JAPAN | Govt to take responsibility for N-debris

Posted on July 29, 2011



The government and the Democratic Party of Japan have decided the government should be directly responsible for the disposal of radioactive debris near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, it has been learned.

They are planning to enact a special law stipulating that the government will dispose of radioactive debris and soil contaminated by material from the nuclear power plant. Current laws do not cover the disposal of radioactive materials, as lawmakers had not considered the possibility of large amounts of radioactive material leaking from nuclear power plants.

According to sources, the DPJ has asked the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito to jointly submit the bill to the Diet. The DPJ hopes to pass the bill during the current Diet session, the sources said.

The government and the DPJ believe that the new law would substantially accelerate the disposal of contaminated debris and soil.

Massive amounts of debris, including pieces of buildings destroyed by the March 11 tsunami, have been contaminated by the nuclear plant disaster. However, neither the Waste Management Law or the Soil Contamination Countermeasures Law cover radioactive debris. The Law on the Regulation of Nuclear Source Material, Nuclear Fuel Material and Reactors only regulates cases where nuclear power plant operators dispose of nuclear waste on the grounds of power plants.

Without establishing a legal framework for the removal and disposal of nuclear-contaminated debris, it would be difficult for the residents of no-entry zones around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to return home when the government lifts the entry ban in the future.

The bill, compiled by the government and the DPJ, stipulates that the central government will be responsible for the disposal of radioactive material, as it requires technical expertise.

Specifically, the bill stipulates that the environment minister will draw up a basic policy on reducing environmental damage caused by a nuclear plant leak and prepare guidelines for the disposal of contaminated debris and soil based on the basic policy. The bill also stipulates that the government will establish a system of monitoring and measuring the spread of radioactive substances from the Fukushima plant as soon as possible, according to the sources.

According to the bill, the environment minister will prepare a plan for the disposal of radioactive debris and soil after designating areas for clean up. The area is expected to cover the 20 kilometer no-entry zone, and the emergency evacuation preparation zone located around the power plant.

The government would also dispose of radioactive debris and soil outside the designated areas if the amount of radioactivity exceeds government standards. Radioactive debris and soil that does not exceed standards would be disposed of by local governments as ordinary waste. The amount of radioactivity the government sets as a standard is expected to be a point of contention with local governments.

The bill also stipulates that the government can seek compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co. and other nuclear power plant operators for disposal costs.

In June, an Environment Ministry panel established criteria for allowing materials contaminated with radioactive substances to be buried at final disposal sites if the radioactivity level was 8,000 becquerels per kilogram or less. Incombustible items that exceed the standard will be temporarily stored inside steel drums and other containers.

The ministry panel is now discussing whether to raise the criteria to 100,000 becquerels per kilogram or less.

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