Prime Minister Naoto Kan promised the governor of Fukushima Prefecture over the weekend that the central government will build final dumping sites for radioactive waste outside the prefecture, while at the same time asking Governor Yuhei Sato to host temporary sites for the waste.
However, it remains unclear if the promise made by the outgoing leader will be honored under the new administration.
Despite the pledge, the government has no specific locations for the final resting ground in mind, sources said.
Kan urged Sato on Aug. 27 to host temporary storage sites for a huge amount of radioactive soil and wreckage left in the prefecture from the tsunami and nuclear disaster resulting from the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Kan's request came before he promised to build facilities outside the prefecture as the final disposal sites.
"We request that you host temporary storage sites in the prefecture," Kan told Sato. "We are not thinking about turning those into the final sites."
But Sato was clearly dismayed.
"The proposal for constructing the interim sites came out of nowhere," he said. "I am deeply confounded."
Kan also gave Sato a government assessment that some communities in the "no-entry zone," a 20-kilometer radius surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, will be uninhabitable for years due to exposure to high levels of radioactivity.
"We cannot deny the possibility that some areas will be uninhabitable for a long period of time," he said. "We are very sorry."
But Kan did not go into details as to where those areas would be.
Toshitsuna Watanabe, mayor of Okuma, home to the embattled plant, was adamantly opposed to possible construction of interim storage sites in his town when he met Goshi Hosono, a state minister in charge of handling the nuclear accident, on Aug. 28.
Hosono went to Aizuwakamatsu, where the town hall has been temporarily moved, to explain to Watanabe the government's policy after the meeting between Kan and Sato a day earlier.
He also told Watanabe that the government has yet to determine specific sites to store nuclear waste.
"I can never allow such sites," Watanabe said.
Hosono told reporters afterward that the government will have to move the planned storage project forward because progress in decontamination work depends on it.
Nevertheless, he added that "the government will not force its way without gaining the understanding of local governments and communities."
Watanabe said that he called for the decontamination of areas surrounding the nuclear plant and assistance to evacuees as top priority during the meeting with Hosono.
In the meantime, Hosono gave a central government estimate for the outlook of contaminated areas in a meeting with local leaders on Aug. 27.
He said areas exposed to accumulated radioactivity of 100 millisieverts a year would be uninhabitable for 10 years without decontamination work.
For areas measuring 200 millisieverts, it will be more than 20 years, he added.
Hosono told the local leaders that the government will submit a special bill in the next Diet session intended to help displaced residents.
The government will consider lifting the ban on entry into the 20-km zone this fall and after January, when Tokyo Electric Power Co. is expected to bring the troubled reactors to cold shutdown.
But observers say it is inevitable that the government will exclude some areas from the lifting of the ban due to high radiation levels.
Local officials demanded that the government present prospects for final dumping sites as soon as possible.
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