EDITORIAL: Spirit of mutual help needed for disposing of disaster debris

March 15, 2012

Ministers in the Noda administration recently met to thrash out ways to dispose of mountains of debris left by the March 11 disaster last year. The accumulated waste is hampering efforts to rebuild devastated cities and towns in the affected areas.

Debris in Fukushima Prefecture will be handled within the prefecture, partly under direct government supervision, due to concerns of contamination from the leakage of radioactive materials from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The two other hardest-hit prefectures of Miyagi and Iwate are saddled with a huge volume of debris, the equivalent to 19 years and 11 years worth of household waste, respectively.

Despite efforts to swiftly expand the capacity of incineration facilities in the two prefectures, less than 10 percent of the debris there has been disposed of.

The central government has called on local entities across the nation to accept rubble from the two stricken prefectures in the Tohoku region.

But this initiative has not produced much in the way of results, mainly due to opposition among residents. To date, only a few local governments, including the Tokyo metropolitan government, have accepted debris from disaster-hit areas.

The central government has decided to send a formal written request to prefectural governments and ordinance-designated major cities to accept debris. The scope of state subsidies to cover related costs will be expanded to finance projects by local governments to bolster the capacity of their waste disposal plants.

The Environment Ministry has set safety guidelines for ash from the incineration of debris created by the devastating earthquake and tsunami. The guidelines say ash containing radioactive cesium of up to 8,000 becquerels per kilogram can be safely buried like any other waste.

The central government says the guidelines will be presented to local governments as official standards based on the law.

Local governments have been playing the leading role in waste disposal, and the central government has little expertise in this matter.

The state should provide appropriate support to the local governments that agree to accept rubble generated by the disaster.

Winning the support of residents in the cities and towns accepting debris will be key.

Radiation levels of debris in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures are generally low, but the readings are not necessarily zero.

Careful and meticulous efforts to reassure people are needed.

Radiation levels of debris should be measured repeatedly to ascertain they are below the upper limits set by the government. Readings must be taken at points of departure from disaster-hit areas and before and after incineration at facilities operated by local governments that have accepted the debris. Then, the data should be disclosed and explained in detail to the local residents in those prefectures.

Assuming that the issue of safety is settled, each one of us should seriously consider supporting the acceptance of debris from areas ravaged by last year’s disaster, fully aware that anxiety about radioactive materials differs from person to person.

We should help each other when we are in trouble.

A growing number of Diet members, in both the ruling and opposition camps, are calling on communities in their constituencies to work together to solve this problem.

Some heads of local governments have also started working together to tackle the challenge. We should provide broad support to such initiatives.

Steps must also be taken to reduce the amount of debris that needs to be burned. This can be achieved by burying rubble in the disaster-hit areas for purposes like raising the ground level and preparing for tree-planting to protect the shoreline.

We also call on private-sector companies to help in any way they can, for instance, by using debris as materials for cement production.

The entire nation must rise to the challenge as the first step to repair the disfigured landscapes of the cities and towns battered by the calamity.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 14

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