JAPAN | Government reluctant to obtain N-waste sites

Posted on August 1, 2011

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JAPAN | YOMIURI SHIMBUN | 1 August 2011

The national government remains reluctant to acquire land on which to build facilities for final disposal of radioactive sludge produced from the ongoing nuclear crisis.

Government guidelines on how to treat dehydrated sludge containing radioactive cesium and ash from incinerated radioactive sludge cover only temporary storage.

The government has said it will “continue to study” the matter of final disposal.

One solution would be to lower the radiation level of the contaminated sludge, but an effective method does not exist. The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry started to study the problem in June after establishing a panel of experts.

At the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, equipment to remove radioactive substances from contaminated water by absorption is being used. However, panel members are pessimistic about a similar method for sludge, with one saying, “It’s very difficult to separate radioactive cesium chemically from sludge as the cesium sticks to metals in dirt.”

Shielding measures and temporary storage of contaminated sludge can be used, but the need to secure final disposal sites is inevitable as storage capacity is limited.

In light of the difficulty local governments are having in handling contaminated soil, the government and the ruling parties have started to draft a bill on special measures that would require the central government to handle the problem of the sludge and soil. They hope to pass the bill during the current Diet session. However, it so far contains no specific measures and is expected to involve many problems.

Some local governments have called on the government to ease the criteria of 8,000 becquerels or lower for burial of contaminated soil. However, a senior official at the land ministry said, “It’s not realistic to ease scientifically set criteria.”

The costs of disposing of sludge and soil are likely to be borne by the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. However, it is not clear who will bear the responsibility for procuring the final disposal sites.

The central government is expected to establish special facilities for the disposal. But a senior official at the Environment Ministry said, “The government will be able to support local governments in securing the land for disposal, but it is difficult for it to obtain the land by itself.”

Meijo University Prof. Hideki Noboru, an expert on local government, said the law requires local governments to dispose of the waste but TEPCO and the central government also are responsible for the accident at the nuclear power plant.

“I think it’s a step forward for the government to attempt to improve the law,” he said. “It should create a framework to solve the problem as soon as possible.”

Atsuki Kira / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

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