Local government leaders were split over the government’s proposed sites for interim facilities to store the mountains of radioactive waste from decontamination work around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Goshi Hosono, environment minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, announced the 12 candidate sites at a meeting with the Fukushima prefectural government and eight municipalities in Futaba county on Aug. 19.
Two of the sites will be in Futaba and nine will be in Okuma, the municipalities that co-host the Fukushima No. 1 plant, according to Hosono.
The other site will be in Naraha, co-host of the Fukushima No. 2 plant, which was also affected by last year’s earthquake and tsunami.
Choosing sites for temporary storage of the radioactive waste has long been delayed due to local opposition and the enormity of the decontamination work. According to a central government estimate, ash from incinerated soil and leaves gathered from the decontamination operations could total 28 million cubic meters, enough to fill 23 Tokyo Domes.
The Environment Ministry said a plot measuring 3-5 square kilometers would be necessary to store all the waste.
Hosono asked the local leaders to cooperate in inspections to ensure the safety of the storage facilities and prevent them from leaking radioactive materials into the groundwater.
He later told reporters that the government decided against constructing one huge structure on a single site to “avert a serious traffic jam.”
“The storage facilities are necessary as a temporary step to remove contaminated waste within three years from the places they are now kept at,” he said.
But the mayors of the three towns named had mixed opinions about the government’s proposal.
“It is outrageous,” Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa told reporters. “The central government should build up discussions by listening to the intentions of local people.”
Idogawa also said central government officials gave no convincing arguments on the safety of the storage facilities nor any commitment to follow through on an earlier pledge to eventually dispose of the waste outside Fukushima Prefecture.
But Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe showed a willingness to accept Hosono’s proposal, saying, “We have finally reached the starting point.”
Watanabe said securing the safety of the facilities is the top priority.
“After that, positive measures should be also presented in terms of training local personnel and establishing research and development in the local area, not just unwanted facilities,” the mayor said.
Evacuees from the affected county are also split on the proposal. The proposed sites include areas where people lived before they were forced to evacuate.
Some residents said construction of the storage facilities would help to speed up the rebuilding of the entire prefecture. Others, however, said the radioactive waste would discourage residents from returning to their homes.
The facilities will store radioactive soil and other waste from the decontamination process within Futaba county, as well as the rest of the prefecture.
Most of the municipalities in Futaba county are located within the central government-designated 20-km no-entry zone and now operate from the outside the area.
The final sites are expected to be picked by March after the central government conducts inspections to examine water quality, geological conditions and radiation levels based on the consent of the mayors.
The facilities are expected to store the radioactive waste in sealed containers that will be buried underground and partitioned with concrete.
Shipments of radioactive waste to the interim facilities are due to begin in January 2015. The waste will be stored for fewer than 30 years before being disposed of outside Fukushima Prefecture, according to the government’s plan.
Hosono’s announcement on the candidate sites came a year after the central government first disclosed its policy to build interim storage facilities within Fukushima Prefecture, a step the central government said is crucial to speeding up decontamination operations.
But the decision in March to build the facilities in Futaba, Okuma and Naraha met with fierce opposition, stalling decontamination work in the affected areas.
In a meeting with the leaders of Okuma, Futaba and Naraha in March, central government officials offered a plan to set up research facilities for decontamination and other studies as a step to rebuild the local economy.
Naraha Mayor Yukiei Matsumto did not raise explicit objections to the construction of the storage facilities, but he stuck to his position of rejecting high-level radioactive waste taken from outside his town. He also expressed displeasure with what he called an untimely announcement of the central government’s decision.
Since Aug. 10, people from Naraha have been allowed to visit their homes at their discretion, but they are not permitted to stay overnight.
Tamotsu Baba, mayor of Namie, supported the government’s plan to some extent, citing the need for construction to soon start on such facilities.
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