FUKUSHIMA -- Wide swaths of temporary storage sites for radioactive soil and other waste generated from decontamination work in areas around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant are hampering locals from resuming farming, it has been learned.
The makeshift storage sites occupy roughly 1,000 hectares in total, or an area the size of 213 Tokyo Domes, across zones currently or formerly designated for evacuation in 11 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, according to the Ministry of the Environment. The high occupancy is the result of delayed work to develop interim storage facilities for contaminated soil.
Because slightly over 90 percent of those temporary storage sites lie on farmland, local governments are deprived of the very foundation for restoring farming -- a key local industry -- in those areas while farmers are concerned about possible damage caused by harmful rumors.
According to the Environment Ministry, there are about 280 temporary storage sites in areas designated as evacuation zones. Those storage sites -- which are leased to the ministry by local farmers -- accommodate over 7 million black plastic bags containing radioactive soil, grass and branches. Those flexible container bags -- each capable of containing 1 cubic meter of soil and other waste -- are commonly known as "flecon baggu" in Japanese.
Under the ministry plan, interim storage facilities will be built in areas totaling some 1,600 hectares in the so-called "difficult-to-return" zones in the prefectural towns of Futaba and Okuma around the Fukushima No. 1 plant. Under the scheme, radioactive soil temporarily stored at different locations in Fukushima Prefecture will be transported there for longer storage periods spanning up to 30 years before it is put to final disposal outside the prefecture.
While the ministry had initially sought to begin construction of interim storage facilities in July 2014, delays in negotiations with local residents and efforts to acquire land lots made it impossible to meet the schedule. The ministry aims to finish acquiring up to 70 percent of land necessary for the construction of interim storage facilities by the end of fiscal 2020, but the land it had managed to acquire by the end of October this year stood at a mere 170 hectares, or only 10 percent of the planned area.
The Environment Ministry estimates that up to 22 million cubic meters of contaminated soil and other waste will be generated across Fukushima Prefecture, but the interim storage facilities are expected to be able to accommodate no more than 12.5 million cubic meters of such waste by the end of fiscal 2020.
The Fukushima Prefecture village of Katsurao, where evacuation orders were lifted in most areas in June, has been pushing restoration of farming as a key policy measure. However, the total size of rice paddies in the village has dropped from some 130 hectares operated by roughly 270 households in 2010 -- prior to the Fukushima meltdowns -- to around 6 hectares operated by 11 households this year. Nearly 30 percent of the village's rice paddies totaling some 220 hectares now serve as temporary storage sites for radioactive soil and other waste.
Hisayoshi Shiraiwa, a 70-year-old farmer in Katsurao, harvested rice in his paddy in October, which is adjacent to another paddy that serves as a temporary storage site for piles of black plastic bags containing radioactive soil. As the price of rice from the area hasn't recovered to pre-disaster levels, local farmers are worried about prolonged reputational damage.
"As long as temporary storage sites remain here, farmers will lose their motivation and face a shortage of successors," Shiraiwa said.