Decontamination work started at a cemetery and a shrine in Tamura city, Fukushima Prefecture, on July 27 despite a political stalemate that has put much of the program on hold in districts evacuated following the nuclear disaster.
Central government-funded decontamination work in 11 evacuated municipalities is supposed to be completed by the end of March 2014. The effort is authorized under the radioactive decontamination special measures law.
But only five of those municipalities have given the green light for the work to go ahead, raising concern about the feasibility of the timetable.
The cleanup in the cemetery and shrine in Tamura city, which marked the official start of the program, is intended to allow residents to visit their families’ graves during the Bon mid-summer holidays in August.
Workers of a joint venture company set up by construction giant Kajima Corp. and two other companies gathered fallen leaves at the two locations.
Kajima has won orders for decontamination work in Tamura worth about 3.3 billion yen ($41.3 million).
The major sticking point between the central government and many of the other evacuated municipalities has been deciding where to put waste from the decontamination process in the short and medium terms.
In a news conference held after a Cabinet meeting on July 27, Environment Minister Goshi Hosono said: “The fundamental problem is that, in a situation in which the problem of where to construct the intermediate storage facilities has yet to be resolved, local governments are facing difficulties in securing places to store contaminated soil temporarily.”
According to the Environment Ministry’s road map, the contaminated soil will have to be transferred to intermediate storage facilities within two and a half years after being placed in temporary storage in the municipalities themselves.
But no decision has been made on where to construct those intermediate storage facilities. People from the evacuated areas fear that contaminated soil will remain in their municipalities for much longer than initially envisaged.
The basic designs of the intermediate storage facilities is due to be decided by the end of this year, but negotiations to secure a location for the dump between the central government, the Fukushima prefectural government and municipal governments in Futaba county have been at a standstill.
In March, the central government proposed that the facilities be located in three municipalities in Futaba county, which is home to the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
“As guidelines for compensation were shown on July 24, we want to promote talks (with local governments) on the intermediate storage facilities,” said an Environment Ministry official.
Even Minami-Soma city, one of the five evacuated municipalities that have put together a decontamination plan, has yet to decide where to temporarily store its contaminated soil.
For this reason, it cannot order companies to implement the central government’s decontamination work. Writing contracts with firms and getting consent from evacuees for decontamination work on private land is also delaying progress.
(This article was written by Harufumi Mori and Shunsuke Kimura.)
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