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Friday, Oct. 7, 2011

Tokyo guarantees debris plan is safe


Staff writer

A plan to help rebuild the Tohoku region has sparked controversy in Tokyo after the metropolitan government said Sept. 28 it would burn and store debris and other waste from Miyagi and Iwate prefectures that could be tainted with radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Tokyo plans to take about 500,000 tons of debris and waste from Iwate and Miyagi prefectures over a three-year period, starting with 1,000 tons from Miyako in Iwate later this month.

The metropolitan government says the contamination level of the waste is too low to pose a health risk for residents or workers at the designated landfill dump area 4 to 5 km off the Odaiba waterfront area in Tokyo Bay.

But of the 900 telephone calls and emails from residents commenting on the matter through Wednesday, about 730 were against the plan, while around 100 were supportive, the metropolitan government said.

"Radioactive materials should not be dispersed," one message said, according to metropolitan official Kazumi Arai.

"Emotionally speaking, I don't want to accept (debris)," another protest message said.

Breaking down the opinions, emotions are mixed among residents living near the disposal site. Some are worried but at the same time willing to share the burden to help victims in Tohoku.

Removing the mountains of debris generated by the March 11 tsunami is considered a must before rebuilding can get under way on the disaster-hit coast. The tsunami left behind an estimated 23 million tons in the coastal areas of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, exceeding by far the ability of local governments to deal with it.

Fires have frequently broken out in debris piles in many areas, and the odor and smoke have plagued nearby residents.

"I feel sorry" for the people in the devastated areas since they are living with mountains of unprocessed debris and waste, Kiyo Saito, a 89-year-old resident of the Odaiba district in Minato Ward, said. "It is good that (Tokyo) will store the waste."

A 28-year-old housewife and mother of two living nearby said she is worried but willing to help the devastated areas rebuild.

"Since I have small children, I have a strong concern over the fact that radioactive materials are coming close," she said, declining to be named. "But (the plan) is certainly inevitable."

Tokyo plans to start transporting the debris from Miyako later this month by truck and rail to three to five private waste disposal facilities.

The burnable trash will be reduced to ash at the waste-disposal facilities and dumped in the landfill disposal site in Tokyo Bay off Koto Ward, south of the Odaiba waterfront district. The nonburnable waste will be dumped directly at the site, Arai said.

The metropolitan government stressed that the contamination level of the debris is so low that it can be safely processed and dumped without putting anyone's health at risk.

Tokyo said the Iwate Prefectural Government last month detected 133 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium in ash from waste incinerated in Miyako.

That is well below the government's limit of 8,000 becquerels per kilogram and the 974 to 12,920 becquerels per kilogram detected in ash made by incinerators in June and July in Tokyo's 23 wards, the metropolitan government said. Arai and the Environment Ministry said anything below 8,000 becquerels per kilogram is safe even for workers at landfills, let alone the nearest residents, who are several kilometers from the dumpsite.

If a landfill employee works four hours a day 250 days a year near waste containing that level of radioactive cesium, the Environment Ministry says his or her annual exposure to radiation projects to 0.78 millisieverts. According to a consensus of scientists, a one-time exposure to 100 millisieverts would increase one's probability of death by cancer by 0.5 percent.

"We have made sure that safety will be maintained throughout the process," Arai said.

Authorities will also recheck the contamination levels several times before waste is brought to the dumpsite, and if they are over the government limit, storage will be suspended.

Measures will also be taken to prevent waste from spreading outside of the landfill disposal facility. Waste and debris will be solidified with chemicals or cement before being sent to the Tokyo Bay site, the metropolitan government said.

Net fences several meters high surround the dumpsite.

Starting off the process in Miyako, Tokyo Environmental Public Service Corp., an organization affiliated with the metropolitan government, will check radiation levels at the waste separation site and inside each lead container, as well as the density of radioactive materials at the storage yard.

The organization will also measure radiation at the boundaries of the destination waste separation and compacting facilities in Tokyo a week before accepting the waste, and once a week while processing it. It will also check the radiation of the waste while in the lead containers and of the waste itself once during the processing period.

Then at Tokyo incinerators, it will check radiation levels outside the facilities, the levels in the ash after it has been placed in lead containers, and the density of radioactive materials in exhaust fumes from the facilities.

The metro government said radiation levels will also be measured once a week at the landfill.

Tokyo would be the first municipality outside Tohoku to accept disaster debris, the Environment Ministry said.

The metropolitan government claimed it obtained unanimous approval for the plan at a regular session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in June.



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