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Monday, April 23, 2012
Tepco should accept woodchips
After a disaster, most Japanese companies apologize, make reparations and make changes to ensure the same problem does not recur. Tokyo Electric Power Co. appears to be the exception. Most recently, Tepco has declined a request from the timber industry in Fukushima Prefecture to accept 25,000 tons of wood waste due to the industry's concerns about cesium contamination. As everyone knows, Tepco is directly responsible for the cesium contamination.
As the cleanup continues in Fukushima and other prefectures, one of the largest problems is what to do with all the waste. Unlike much of the waste, wood waste can potentially be turned to productive uses. Wood chips are primarily used for compost, mulch, bedding for livestock and mushroom cultivation. However, burning wood waste can also provide thermal energy, a potential replacement for nuclear power.
Tepco, though, repeatedly refused requests to take the wood chips between October and February. At first, Tepco claimed that using wood chips to generate thermal power was technically difficult. It then claimed that incineration could be dangerous and that burying the ash required consent from local residents. Last, the power company claimed that it had concerns about whether the supply of wood chips would remain stable. In short, it made excuses to avoid responsibility. If Tepco does not want the wood chips, it should still help to find a reasonable way to dispose of them. A Forestry Agency survey found that the wood waste fell inside the safety limits of 400 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium. Tepco's disregard of this finding indicates it has yet to learn how to take responsibility for the consequences of its mismanagement of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The radiation that contaminated land and products came from its plant. The company must help with the cleanup in every way possible.
Tepco's refusal to accept the chips goes against the special law requiring the utility to cooperate in all anti-radiation measures. Since the radiation danger from the woodchips is acceptably low, Tepco should work together with the Forestry Agency and officials in Fukushima and Tochigi prefectures to dispose of the chips, which are accumulating rapidly and could combust if left long enough due to the heat generated by decomposition.
When local businesses are struggling, helping with the disposal of safe waste is part of what any responsible, community-minded company should do. When that waste is directly contaminated by a company's mistakes, helping is even more imperative. If Tepco continues to refuse to accept the woodchips, the government should find a way to convince Tepco to cooperate.