FUKUSHIMA–Deep in the mountains, a 4-ton dump truck unloads burlap bags that land with a thud in a hole shaped like a swimming pool 25 meters long and more than 2 meters deep.
Another dump truck soon arrives, also filled with burlap bags.
The two male workers in the first truck wash off the tires and then rumble off.
The Fukushima city government has not made this place known to the public, even to residents living near the area. That’s because it is the dumping site for huge amounts of radioactive sludge and dirt collected by city residents cleaning up and decontaminating their neighborhoods.
“(If we did make the site public), garbage from other residents might come flooding in,” a Fukushima city official said, emphasizing that the disposal site is only “temporary.”
The Asahi Shimbun was not the only witness to this secret dumping operation. A 74-year-old man who lives near the site with six family members, including his two grandchildren, said he has seen many dump trucks coming and going.
“I am strongly opposed to them bringing such a large amount of radioactivity-contaminated dirt here,” he said. “Even if authorities say it is a ‘temporary’ dumpsite, can they tell what they will do next?”
The answer, for now, is “no.”
Municipal officials say they are also frustrated because the central government has made no decision on a final disposal site for the contaminated sludge and dirt.
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency’s decontamination manual released in July says municipalities can bury such waste if radioactivity levels are 8,000 becquerels or less per kilogram. But the manual does not mention final disposal sites.
“We are aware of the need to show our policy,” a NISA official said. However, the agency does not appear to be close to deciding on where the contaminated waste will end up.
That delay has led to the secrecy among municipal officials.
“It would be difficult to gain the consent of residents when we try to secure a waste disposal site,” a Fukushima municipal official said. “The national government does not mention anything about how we can specifically cope with the situation under such circumstances.”
The situation is expected to worsen.
The site where the dump trucks buried the burlap bags on July 28 was about 8 kilometers from the final collection point in Fukushima city. On that day, the first dump truck was filled with bags of radioactive dirt in just 20 minutes.
Fukushima Prefecture is encouraging citizens to rid their neighborhoods of radioactive substances that spewed during the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. It offers subsidies of up to 500,000 yen ($6,370) per neighborhood association for that purpose.
But as the clean-up efforts increase, the radioactive sludge and dirt pile up.
At 6 a.m. on July 24, as many as 3,753 residents and cleaning company workers in Fukushima city’s Watari district started clearing gutters and ditches of radioactive dirt.
The district, located opposite the Fukushima Prefectural Office across the Abukumagawa river, has recorded higher levels of radioactivity than most other parts of the city.
The volunteers used shovels to put the unwanted dirt into burlap bags.
One woman in her 60s involved in the effort complained, “Tokyo residents benefit from the nuclear power plant, but we’re forced to clean gutters because of the radioactive fallout.”
After four hours of cleaning, 5,853 bags of dirt were piled high. Radiation levels dropped to half in some areas, an official said.
The 67-year-old leader of the neighborhood association glanced at a dosimeter and said, “As we had feared, the figure has passed the (permissible) level.”
It was 9.9 microsieverts of radiation, the maximum measurement of the dosimeter.
One resident asked the neighborhood association leader where the bags would go.
“I asked that to a city official once,” the leader said. “I was told not to ask this particular question since it’s not that simple.”
(This article was written by Noriyoshi Otsuki and Satoru Murata.)