Monday 20 August 2012

Nuclear Waste (2)

Just as I'd finished writing the last post, proposals for Fukushima's interim waste storage facility were announced. I added a note but here are the details.

Currently soil scraped off in the clean up is stored under plastic sheets in situ, or where local authorities have managed to set one up, in a temporary dump. The plan is to start transporting this waste to an 'interim storage facility' by 2015. The waste will be encased in concrete containers and stored for up to 30 years. Then it's to be transferred to a 'permanent repository'. No one has any idea what this might be but the government has promised it will not be in Fukushima.
(1 September 2012: The government today has proposed putting the permanent site at the southern tip of Kyushu. Residents and fishing bodies are up in arms.)

With between 15 and 28 million cubic metres of nuclear waste to be stored requiring an area of  3 to 5 square kilometres, this new proposal calls for twelve sites. Two are in Futaba just north of Fukushima Daiichi, in a hilly area adjacent to Route 6. Nine sites are in Okuma, the area south of Fukushima Daiichi: some along the coast, one on an industrial estate, more alongside Route 6. Then there is one large site in Naraha, south of Fukushima Daini, a rural residential area the eastern edge of which was destroyed by the tsunami. The Environment Ministry say that current radiation levels had nothing to do with their decision, rather the topography (for example, low land which could be easily filled in) and access. Indeed, the two sites in Futaba are to take waste from Soma and the north, the site in Naraha to take waste from Iwaki, and the nine sites in Okuma which has access on Route 288 to Koriyama and the expressway, are to take waste from Koriyama, Fukushima and the rest of the prefecture, a huge area.

The matter has been contentious and talks with local residents broke down in March. So now they're back at the table - which must be a good thing. Hard on those who used to live in those areas, especially after the recent lifting of evacuation bans will have raised their hopes about returning, but this is an issue that needs solving. Koriyama where I live, has been actively pursuing a policy of decontamination. First, the school playgrounds and routes to and from the schools were scraped and cleaned. Next the parks. Pasture for cows is currently being cleaned. Because the city knows that if levels don't come down, those who've evacuated, especially young families, won't come back, tourists won't come, agricultural produce won't sell. So the clean up is essential to Fukushima's future. But we urgently need a place to put the waste. 

The next step is consultation with the local authorities and local residents. Then there are surveys to be carried out: environmental, geological, etc. Getting the sites decided by next March is going to be a tall order but that's the aim. 

This is not the whole story. There are incinerators to be built too and the highly radioactive waste from Fukushima Daiichi will be dealt with separately, probably on site. The work that has to be done clearing up after this accident is mind-boggling. 

On a brighter note, Kawauchi which I visited in May shortly after the evacuation ban was lifted has welcomed an aluminium company from Tokyo which has taken advantage of special grants and set up a factory offering work for 30 people. 
That's all for now

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