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

Radiation update feb 13, 2012

February 13, 2012


Radiation concerns keep municipalities from helping with disaster-area debris


Concerns about radiation are preventing the massive amount of debris left in areas hit by the March 2011 tsunami from being sent to other areas for processing.

Keisuke Hiwatashi, mayor of Takeo, Saga Prefecture, visited the disaster areas over 10 times for volunteer and other work. He felt that they needed immediate help processing debris, and on Nov. 28 he announced that Takeo would accept debris for processing. According to the city government, however, over 1,000 phone calls and e-mails came in over the next two days, with many of them critical of the decision. This included one that could be considered a threat. It is believed that Hiwatashi withdrew his decision because of these complaints, though there were additional reasons.

To use the prefecture's waste processing facilities, permission is needed from an association made up of local municipalities, but Genichi Tanaka, mayor of Kohoku, voiced hesitance, stating, "Many opinions should be sought." His comment hinted that municipalities were not informed of the decision in advance.

Residents, particularly those near the facility that would process the debris, are also concerned. One 60-year-old farmer commented, "We can't ignore the possibility of harmful rumors" about radiation contamination if the city takes on debris.

Hiwatashi is considering holding a referendum on the issue.

According to the Ministry of the Environment, 22.52 metric tons of debris remained in the three prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima as of Jan. 31. The national government hopes to have debris from Iwate and Miyagi processed in other municipalities, as the amount is 11 to 19 times the regular amount of waste generated in each of the prefectures in one year.

In July last year, Yamagata Prefecture began taking on debris, and in November Tokyo followed suit. Kanagawa Prefecture, Chiba Prefecture and the Shizuoka Prefecture city of Shimada announced they would accept debris as well. However, in Kanagawa Prefecture, most residents at meetings were opposed to the idea, so no time frame for receiving debris has been set. In Niigata Prefecture, although cities have expressed willingness to consider taking on debris, the prefectural governor is reluctant to do so.

According to a November survey by the Ministry of the Environment, 54 municipalities and special district authorities across 11 prefectures had either received debris or were considering doing so. This was a large drop from April last year, when a survey found 572 municipalities and special public associations across 42 prefectures were considering accepting debris. The problem of radioactive ash remaining after burning the debris caused many municipalities to back off.

Furthermore, radiation standards for using ash in landfills differ from one municipality to another. The upper limit for radioactive cesium in ash used in landfills is 8,000 becquerels per kilogram under national standards, but Yamagata Prefecture has chosen a stricter standard. Tokyo is using the national standard, but is requiring test incineration at the time of shipping.

Hiwatashi has indicated he wants to use the maximum limit of naturally occurring radiation as a standard, but Hiroki Nonaka, a representative of a citizen's group on nuclear power, opposes bringing in debris.

"We should not spread contamination. We can help in other ways, like receiving evacuees or sending safe crops," he said.

Koichi Toyoshima, professor of physics at Saga University, commented, "Radiation levels differ across the different parts of debris. The plan to use the maximum limit of naturally occurring radiation would be hard, as the volume (of debris to measure) is large."


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