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April 12, 2012

Kyoto unable to dispose of firewood from Iwate



KYOTO--The Kyoto municipal government remains at a loss over how to dispose of radioactive firewood from Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture. The firewood was supposed to be used for the city's Gozan no Okuribi festival last August, but was left unused as it contained high levels of radioactive cesium released from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

As the municipal government has yet to finish deliberations on safety standards for incinerating radiation-contaminated waste, it has no choice but to take custody of the wood, officials said.

Currently, 500 pieces of firewood made from pine logs from Rikuzen-Takata are stored in a concrete room at a Kyoto packing facility. Each bundle contains about 10 logs and is wrapped in two layers of plastic bags under a large PVC tarpaulin.

According to officials, just before the annual bonfire festival in August, in which firewood is set alight on the slopes of five mountains surrounding Kyoto, 1,130 becquerels of cesium were detected per kilogram of wood.

As the logs are contained in plastic and covered by a tarp, they are not considered dangerous to humans or the environment at the current radiation dosage, said officials at the municipal government's cultural heritage conservation department.

The central government has set the maximum radioactivity levels for public facilities' acceptance of debris from areas struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in a range from at 240 to 480 becquerels per kilogram.

The Kyoto government has also been studying its own standards for accepting debris from disaster-hit areas.

As long as the city's standards remain undecided, the logs cannot be incinerated. However, sending the logs back to Rikuzen-Takata is not an option, they said.

The Gozan no Okuribi festival is a spectacular event celebrated every year on the night of Aug. 16. Huge bonfires are lit in the shape of kanji, such as dai (great), to see off the souls of the dead.

Last year, it was initially planned to dedicate the event to those killed in the disaster by lighting pieces of firewood from Rikuzen-Takata on which survivors wrote the names of relatives they had lost.

These plans were suspended as a large number of Kyoto residents were anxious about radioactivity from the logs. Furthermore, members of the Gozan no Okuribi festival organization committee were also in favor of abandoning the idea to use the Rikuzen-Takata logs, officials said.

However, the decision spurred a rush of protests and the city eventually decided to use other firewood from Rikuzen-Takata for the event.

Unfortunately, the new batches of firewood were also found to be tainted with more than 1,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram, and the city had no choice but to abort the entire plan, officials said.

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