Tens of thousands of tons of contaminated waste resulting from the Fukushima nuclear disaster still remain in fields and elsewhere in the affected region, with no final disposal sites found yet.
A panel of experts set up by the central government is expected to meet on Oct. 4 to determine a common rule for selecting candidate sites for final disposal facilities in five heavily affected prefectures.
For some, the decision cannot come quick enough, given that two and a half years have passed since the crisis unfolded.
In Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the five prefectures with a huge accumulation of waste, a cattle farmer is near the end of his tether. He has 30 tons of contaminated rice straw in his field.
“In our community, I am treated like a troublemaker,” said the farmer, 29.
The prefectural government and the Tome municipal government instructed farmers in the city to hold contaminated waste such as rice straw and other plants for two years until they could be transferred to a final dumping yard.
However, the storage period for farmers expires soon, starting from Oct. 25, and final dumping sites have yet to be selected.
Rice straw, which is fodder for cattle, became unusable after it was polluted by radioactive substances spewed by the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011.
The waste kept at the man’s farm includes some that other farmers asked him to store for them.
But the man said his neighbors openly show their displeasure with the stockpile.
“My rice paddies will also be contaminated if the wind blows in my direction,” he quoted one of them as saying.
The central government is legally responsible for final disposal of the radioactive waste at his farm and any other “designated waste” measuring 8,000 becquerels or higher per kilogram.
That includes incinerated ash of household waste and sewage sludge.
As of late March, the contaminated debris totaled 121,180 tons in Tokyo and 10 prefectures.
In March last year, the Environment Ministry announced a plan for prefectures left with a large amount of waste. The plan stated that final disposal sites would be selected by the end of September 2012.
It also said work would get under way in January 2014 to transfer the waste to disposal sites.
But officials have yet to start the selection process after meeting fierce protests from the local governments of tentatively picked sites.
With no final disposal sites determined, the ministry requested the extension of the storage period at a meeting with Tome residents late August.
The residents did not give their consent.
Cattle farmers say they have suffered damage as producers of coveted Sendai beef due to the nuclear accident.
A 68-year-old cattle farmer said the farm gate price of his Sendai beef cattle is now around 90 percent of what it fetched before the reactor meltdowns.
Despite that, he has to spend more than before the disaster on obtaining feed from distant areas that are radiation free.
“I can hardly make any profit,” he said.
In Tochigi Prefecture, the need to secure final disposal sites became increasingly urgent last month when a tornado hit Yaita and neighboring areas.
“If temporary storage sites had taken a direct hit from the tornado, they could have been destroyed,” said an official with the Yaita municipal government.
There are 174 temporary storage sites scattered around the prefecture, of which 159 store rice straw and leaf mold compost.
Most of such waste is kept outdoors, where it is potentially vulnerable to a natural disaster.
The task to select final disposal sites, though, is proving a challenge for the Environment Ministry.
Those facilities will be built on state property in the prefectures, and the construction of the sites could require consent from host communities, a volatile issue.
The ministry’s announcement of candidate sites in Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures in September 2012 drew strong criticism from local governments, forcing the ministry to review its selection process.
A panel of experts met to set guidelines for assessing the safety of storage facilities and standards for selecting sites. The ministry created a framework for officials from the central and local governments to exchange opinions.
In the course of the discussion, some representatives suggested that contaminated waste should be shipped to Fukushima Prefecture for final disposal, instead of their prefectures.
That proposal was dismissed last June after officials concluded that placing additional burden on the embattled prefecture would not gain public support.
The ministry is expected to start the selection process after it sets a common rule concerning the selection of candidate sites and evaluates the conditions of each municipality at a meeting with local leaders in the prefectures concerned.
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