The ministry has repeatedly held meetings with local residents of communities selected for the construction of waste disposal facilities.

The radiation dose in areas around a disposal facility is set at less than 1 millisievert a year, lower than the radiation level found in the natural environment. It is important to present correct, easy-to-understand information about radiation to local communities and win their understanding.

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Editorial Notes reproduces an editorial from a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers.