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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Home sweet home

October 24, 2012


Homes in Fukushima become storage sites for radioactively contaminated soil


Blue plastic sheets cover contaminated soil in this photo taken from a Mainichi helicopter in Fukushima'a Watari District on Oct. 14. (Mainichi)



FUKUSHIMA -- As local municipalities face delays in the construction of storage facilities for radioactively contaminated soil, residents here are being forced to store the soil on their own properties.

Last summer after the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, officials considered recommending that people in the Watari district of Fukushima, located around 1.5 kilometers from the city's center, evacuate homes where high radiation levels were detected.

Here, at the home of Tsuneo Ota, 66, a member of the Yamagiwa residential community, a sheet spread 3 meters wide, 4 meters deep and 1 meter high covers about 100 plastic cases of contaminated soil in his garden.

"I didn't think it would get this big," he says.

The contaminated soil is put in 45-liter cases that can't be opened once they are sealed. It is the first time the cases, usually used for medical waste, have been used in decontamination work. The cases are stacked in two layers and surrounded by around 1,000 bags of soil. It's said that a 30-centimeter layer of non-contaminated soil can block 98 percent of radiation.

Ota wasn't able to bury his contaminated soil in the ground, partly because it was filled with the roots of trees in his garden. He was also concerned about underground piping. He ended up cutting down most of the trees to make room for the soil. Gone were the camellias, hydrangeas, and sweet Osmanthus trees. The flowers, which Ota's 88-year-old mother Ine had taken care of, disappeared before they could bloom. A maple tree that had watched over the family since the house's construction 39 years ago was reduced to a stump.

Another reason the soil could not be buried underground was that the Yamagiwa community has a lot of water in the ground -- enough to be considered an area susceptible to mudslides. To bury contaminated soil, residents have to dig around 1.5 meters down, but when people tried to do this they repeatedly came across water.

One 58-year-old woman received a call in May from a worker who was trying to dig a hole for her. The worker informed her that it wouldn't be possible because diggers had hit water. The woman didn't have enough room on her property for the 600 cases of contaminated soil she had, so she sought the help of nearby relatives to find space.

At an empty lot next to the home of another 70-year-old resident, decontamination work has begun and the area is filled with the sound of grass mowers. During the work here, too, water gushed out from the ground, so workers loaded cases of contaminated soil aboveground, covering them with a sheet.

The Yamagiwa community is one of eight residential communities in the Watari district to have started decontamination work. About 70 percent of households requiring decontamination in the community store contaminated soil aboveground -- a source of stress for residents.

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