ONE YEAR AFTER THE DISASTER / Quake-hit areas still struggling with debris
"'Completely'? Don't lie!"
A 20-meter-high mountain of debris in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on Thursday
"How will you take responsibility if radioactive substances affect our health?"
Participants cried out in indignation and jeered at Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa when he met with residents of the prefecture at the Kanagawa prefectural government office in January. The meeting was held to discuss the prefecture's plan to accept debris from areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, including Iwate Prefecture.
Kuroiwa is willing to accept debris from quake-hit areas, but some residents alleged that it contained radioactive materials emitted from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Some of the 200 participants at the meeting howled at the Kanagawa governor when he explained how the incinerated ashes of debris would be stored.
"In this way, incinerated ash will be completely contained," Kuroiwa said, writing his explanation on a board.
Takao Kudo, head of the environment and livelihood department of the Iwate prefectural government, accompanied Kuroiwa to the meeting and bowed his head as he heard residents' cries.
"The radiation level of the debris is less than 100 becquerels per kilogram," Kudo told them. "We hate to worry you, but we ask for your kind cooperation."
A huge amount of debris left by tsunami following the March 11 earthquake remains in quake-hit areas. Removal has progressed slowly.
The disaster created 22.53 million tons of debris in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, but only 5.6 percent has so far been disposed of permanently.
The prefectural governments of Iwate and Miyagi are asking other prefectures across the nation to accept about 4 million tons of debris.
At a temporary storage site in the Kawaguchicho district of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, a mountain of debris stands like a pyramid. In about one year, it has reached four layers and 20 meters high.
To remove methane gas from inside the debris mountain, an excavator recently dug holes and inserted pipes into the mountain. Hot white vapor rose up from the trash.
"We don't want to create such tall debris mountains, due to the risk of fire. But there was no other place," said a man assigned to supervise the temporary storage by the Ishinomaki city government.
Ishinomaki's central area was almost submerged by tsunami, and the amount of debris there reached 6.16 million tons. That was nearly 30 percent of the total amount in the three prefectures hit hardest by the disaster, and equal to the city's normal trash production for 106 years.
Mitsuo Murakami, head of the city's disaster waste disposal department, said, "We hope people living in other areas of the country will understand our predicament."
The Environment Ministry has not actively explained in detail about debris from quake-hit areas because it did not want to agitate residents who oppose accepting the debris.
"The ministry will decide on a guideline and then let people at the working level handle the rest," an Environment Ministry official said critically of his government body, which has fewer staff than other ministries.
The official added, "The ministry thinks it better to leave things to mayors of concerned municipalities, who have political power."
However, public fears of radiation were more serious and stronger than ministry officials expected.
Environment Minister Goshi Hosono has become increasingly frustrated with the slow progress ahead of the first anniversary of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Hosono has called employees of large advertising agencies to his office almost every day to discuss strategy to appeal to the public directly.
In Fukushima Prefecture, a project to decontaminate areas tainted with radioactive substances is set to start on a scale unprecedented in the world.
The no-entry and expanded evacuation zones around the crippled nuclear power plant, in which the central government is in charge of decontamination, will be reorganized in April into three new zones depending on their radiation levels.
The government will start decontamination from areas where radiation levels are low, to help realize residents' early return.
However, locations have still not been chosen for intermediate storage facilities to hold up to 28 million cubic meters of contaminated soil.
The government intends to decide on locations for temporary storage facilities by the end of March 2013 and bring contaminated soil there from 2015.
However, opinion is divided among eight municipal governments in Futaba County near the power plant, among whom there is strong distrust of the central government.
The delay in building the storage facilities threatens to drag down restoration efforts.
(Mar. 3, 2012)