Despite local objections, Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato on Nov. 28 made the “agonizing” decision to allow surveys at 12 candidate sites for interim storage of soil contaminated with radiation from the nuclear accident.
The Environment Ministry has been pressing for the start of studies because decontamination work around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant cannot progress without a location to store the contaminated soil and waste.
"Unless studies are conducted, we will not be able to take safety measures," Sato told reporters Nov. 28. "That's the major reason I decided to allow the request."
Sato also acknowledged concerns among local leaders that the surveys could quickly lead to decisions to build a storage facility in a location deemed the most appropriate.
Before making his announcement, Sato met on Nov. 28 with the mayors of municipalities in Futaba county, where the 12 candidate sites are located, all near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Based on those discussions, Sato told Environment Minister Hiroyuki Nagahama that the decision to accept the studies did not constitute consent to the construction of the facility. The governor also said the central government has a responsibility to provide detailed explanations to the local communities before it constructs the facility, as well as offer progress reports on the studies.
Katsutaka Idogawa, mayor of Futaba town, boycotted the Nov. 28 meeting with Sato.
"We are still at a stage where the town assembly and citizens have not received a detailed explanation," Idogawa said. "If issues are decided in this manner, Japan cannot be considered a democratic nation. Does the governor not consider Futaba town to be among Fukushima residents?
"To make the decision after today's discussions is rash."
Two of the candidate sites are in Futaba town, one is in Naraha, and nine are in Okuma. Most of the area of the three municipalities is within a 20-kilometer radius of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Wide parts of Okuma have continued to show high radiation levels since the triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11 last year.
Most of the residents fled the town, and the continued health risks have made Okuma a prime candidate for the interim storage facility.
Local residents increasingly believe that constructing the intermediate storage facility in their community is inevitable. They are also more willing to go along with the plan as long as they receive sufficient compensation to help them begin new lives elsewhere.
Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe attended the Nov. 28 meeting with Sato, but was cautious about taking a stand on accepting the interim storage facility.
"A decision will be made after we have received responses from the central government about uncertain factors," Watanabe told reporters.
The interim storage facility will have a total capacity of 15 million to 28 million cubic meters. The central government has pledged to move the stored soil and waste to a location outside Fukushima Prefecture after 30 years.
However, residents were skeptical about whether any municipality would be willing to host a final disposal site.
Residents outside Futaba, Naraha and Okuma have called for the early construction of the interim storage facility, citing the need to remove decontaminated soil before communities can rebuild.
The Environment Ministry had made plans to begin moving the radioactive soil and waste from temporary storage sites to the interim storage facility from fiscal 2015. Ministry officials said Sato's decision to allow studies was a major step forward.
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