Decontaminated soil from the nuclear power plant accident “Cleanup is right in front of my house…” Plans to reuse soil from outside Fukushima emerge in Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokorozawa, and Tsukuba
December 10, 2022
An important move has been made regarding the cleanup of the TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. A demonstration project to reuse decontaminated soil is planned to be conducted for the first time outside of Fukushima Prefecture. The Ministry of the Environment is planning to reduce the amount of decontaminated soil for interim storage in the prefecture by reusing it, and briefing sessions are scheduled for Tokorozawa City, Saitama Prefecture, on December 16 and Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on December 21. Why has reuse emerged in these areas? Can we easily proceed with reuse that will lead to the proliferation of pollution? (Special Reporting Division: Takuya Kishimoto, Takeshi Nakayama)
A demonstration project to reuse decontaminated soil is planned at the Environmental Research and Training Institute in Tokorozawa City, Saitama Prefecture.
◆Local residents voiced their confusion, and the city office was reluctant to go ahead with the project.
A 10-minute walk from Koku Koen Station on the Seibu Shinjuku Line in Tokorozawa City, we came upon a corner lot adjacent to the National Defense Medical College. This is the Environmental Research and Training Institute, one of the facilities where a demonstration project to reuse decontaminated soil is planned. Across the main street to the west was a residential area.
How do local residents perceive the plan?
What is right in front of our house? A woman in her 50s who lives across the street from the training center voiced her confusion. I remember hearing on the news that there was going to be some kind of experiment in Tokorozawa, but…. But have you already decided? I’m not absolutely against it, but there are so many things I don’t understand that I can’t say for sure.
The training center is a Ministry of the Environment facility used to train personnel involved in environmental conservation. The plan for the demonstration project was explained by Environment Minister Akihiro Nishimura at a press conference on April 6. Decontaminated soil will be used to create a lawn at the facility to confirm its safety.
He also visited the city hall, which is a few minutes’ walk from the training center. Mr. Kazuto Namiki, director of the Environment and Clean Environment Department, was open to accepting the project.
The reuse of decontaminated soil is a nationwide issue, not just in Fukushima. We would like to cooperate with them on the premise of ensuring the safety and security of residents. The Ministry of the Environment approached the city in June of this year, and discussions have continued. Naturally, we are proceeding with the project after consulting with the mayor.
Mayor Masato Fujimoto. He seems to have such strong feelings about the project that he wrote on the city’s website, “The Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear power plant accident were the starting point of my desire to become mayor.
In 2012, the year after the earthquake, the city once announced a policy to cancel the installation of air conditioners in junior high schools, saying, “Now that we have experienced the disaster, we need to be patient. Although he later retracted the policy in response to a referendum in which the majority of residents opposed it, a source familiar with the city government described him as “the type of person who goes his own way, without regard for criticism.
In August of this year, he revealed that he had attended an event of an organization affiliated with the Family Coalition for World Peace and Unification (formerly the Unification Church), causing controversy when he said, “I don’t feel that much remorse” and “My personality is such that I can’t say I won’t go anymore.
◆Residents’ explanatory meeting was limited to 50 people, many of whom were unaware of the event.
The lack of explanation about the demonstration project to reuse decontaminated soil seems to be conspicuous.
The Ministry of the Environment plans to hold a briefing session for residents at the training center on the evening of the 16th of this month. The details of the project will be revealed there for the first time. However, the number of participants is limited to 50 residents of the neighborhood, and pre-registration is required. The city was in charge of the briefing, but it was only announced on 28 bulletin boards in the area.
A local man (81) said, “I didn’t know about the briefing. I don’t usually look at bulletin boards. Another woman said, “I thought it would be announced in the city’s newsletter. When we asked about 10 residents, none of them knew that the information about the briefing was posted on the bulletin board.
After the plans for the demonstration project came to light, the city received about 40 inquiries, the majority of which were negative. Yoichi Sugiura, who has been involved in the local anti-base movement and has confronted the government and the city, said, “Even if it is a national project, the city is not going to accept it.
Even if it is a government project, the city should confirm the wishes of the citizens before taking any action, but they are proceeding with the project without informing us well. If the city is going ahead with the project by fiat without listening to citizens’ opinions, it will be the same as when the air conditioner was installed.
◆Decontaminated soil in Fukushima also failed due to local opposition.
Why is the Ministry of the Environment trying to reuse decontaminated soil?
Interim storage facilities in Fukushima Prefecture (Futaba and Okuma towns) began receiving decontaminated soil in 2015, and the amount is expected to reach about 14 million cubic meters. The government has stated that final disposal will take place outside the prefecture by 45 years for both towns. In June 2004, the Ministry of the Environment set a standard for reusing decontaminated soil with a level of 8,000 becquerels per kilogram or less. This is considerably looser than the standard for reusing materials from decommissioned nuclear power plants (100 becquerels per kilogram).
Interim storage facilities for temporarily storing contaminated soil spread out around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on January 25, 2012, from the “Oozuru” helicopter operated by the head office of the company (photo by Ryo Ito).
However, it is difficult to say that recycling is on track.
In Fukushima Prefecture, a plan to use the soil for filling city roads in Nihonmatsu City was abandoned due to opposition from local residents. In Minamisoma City, the city built fill and measured the radioactivity concentration of seepage water, but a plan to reuse the soil for construction of the Joban Expressway did not materialize due to local opposition. Now, only an experiment in crop cultivation is underway in Iitate Village. Tsunehide Chino, associate professor of environmental sociology at Shinshu University, said, “It is difficult to obtain broad public agreement, and the demonstration project has nowhere to go.
Nevertheless, in August, the Ministry of the Environment announced a policy to implement the demonstration project outside of Fukushima Prefecture. In addition to the Environmental Research and Training Institute in Tokorozawa City, Shinjuku Gyoen (Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo), a facility affiliated with the Ministry of the Environment, and the National Institute for Environmental Studies (Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture) are also being discussed as possible sites. A Ministry of the Environment official explained, “We took into consideration the fact that there is space in the area that is not accessible to the general public. In the demonstration project, flowerbeds, grass plazas, parking lots, etc. will be built, and data on changes in radiation levels in the surrounding area will be collected.
◆Tokorozawa, Tsukuba, and Shinjuku Gyoen…places with close ties to the country
Tokorozawa was the site of an army airfield before World War II and is now the site of a U.S. military communications base, so it is closely related to national security policy. Tsukuba has the face of an academic city, and research institutes with close ties to the national government are also prominent. Shinjuku Gyoen was the site of the “Cherry Blossom Viewing Party” hosted by the prime minister.
The connection with the government may remind one of the government-led recycling of decontaminated soil, but Mr. Chino said, “If a facility has a relationship with the Ministry of the Environment, it may be easier to conduct a demonstration project. In other words, it is only possible there. He then goes on to express his concern, “It is not clear to what extent the project will be agreed upon, including with the residents of the surrounding area, and they are trying to move forward without finding a way out.
On the other hand, an official in charge of Shinjuku City, the home of Shinjuku Gyoen, where the demonstration project was announced, remains calm, saying, “The Ministry of the Environment should take the responsibility of explaining the project to the local residents and gain their understanding.
Chia Yoshida, a freelance writer who has been covering the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, is suspicious of the Ministry of the Environment’s preoccupation with the issue, saying, “I suspect that they are trying to proceed with the project by putting the residents’ wishes second.
This attitude of the national government can be seen in the ongoing reconstruction project in Hamadori, Fukushima. In the area, the Reconstruction Agency will launch the Fukushima International Research and Education Organization in the next fiscal year, bringing together industries such as robotics, drones, and radiation science. Many of the technologies being handled are “dual-use” technologies that can be used by both the military and civilian sectors.
In the name of ostensibly “reconstruction,” the idea of the business community and some research institutes that share its intentions may be taking precedence. The government’s policies, including the reuse of decontaminated soil, are proceeding without sufficient explanation to the local communities, and the residents are being left behind.
Yoshiharu Monma, 65, chairman of the “30-year Interim Storage Facility Landowners Association,” said, “It is out of the question that decontaminated soil, which should be confined to one place, is being spread around the country by using the sound of reusing it. As with the restarting of nuclear power plants, we are seeing the government move in such a way as to make people think that they can do whatever they want after so much time has passed since the Fukushima accident,” he continued.
In the first place, TEPCO, which caused the accident, should take responsibility for the final disposal of the decontaminated soil. For example, the government should consider condensing the decontaminated soil on TEPCO’s land, and the government should shoulder the shortage of funds and manpower. I would like to see these disposal methods discussed in a forum open to the public as a problem for Japan as a whole.”
Related article] Where to in 2045? Contaminated soil generated by the nuclear power plant accident: The current location of intermediate storage facilities in Fukushima
Decontaminated soil should be cleaned up by those who caused the accident. However, the Ministry of the Environment tries to bring it to various places in the name of reusing it. Without regard to pre-accident standards, a system will be set up to allow use even if considerable contamination remains, and a demonstration project for vegetable cultivation will also be carried out. The wild story looms over the Tokyo metropolitan area. This is no time to be distracted by the World Cup. (Sakaki)
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