FUKUSHIMA -- The Ministry of the Environment announced on March 27 that the government expects to acquire up to 70 percent of land for interim storage facilities for waste contaminated with radioactive materials emanating from the Fukushima nuclear crisis and bring up to 40 percent of contaminated soil into such facilities by the end of fiscal 2020.
The ministry has a rough road ahead, however, since as of March 25 it had only acquired about 1.3 percent of the land needed to build storage facilities straddling the Fukushima Prefecture towns of Okuma and Futaba, and it also faces serious challenges in negotiations with landowners.
On a total of 1,600 hectares of land, the interim storage facilities will be equipped with disposal sites for contaminated soil and other materials, as well as incinerators to reduce the volume of contaminated waste derived from decontamination work around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Delivering of the waste began in March 2015 as a pilot project and it will be stored at the site up to 30 years.
The Environment Ministry presented the projection at a meeting held in the city of Fukushima on March 27. It announced the plan to secure 640-1,150 hectares, or 40-70 percent of the areas for the interim storage sites, by the end of fiscal 2020. A ministry official explained how it calculated the figures, saying that the ministry has already contacted 1,240 landowners by visiting their homes and "there is a feeling" that they will cooperate with the ministry's plan.
Up to 28 million cubic meters of waste contaminated with radiation that is currently stored across Fukushima Prefecture is planned to be brought to the storage sites, and the ministry expects to deliver 5 million to 12.5 million cubic meters of that to the facilities by the end of fiscal 2020. Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa told a March 27 news conference in the city of Fukushima that the ministry plans to remove contaminated soil stored at schools and residential areas first, adding, "We've allowed a wide range in the projected figures (as negotiations with landowners are underway)."
Meanwhile, Toshitsuna Watanabe, mayor of the town of Okuma where an interim storage facility is planned to be built, expressed appreciation for the figures presented by the ministry to some extent, saying, "Though it appears to be a rough projection, I recognize that they at least presented the target figures." He added, "With no goals presented before this, local residents were beginning to suspect the central government's willingness (to put efforts in the storage project). We hope the ministry undertakes the task to reach those targets."
A 61-year-old landowner who has evacuated from Okuma to the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki questioned the ministry's plan, saying that 40-70 percent of land acquisition in five years is "too slow."
"I have decided to sell the land, but the government hasn't yet shown me the amount of compensation payment," the man said.
The village of Iitate, currently under radiation evacuation orders, is working toward the lifting of the evacuation orders by the end of March 2017, excluding areas that are designated as "difficult-to-return" zones with high levels of radiation. Iitate Mayor Norio Kanno says, "According to the ministry's plan, contaminated waste might not be removed (from the village) for five more years. There are piles of bags filled with contaminated soil and they are preventing disaster recovery efforts," adding, "I want the ministry to speed up the land acquisition process."