In the face of strong opposition, the government has abandoned its plan to purchase all of the land needed to build temporary storage sites for radioactive debris, sources said.
The idea was dropped after some landowners at prospective sites refused to sell, fearing the storage facilities located near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant would end up being permanent.
Instead of purchasing all of the plots, the government now plans on leasing some of the land from landowners.
The government intends to construct the "intermediate storage facilities" in the towns of Futaba and Okuma, which jointly host the Fukushima plant. The government plans to purchase or lease 16 square kilometers of land in the two municipalities to house the storage facilities.
The facilities are expected to store 16 million to 22 million cubic meters of radioactive soil and debris that resulted from decontamination work. The government said the debris will be stored for no longer than 30 years.
Because of the long duration, the government determined that purchasing all the land outright was its best option.
But some landowners steadfastly refused to sell.
“If the government places all of the land for the facilities under state ownership, those facilities could become final disposal sites (in perpetuity),” said one entrenched landowner.
The government now says it will lease the plots it is unable to purchase, and after 30 years, return the land to the owners after transferring the contaminated material elsewhere.
The government also pledged to the Fukushima prefectural government and the Futaba and Okuma town authorities on July 24 that it will enact a law stipulating that the radioactive materials will be moved out of the prefecture after 30 years.
The government also said it plans to increase the total amount of grants and other assistance for evacuees from 100 billion yen ($1 billion) to 150 billion yen for 30 years.
It made the decision after local governments said 100 billion yen is not enough to complete reconstruction projects in areas ravaged by the 2011 nuclear disaster triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The central government disclosed the plan to executives of the local governments on July 24.
Radiation levels in the towns of Futaba and Okuma remain high. More than 17,000 residents are still living as evacuees.
As soon as the local governments accept the increase in grants and other assistance, the central government will start negotiations with landowners to purchase or lease land plots to host the intermediate storage facilities. The government hopes to begin transportation of contaminated soil to the storage facilities as soon as January.
However, getting the cooperation of local governments may be easier said than done, as many residents remain angry over comments made by the environment minister on June 16.
“In the end, it will come down to money,” said Nobuteru Ishihara, referring to the process of selecting the sites to house the temporary storage facilities.
Many residents were insulted at the suggestion they could easily be bought off.
“I was willing to cooperate (with the construction plan of the intermediate storage facilities), but I do not have such a feeling any more,” said one resident.
(This article was written by Sawaaki Hikita, Nobuyoshi Nakamura and Noriyoshi Otsuki, a senior staff writer.)
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