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Recycling decontaminated soil from the nuclear power plant accident is “no one’s business” Residents of Shinjuku, which has an unexpected connection with TEPCO, have stood up to stand up for the issue

Gen Hirai (second from right) and others protest the demonstration project to reuse decontaminated soil in Kabukicho, Tokyo, on December 12.

January 13, 2023
One month has passed since the announcement of a demonstration project to reuse so-called “decontaminated soil” collected during decontamination work after the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the Tokyo metropolitan area. People who live near Shinjuku Gyoen (Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo), one of the planned sites, have joined forces and established a group to oppose the reuse of the soil. Shinjuku has an unexpected connection with TEPCO. What do the locals think? Can other areas be left to their own devices? We took another look at the situation. (Takeshi Nakayama and Yoshiko Nakazawa)

◆No attempt has been made to reach a consensus among the residents.
 The local people are trying to push the project forward without the knowledge of many of them,” said one angry writer.
 Gen Hirai, 70, a writer, is angry. Gen Hirai, 70, is the chairman of the “Association Opposing the Introduction of Radioactively Contaminated Soil into Shinjuku Gyoen,” which lodged a complaint with the Shinjuku City government on March 12, claiming that there had been insufficient explanation of the demonstration project.
 On September 9, the Ministry of the Environment announced a demonstration project using Shinjuku Gyoen as a candidate site. The project will use the flower beds behind the office building, which are normally closed to the general public, and plant them by covering them with decontaminated soil.
 On the 21st, an explanatory meeting was held for residents of Shinjuku 1 and 2 chome facing the Gyoen. However, only 28 people attended the meeting, and Ms. Hirai, who lives in 1-chome, was unaware of it until she learned about it through the media.
 It cannot be said that we are trying to build consensus among the residents of the city,” said Hirai. Mr. Hirai felt a growing sense of crisis and held a study session on the issue of decontaminated soil on the 28th. On the 7th of this month, he established a group to oppose the project with other ward residents.
◆University professors, lawyers, theater performers, and restaurant owners in the Golden district

Gen Hirai speaks about his proposal for a demonstration project to reuse decontaminated soil at the Shinjuku City Office in Kabukicho, Tokyo, on December 12.

During his visit to the Shinjuku City Office on January 12, Gen Hirai submitted a written request to the city officials to inform the residents of the demonstration project and to stop bringing decontaminated soil into the city unless its safety is guaranteed.
 The 20 people who accompanied him were a diverse group, including not only local residents but also university professors, lawyers, theater people, and restaurant owners from the Golden Gaien district near the Gyoen. The participants questioned whether the law had been properly established for the reuse of decontaminated soil, and whether this would lead to the spread of contamination rather than alleviate the burden on Fukushima.
 Although Shinjuku has a strong impression of an entertainment district such as Kabukicho, there are many condominiums in the Shinjuku Gyoen area, and some people have lived in the area for three generations. Mr. Hirai used to play in Shinjuku Gyoen when he was in elementary school, and even now he takes a walk there once every three days. Many kindergarteners also visit the park, and there is a promenade where many people come and go. Why are they trying to conduct a demonstration project in such a park?
◆Shinjuku Metropolitan High School, which has produced successive generations of TEPCO executives
 Shinjuku is also characterized by its close ties to TEPCO.
 Graduates of Shinjuku Metropolitan High School, located near the Gyoen Garden, have produced successive generations of TEPCO executives. According to the “Choyo Alumni Association,” a group of graduates, Tsunehisa Katsumata, who was chairman at the time of the Fukushima nuclear accident, and Naomi Hirose, who served as president after the accident, are among the names on the list. In addition, the TEPCO Hospital was located in Shinanomachi near the Gyoen until February 2014. I would like to ask Katsumata and others what they think about bringing (decontaminated soil) so close to their alma mater,” he said.
 What stands out above all else is the Ministry of the Environment’s forward-looking attitude. This can be seen in a video shown at the briefing in Shinjuku, titled “Fukushima and the Environment Beyond. The video, “Fukushima and Beyond: Toward the Environment,” which was shown at the briefing in Shinjuku, also gives some indication.
 The decontaminated soil is described as “an issue that remains in the land of Fukushima, which continues to recover. The video shows images of temporary storage sites in Fukushima Prefecture lined with flexible container bags filled with decontaminated soil, and asks the question, “Is this really a problem only in Fukushima? Is this really only a problem in Fukushima?
 It seems as if he is trying to say that a demonstration project is needed to accept decontaminated soil outside of Fukushima Prefecture, but it is not clear that he is seriously trying to answer the questions of the local residents. The call center, which was listed in the briefing materials, is open only on weekdays, but the staff is curt: “We will use the ‘opinions’ we receive as reference in our future studies.

A park with a signboard showing underground storage of decontaminated soil in Funabashi City, Chiba Prefecture, in December 2022.

◆”Shinjuku City also believes what the government says.
 Mr. Hirai said that the government seems to be leaving residents behind.
 He points out that the Shinjuku City government is also accepting the government’s position that the decontaminated soil is safe, even though it cannot be scientifically proven that it is safe. The opposition group will hold an inaugural meeting on March 24, and will continue to raise the issue widely.
 The demonstration project is currently announced for Shinjuku City and Tokorozawa City in Saitama Prefecture, and Tsukuba City in Ibaraki Prefecture is also being discussed, but the cleanup of decontaminated soil is not limited to these areas.
 According to the Ministry of the Environment, decontaminated soil from Fukushima Prefecture will be collected at an interim storage facility near the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and then transported out of the prefecture for final disposal by 2045. As of the end of last year, about 13.38 million cubic meters of decontaminated soil had been collected. The company advocates the reuse of the soil to reduce the amount for final disposal and to make it easier to transport the soil out of the prefecture.
◆Decontaminated soil is becoming more and more familiar to people…
 The problem is the radioactive concentration of the decontaminated soil to be reused.
 According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, for about 50 years before the nuclear accident, the average radioactive concentration of farmland in Japan was about 20 becquerels per kilogram. On the other hand, the Ministry of the Environment has set a recycling standard for decontaminated soil of 8,000 becquerels or less, about 400 times higher. This is 80 times lower than the recycling standard of 100 becquerels or less for materials from decommissioned nuclear power plants.
 Yayoi Isono, professor emeritus of environmental law at Tokyo Keizai University, commented, “Under these standards, a considerable amount of waste is reused. If soil with a low concentration of radioactive materials is mixed with the soil, it can be diluted to the standard level. If the amount of soil to be reused increases, the number of areas subject to reuse could also increase. If more soil is reused, the number of areas where it will be reused could increase.

Workers seal and bury soil contaminated with radioactive materials in Seya Ward, Yokohama, March 2012.

There are other troubling issues. As a result of the widespread release of radioactive materials from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, decontamination was widely implemented in the Tohoku and Tokyo metropolitan areas. Decontaminated soil is stored at a total of 29,000 locations in seven prefectures outside of Fukushima Prefecture, including Iwate, Ibaraki, Gunma, and Chiba. The Ministry of the Environment is urging measures such as sealing the soil in bags or containers, covering them with tarps to shield them from water, and covering them with fill.
 However, the measures to be taken after storage differ between Fukushima Prefecture and other prefectures. The basic policy approved by the Cabinet in November 2011 stipulates that the government is responsible for securing interim storage facilities in prefectures where “a significant amount” of contaminated soil and other materials are generated. Fukushima Prefecture falls under this category, while other prefectures are to dispose of contaminated soil onsite.
◆Ministry of the Environment embarking on a demonstration project based on the idea that there is reuse of soil
 However, municipalities outside of Fukushima Prefecture that have decontaminated soil are facing a complicated situation. Marumori Town in Miyagi Prefecture, which is storing decontaminated soil at 44 locations including schools, has approached the Ministry of the Environment, saying, “The government and TEPCO are responsible for transporting the soil out of the town for disposal.
 An official from the town’s general affairs division said, “Some people in the town say, ‘It is not right that the people who dumped the waste did not clean it up, and that the people in the area where the waste was dumped are responsible for disposing of it. The government has not agreed to remove the waste from the town, but we are asking the government to do so, even if it means amending the law,” he said.
 The cleanup of decontaminated soil cannot be a personal matter. However, the grounds for the cleanup methods are not clear, and in some cases, the methods are not clear.
 Reuse of decontaminated soil within Fukushima Prefecture and on-site disposal of decontaminated soil outside of Fukushima Prefecture are merely policies approved by the Cabinet of the time. The question remains as to whether consensus building is sufficient. As for the final disposal of decontaminated soil in Fukushima Prefecture, the ministry official said, “We are currently discussing this at an experts’ meeting.
 In spite of this situation, the Ministry of the Environment is embarking on a demonstration project with the idea that the soil can be reused.
 Journalist Junko Masano criticized the Ministry, saying, “There is little legal basis for reusing the soil, and the push to do so is ridiculous. If the land is actually to be reused for road construction and other purposes, it will be necessary to verify protective measures.
 The aforementioned Mr. Isono also commented, “The response to the Fukushima accident will be the foundation for the future. We should have careful discussions on whether we should reuse the waste in the first place and, if so, how we should proceed.
◆Desk Memo
 Radioactive contamination caused by TEPCO’s nuclear power plants. TEPCO is supposed to be in charge of cleaning up the mess, but it is now forcing each region to accept the contaminated soil. The company is now pressuring each region to accept the contaminated soil, as if it were a natural disaster, saying that it is not someone’s fault and that everyone should cooperate for the recovery. This is the premise that makes us feel uncomfortable. This is where the question should be asked again. (Sakaki)


January 20, 2023 - Posted by | Fuk 2023 | , , ,

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