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Radioactive waste stuck at 830 sites with nowhere to go

A temporary storage site for contaminated soil resulting from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The bags of radioactive waste are due to be shipped to an interim storage facility. The photo was taken in February.

March 3, 2022

Vast quantities of topsoil collected during decontamination work after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster are stuck in limbo at hundreds of sites with no early prospect of being shipped to interim storage facilities ahead of a government-set deadline.

The soil is being kept “temporarily” at 830 locations in six municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture.

The city of Koriyama has 582 sites containing about 6,000 cubic meters of waste, followed by Fukushima with about 2,000 cubic meters at 200 locations.

Significant delays are expected in shipping the soil even though the government had planned to complete the operation by the end of this month as required by law.

The volume of contaminated soil and other radioactive materials awaiting shipment totals 8,460 cubic meters, which is the equivalent of 130 trucks each weighing 10 tons.

A key reason for the delay is that new houses were built on land where contaminated soil was buried as negotiations over storage sites in many communities dragged on. This accounts for about 50 percent of the cases cited by municipalities in a survey by the prefectural government last September.

About 30 percent of cases resulted from the refusal of landowners to bear the transportation costs, while about 10 percent are due to an inability by the authorities to contact the landowners.

As time passed, ownership of land tracts changed due to sales transactions and inheritance issues. Some landowners had no idea their plots contained radioactive material.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, shouldered the cost of the cleanup.

But the owners of the homes in question are obliged to pick up the tab for relocating so that the buried waste can be removed, according to the Environment Ministry.

Officials in the six local governments said the radiation levels at the 830 sites pose no health hazard as the readings were below 0.23 microsieverts per hour, the threshold for the need to decontaminate.

Decontamination work in affected communities in the prefecture wound up by March 2018.

The waste from those operations is required by law to be shipped outside the prefecture for final disposal by 2045.

Until then, the interim storage facility is all that is available.

The central government and Fukushima prefectural authorities have been locked in talks for the past 18 months on what to do with contaminated soil that cannot be moved any time soon.

The Environment Ministry called on local governments to continue managing contaminated soil that is deemed difficult to move in line with a directive issued in December 2020 that made it their responsibility.

The special measures law concerning the handling of radioactive materials stipulates that municipalities, which oversaw the cleanup, are responsible for managing the contaminated materials.

But the ministry’s directive upset local governments, which operate with limited manpower and funds.

Officials with the Fukushima and Sukagawa city governments held informal talks with the ministry last October to request that the central government collect, manage and transport the contaminated soil.

“We cannot manage these sites forever as the number of our employees is dwindling,” one official said.

Kencho Kawatsu, who chairs a committee with oversight for the environmental safety of the interim storage facility, underlined the need for the central and Fukushima prefectural governments to share in the responsibility for managing the temporary storage sites with municipalities.

“If the radioactive soil is scattered, it could fuel rumors that prove harmful to Fukushima municipalities,” said Kawatsu, a guest professor of environmental policy and radiation science at Fukushima University.

He suggested centralizing data on the issue to prevent such an occurrence.

https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14562951

March 4, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

Study: Possible water problem at storage sites in Fukushima

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It might be difficult to measure radiation levels in water at this temporary storage site for contaminated soil in Fukushima Prefecture.

Bags of radiation-contaminated soil could be sinking into the ground at temporary storage sites in Fukushima Prefecture, allowing water to accumulate within instead of flowing to outside tanks for testing, the Board of Audit said.

No confirmation has been made that the ground at the sites is actually sinking or if contaminated water has pooled inside. But Board of Audit officials are asking the Environment Ministry to consider additional safety measures if signs indicate that this is actually occurring.

The board’s study focused on 34 of the 106 temporary storage sites that the Environment Ministry set up for soil removed through decontamination work after the disaster in March 2011 unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Construction of the storage sites started in 2012, and the transfer of contaminated soil to these facilities was completed in 2015.

The temporary storage sites were designed to have a slight mound on the ground in the center to allow water from the bags to flow down into surrounding collection tanks for periodic measurements of radiation levels.

Internal Environment Ministry guidelines called for this setup at storage sites containing bags that are not waterproof.

The Board of Audit studied 34 temporary storage sites where the bags are not waterproof. These bags were piled five deep or higher at those sites.

The study showed that at 31 of the sites, the weight of the bags may have not only flattened the mound in the center, but it also could have created an indent in the ground where the leaking water could accumulate.

If the water does not flow to the tanks, it will be difficult to determine the radiation levels.

The study also noted that the foundations at the sites were soft to begin with and may be unable to support the bags of soil. The sinking phenomenon could worsen as time passes.

The Environment Ministry played down the risk of the water contaminating areas around the storage facilities.

Even if the ground has sunk, the structure is designed so water does not leak outside the site,” a ministry official said. “Eventually, the water should collect in the tanks. We will make every effort to oversee the sites as well as use waterproof bags as much as possible.”

A total of 4.16 billion yen ($40 million) was spent to construct the 31 temporary storage sites.

The Environment Ministry designed the temporary storage sites under the precondition they would be used for only three years and then removed. For that reason, measures were not taken to strengthen the foundations to prevent the ground from sinking, even if soft farmland was chosen for a site.

The plan is to eventually return the land where the temporary storage sites have been built to its original state and return it to the landowners

However, the Board of Audit’s study adds another concern for residents, many of whom had opposed construction of the temporary storage sites in their neighborhoods.

Toshio Sato, 68, has evacuated to Fukushima city from his home in Iitate village, where four of the possible problem storage sites are located.

There are some people who want to resume growing rice once they return home,” Sato said. “If water is accumulating, there is the possibility it could unexpectedly overflow into surrounding areas. The concerns just seem to emerge one after another.”

The government plans to lift the evacuation order for a large part of Iitate in March 2017.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201610210044.html

October 21, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , , | Leave a comment