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Dealing with radioactive waste (2)

November 26, 2016


Editorial: Move forward with construction of interim storage sites for nuclear waste



Construction of the main unit of interim storage facilities for radioactive soil and other waste produced during decontamination work in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster has begun in the Fukushima Prefecture towns of Okuma and Futaba.

Over two years have passed since the prefecture agreed on construction of the facilities, and it's nearly six years since the outbreak of the disaster triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. As interim storage facilities play an important role in Fukushima's recovery from the nuclear disaster, any further delays in building them are impermissible.

We hope that the government will steadily work toward putting the facilities into operation while maintaining safety.

The interim storage facilities will be placed around Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. They will cover a total area of about 1,600 hectares, storing up an estimated 22 million cubic meters of waste that will be moved there and administered for up to 30 years.

The reason that construction of the facilities has been delayed is that officials have had trouble negotiating with many of the approximately 2,360 landowners in the area. At first officials didn't know where many of those people had evacuated. As of the end of October this year, the Ministry of the Environment had signed land acquisition deals with 445 landowners, but the total area of land amounted to only about 170 hectares.

Under the latest development, about 7 hectares of land in Okuma and Futaba will be used to build a facility to measure the radioactivity of contaminated soil and a facility to store tainted soil. The Ministry of the Environment hopes to begin storing waste at the interim facility in autumn next year, but the storage capacity in both towns stands at about 120,000 cubic meters, far below the expected peak.

At present some 12 million cubic meters of contaminated soil remains temporarily stored at around 15 locations in Fukushima Prefecture, including temporary storage sites and the gardens of people's homes.

The Environment Ministry in March this year presented an outlook which stated that it would be possible to transport up to about 12.5 million cubic meters of waste to interim storage facilities by fiscal 2020, but this is based on the major assumption that it will acquire more land. To reach this figure, its only option is to carefully explain to landowners why the facilities are needed, and obtain their consent. There are about 110 land negotiators at the ministry, but there is probably a need to boost this team.

In addition to land negotiations, we hope to see progress in technology to reduce and reuse contaminated soil.

It has been decided that contaminated soil in storage will be moved out of Fukushima Prefecture within 30 years, but the final storage site has still not been decided.

Radioactive cesium easily attaches itself to tiny particles. Dividing up the contaminated soil by particle size and chemically processing the particles to remove the cesium could reduce the amount of soil that needs to go to the final storage destination. The Ministry of the Environment hopes to make advancements in this type of technology and use soil with low concentrations of radiation in the construction of soil bases for public works projects. But it would be a stretch to say it has obtained society's consensus to do this.

The first priority is to determine how much contaminated soil there will be and what level of radioactivity it will have at the time when the waste is moved to a final storage site. Based on those findings, officials will need to initiate procedures to win the public's approval on the location of a final disposal site and the reuse of contaminated soil.


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