The Environment Ministry has launched a public relations campaign to ease concerns about radiation and win wider public support for debris-disposal efforts, as only 5 percent of the waste left by the March 11 disaster has been disposed of so far.
The ministry on Tuesday released its latest report on the progress in incinerating and disposing about 22.53 million tons of debris from the Great East Japan Earthquake in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures. The report showed there has been little progress because local governments outside the disaster-hit prefectures have not been stepping forward to accept debris, partly due to opposition from residents worried it might be contaminated with radiation.
The ministry has begun an unusual national drive because it is worried that delays in removing debris could hamper the entire reconstruction process.
“The media have huge influence on the whole of society,” Environment Minister Goshi Hosono said at a press conference Friday. “I don’t think anyone would oppose the idea that reconstruction in the disaster-hit areas is vital. If so, I want people who think that waste [from the disaster] should be treated in the disaster-struck areas to understand that things aren’t so simple.”
Hosono hit back at a Feb. 15 media report that raised questions about the ministry’s claim that mountains of debris are impeding reconstruction efforts.
The March 11 disaster generated a massive amount of debris, equivalent to about 11 years of garbage normally generated by Iwate Prefecture and about 19 years of Miyagi Prefecture’s garbage. It would take a great deal of time for the prefectures to clear the debris on their own, and there is also limited space to bury the waste. Mountains of debris in coastal areas have been a barrier to rebuilding efforts and resulted in dust that in one instance caused a fire.
An official of the Iwate prefectural government said, “Some people affected by the disaster say they don’t want to see the debris any longer.”
Hosono has been alarmed by stagnation in the cleaning effort among local governments from outside the three Tohoku prefectures. Throughout Japan, some people have been voicing opposition to the acceptance of debris by their local governments, arguing that the waste is contaminated by radiation and poses a risk to the health of children.
Despite this, the Tokyo metropolitan government has been accepting disaster waste from Miyako in Iwate Prefecture since November. Other local leaders, including the Kanagawa and Osaka governors, have expressed intention to accept debris, but only Tokyo has taken action so far.
The ministry has set a goal of clearing the debris by March 2014.
Hosono said at a press conference after a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, “If the situation remains unchanged, [achieving the 2014 goal] is extremely difficult.”
To counter this, the ministry launched a campaign this month, which includes full-page newspaper advertisements and a video clip posted on its website showing Hosono’s visit to a temporary debris storage site in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. The ministry also created a slogan, “Minna no Chikara de Gareki Shori” (Debris disposal with effort from all).
The ministry said it plans to use outdoor TV monitors in Tokyo and Internet advertisements to create better public understanding of its debris clearing efforts.
The ministry says the disaster left behind about 4.76 million tons of debris in Iwate Prefecture, about 15.69 million tons in Miyagi Prefecture and about 2.08 million tons in Fukushima Prefecture. Iwate has cleaned 8 percent of its waste, Miyagi 5 percent and Fukushima 4 percent. The ministry is asking local governments across Japan to accept and treat waste from Iwate and Miyagi. Debris in Fukushima is being treated within the prefecture due to radiation concerns.
“The nature, strength and generosity of Japanese society is being tested on the issue of whether the debris can really be treated in other prefectures,” Hosono said at Friday’s press conference.
Confusion over radioactive ash
Ash generated when incinerating debris contaminated with radioactive cesium can be buried without special treatment under a government-set standard, if the radiation level is less than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram.
The ministry says people who live close to ash buried under 50 centimeters of clay would be exposed to 0.01 millisievert a year. This is significantly less than 1 millisievert, the annual limit for most people set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
But one resident said, “There’s a government-set limit of less than 100 becquerels, so I don’t know what to trust.”
It seems that people are being confused by varying regulations. One hundred becquerels is the limit for the reuse of waste set under the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law. This means that waste generated by nuclear power plants can be reused as building materials or for other purposes if it contains less than 100 becquerels of radiation.
(Feb. 23, 2012)