Japan completes transfer of radioactive soil to interim storage site

The government is expected to complete work by March 31 to transfer radioactive soil collected from areas polluted by the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima prefecture to an interim storage facility as part of the decontamination effort.

The facility, straddling the towns of Futaba and Okuma in Fukushima, surrounds Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the site of the triple meltdown that followed an earthquake and a massive tsunami 11 years ago.

Under the law, these soils will be transferred to a permanent disposal site outside the prefecture by 2045. The final site has not yet been decided, however.

Since the amount of land is huge, the Ministry of Environment plans to use some of it for public works and other projects across the country.

“We will reach a major turning point” by completing the transfer, a senior ministry official said. “From now on, we would like to foster people’s understanding of (soil) reuse.”

The 1,600-hectare interim storage site, roughly the same size as Tokyo’s Shibuya district, is expected to hold around 14 million cubic meters of soil collected through the decontamination work.

Since 2015, these soils collected around Fukushima have been transported to the site after being stored in temporary storage facilities.

More than 1,800 local landowners, including city dwellers, cooperated with the central government to obtain land to establish the storage facility, primarily by selling their properties to the state.

Many landowners “have made tough decisions abandoning their properties in the name of reconstruction,” Okuma Mayor Jun Yoshida said. “Many were my acquaintances, including friends from school, the person who arranged my marriage, and city office workers,” Yoshida added.

The ministry plans to use only soils with relatively low levels of radioactive concentrations for public works, agricultural land and other purposes. She hopes that three quarters of the total will be reused.

A demonstration project to grow flowers and vegetables on agricultural land using this soil has already started in the Nagadoro district of Iitate village in Fukushima.

Meanwhile, land use plans for road construction have been shelved due to opposition from local residents in the cities of Nihonmatsu and Minamisoma, both in Fukushima Prefecture.

In May last year, the ministry began to hold meetings to discuss the recycling of these soils with the general public to gain a better understanding. Such events have taken place in Tokyo and the city of Nagoya.

The next session is expected to be held in Fukuoka City this month.

Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa pointed out that the electricity produced by the Fukushima No. 1 power plant was consumed in the greater Tokyo area. The reuse of soil collected through decontamination work “will only continue if the people who have benefited (from the Fukushima plant) understand this fact”, he said.

“It’s hard for people living far from Fukushima to sympathize” with those who have to deal with contaminated soils, said Hiroshi Kainuma, associate professor at the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies at the University of Tokyo.

Kainuma said the government should proceed by constantly checking whether its communication with the public on the matter is appropriate.

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