150,000 tons of radioactive pollutants left out in the open

About 150,000 tons of radioactive waste, including contaminated soil left over from decontamination efforts, have been left out in the open in areas affected by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, The Yomiuri Shimbun has discovered.

This figure accounts for about 30 per cent of all radioactive waste from the crisis, and results from delays in the establishment of temporary storage sites.

The Yomiuri's research discovered that 36 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture are scheduled to set up temporary storage sites in 372 locations, but that so far storage sites had only been set up in 139 locations, or 37 per cent. Among the 36 municipalities, 23, or about 60 per cent, had not been able to secure land for such sites.

Behind the problem is the central and local governments' failure to eliminate residents' fears that radioactive pollutants may be stored at the sites for longer than authorities promise.

Local government officials have said it will be easier to obtain residents' consent once construction begins on interim storage facilities to store radioactive waste in the medium term, and expressed hope that construction will start quickly.

Of the municipalities, nine had secured locations for the temporary storage sites, two had not decided how many sites to build, and two did not reply to the question.

Six municipalities, including Koriyama, had not been able to set up any sites because they could not obtain consent from residents.

So far, decontamination work has produced about 550,000 tons of radioactive waste, including contaminated soil, tree branches and leaves. Of this, about 150,000 tons could not be stored in line with the Environment Ministry's guidelines for safe storage and was left out in the open.

The municipality with the most radioactive waste stored improperly was Nishigo with 40,000 tons, followed by Motomiya with 39,432 tons and Tamura with 17,800 tons.

Some municipalities have not tallied the weight of the waste. For example, the Iwaki city government replied that it had "29,109 bags." As a result, the total weight will likely rise further.

None of the radioactive waste in six municipalities, including Motomiya, Tanagura and Nishigo, was stored in safe conditions.

Local governments are struggling to explain the situation to residents. The village government of Nishigo secured land for the purpose by telling residents that the temporary sites would store waste for three years.

An official of the village government said, "If construction of the interim storage facility is delayed, we'll have to hold explanatory meetings again to seek residents' understanding about a change in the period of temporary storage."