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Environment ministry to OK dispersed storage of radioactive waste within Ibaraki Pref.

The Ministry of the Environment is set to allow radioactive waste emanating from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster to remain spread out among multiple storage locations in Ibaraki Prefecture rather than begin construction of a longer-term storage facility there, it has been learned.

    The ministry plans to notify local officials as soon as next week. The plan until now has been to create a single waste disposal center for radioactive material in each of the prefectures of Miyagi, Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaraki and Chiba, but five years after the disaster the locations for these centers have yet to be decided. In allowing the dispersed storage in Ibaraki Prefecture, the ministry is adopting a more flexible approach in an attempt to move the situation forward.

    The ministry will enter into talks with Gunma and Chiba prefectures, which also store most of their waste spread out among municipal facilities, on whether to continue the dispersed method of storage in those prefectures as well.

    Under the earlier plan, the government had decided in November 2011 to create concrete-covered centralized waste deposal sites in the five prefectures. However, the selection of candidate sites -- Kurihama, Kami and Taiwa in Miyagi Prefecture, Shioya in Tochigi Prefecture and the city of Chiba -- has sparked protests from residents and municipal governments, hindering surveying work prior to construction.

    In Ibaraki Prefecture, 14 municipalities are storing a combined amount of around 3,500 metric tons of radioactive waste. In late December last year, Ibaraki Gov. Masaru Hashimoto told the environment ministry that the shared opinion of the heads of the 14 municipalities was that they wanted to continue with this dispersed method of storage.

    After receiving Hashimoto's message, Shinji Inoue, state minister of the environment, said, "The circumstances and desires of each prefecture are different. We will take their requests seriously and consider options including dispersed storage."

    The waste consists of material giving off more than 8,000 becquerels of radiation per kilogram. In Ibaraki Prefecture, almost all of it is being kept at municipality-managed trash-incineration sites and at prefecture-managed sewage processing sites. The environment ministry says the waste is being "stored under comparatively stable conditions" in the prefecture.

    Possibly in early February, the ministry will meet with Ibaraki Prefecture municipal heads to hear local opinions on matters such as reputational damage from storing radioactive waste, and will officially make its final decision on whether to allow the waste to continue being stored in a dispersed manner. The ministry says the possibility of gathering the waste into a centralized location in the future will remain.

    In Miyagi and Tochigi prefectures, much of the radioactive waste consists of things like rice straw, and over 60 percent of it is kept in storage by residents. A senior environment ministry official says the waste is "in unstable circumstances, and it needs to be managed centrally in a robust facility." For these prefectures, the ministry is expected to keep to its plan of storing the waste in a single facility, but there are no prospects for when the location will be decided.

    Fukushima Prefecture, which has the most radioactive waste from the disaster, will process its waste at an existing facility in the town of Tomioka as it accepted a national government plan in December last year. Waste with a level of radioactivity of 100,000 becquerels or more per kilogram is due to be stored at midterm storage facilities in the towns of Okuma and Futaba in the prefecture.

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