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Fukushima disaster 10 years on: How long will it take to clean up the nuclear waste?

Streets have been rebuilt, while radiation decontamination has progressed steadily since the Fukushima earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident 10 years ago. But few residents have returned.  Straits Times, 
BY WALTER SIM AND SPE CHEN | MARCH 20, 2021

Decontamination and living with ‘black bags’

Piles of black bags were generated by the vast, painstaking clean-up and then transported from other storage places. Those black bags have occupied more than 90 blocks ranging from 180 sq m to 6,500 sq m in the northern part of Tomioka since 2015.

According to a 2018 report from Japan’s Ministry of the Environment, the estimated total quantity of decontaminated soil will be somewhere between 16 and 22 million cubic metres after volume reduction. This is 13 to 18 times larger than the volume of the Tokyo Dome.

The Ministry says the total will likely be at the lower end of the provided range, in a latest reply to The Straits Times’ query.

Limits of decontamination

The “decontamination” only involves soil removal in flatland areas – the government has said that it is impossible to clear the soil in mountainous areas, but more than 70 per cent of the hardest-hit areas are mountainous.

Mr Nobuyoshi Ito is one of those who live in the mountainous areas where vast decontamination is hard to carry out.

Mr Ito first moved to Iitate village in Fukushima prefecture in 2010 after he retired as an IT engineer, to work as an “apprentice farmer”.

He had no ties with the village before that, but the self-professed “guinea pig” ended up staying on there, in open defiance of government orders to evacuate, and against his children’s wishes for him to live with them in Niigata prefecture on the west coast.

“When the government asked us to evacuate… I asked if there would be criminal charges if I continued to live here,” he told The Straits Times in 2016. “They said no.”

He carries a dosimeter around with him all the time, measuring anything he can lay his hands on from soil, plants to animal carcasses. He also owns a laboratory-grade radiation measuring machine at his cabin, deep in the mountains in the village.

He has become one of the most visible critics of the government, which he accuses of vested interests in lifting exclusion zones too quickly.

He thinks the government’s decision to not decontaminate forested mountainous areas will backfire due to factors such as rain that may spread radioactive material, and in a study last year found that 43 out of 69 locations along the Olympic torch relay route had radiation levels above the government limits.

He told The Straits Times that he fears that Tokyo is overly eager to portray that everything was “under control”, given that this could give the impression that it is “case closed”.

One possible explanation for the limited effect of decontamination in forests is the rapid shift in the main reservoir of Caesium-137 – a major contributor to the total radiation released – from litter and topsoil layers to the underlying mineral soil, according to a 2020 research paper published in Nature Journal.

Non-profit Greenpeace notes that such standards in towns neighbouring the nuclear plant would not pass in other parts of the world.

The indefinite future: Where to permanently store 16 million bags of nuclear waste

Removed soil and waste are stored in the interim storage facilities within the prefecture only for a certain period before the government finds permanent places.

The law requires that the final disposal site of high-level nuclear waste should be outside of Fukushima by March 2045.

Two fishing villages in Hokkaido are vying to host the final storage facility of Japanese nuclear waste for half a century, splitting communities between those seeking investment to stop the towns from dying, and those haunted by the 2011 Fukushima disaster who are determined to stop the project.

I cannot give a deadline at this moment. We will consider the entire schedule based on the progress at the two new potential sites, along with nationwide public relations activities.

MS MASARU KASHIMA

A deputy director in a division of the economy ministry that deals with radioactive waste.  https://www.straitstimes.com/multimedia/graphics/2021/03/fukushima/index.html?shell

March 22, 2021 - Posted by | Fukushima continuing, wastes

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