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New crisis dividing Japanese – dealing with radioactive debris

Japan’s Latest Nuclear Crisis: Getting Rid of the Radioactive Debris, The Atlantic, JUN 4 2012,   A plan to disperse the waste to incineration facilities across the country, meant to instill national unity, is doing the opposite, and further delaying Japan’s ability to move beyond Fukushima. KITA KYUSHU, Japan — Disposing the more than 20 million tons of rubble caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is proving to be a difficult problem for Japan, not least because much of the rubble has been irradiated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The government’s plan — to destroy 4 million tons of potentially radioactive earthquake debris in garbage incinerators around the country — is dividing the nation and further delaying the country’s ability to put Fukushima behind it.

More than a year after the disaster, over 90 percent of the debris from disaster-stricken areas is still sitting around, waiting for disposal. Under a government pledge to clear the rubble entirely by 2014, the Ministry of the Environment is leading an effort to distribute the rubble to municipalities around Japan for speedy incineration and burial. But people across the country have met the plan with strong opposition, objecting that it needlessly spreads radiation to unaffected areas.

Last week, trucks carrying earthquake debris from northeastern Japan arrived in the south-western island of Kyushu, as part of the national government’s plan to disperse and destroy debris. Protestors blocked the road for 8 hours over fears that incinerating the debris would spread radiation to areas that have not yet been contaminated by the nuclear disaster. The waste was burned last Thursday in the first “trial burn” of radioactive tsunami debris to be conducted in this part of Japan……..
The plan has deeply polarized national opinion. Those in support of “wide area incineration” say it’s necessary to help the Tohoku region, and see their “NIMBY” (Not In My Back Yard) counterparts as selfish and overly concerned about minor levels of radiation. Those against the plan say that the radiation is by no means negligible, and should not be spread to uncontaminated regions. They also point to some of the plan’s odder details, questioning its real intentions.

 The debris that was burned in Kita Kyushu on Thursday had been trucked over 620 miles from Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, which lies about 70 miles from the stricken nuclear reactors in Fukushima. Radiation data from the test burn was reviewed by a panel, and a comprehensive incineration program is expected to begin sometime in June. Kita Kyushu City has pledged to accept 39,500 tons of debris per year for incineration, and 30 out of the total 47 prefectures across Japan are either engaged in or considering similar programs.

The government insists that its radiation limits ensure that the program will pose no health risks to surrounding residents. Those limits, however, have been significantly relaxed since the disaster at Fukushima. Radioactivity is measured by becquerel per kilogram, or bq/kg. Previously, Japanese regulations required  nuclear waste with 100 or more bq/kg of Cesium to be monitored and disposed of in specialized containers. But the new limit for debris in the “wide area incineration” program is 240 to 480 bq/kg . Because radioactive particles accumulate and concentrate in the ash of burned rubble, the material headed for local landfills could be significantly more radioactive. The new government limit for material headed for landfills is 8000 bq/kg, 80 times the pre-Fukushima limit.

Because garbage incinerators inevitably serve as collecting grounds for radiation spread across large areas, in some cases, the limit of 8000 bq/kg has been surpassed even in facilities processing local garbage in Tokyo, according to  the Ministry of the Environment. Such stories have exacerbated fears that incinerating debris from areas even closer to Fukushima could produce potentially hazardous irradiated ash.


June 6, 2012 - Posted by | environment, Japan

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