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Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011

Radioactive cleanup to be covered by state

Decontamination plan calls for municipalities to offer storage sites


Staff writer

The government will be responsible for removing radioactive materials from all areas with levels exceeding 1 millisievert per year — stricter than the 5 millisieverts initially considered — according to an Environment Ministry preliminary report that stops short of saying where the waste will be temporarily, or permanently, stored.

The changed threshold came after many local governments lashed out, prompting Environment Minister Goshi Hosono to repeatedly say the central government will expand the areas it takes responsibility for.

Under the plan, the government will aim to halve radiation levels by August 2013 from August 2011 in areas whose contamination runs between 1 and 20 millisieverts per year.

Areas facing further decontamination include schools and parks used by children. The government will aim for a 60 percent radiation reduction in those areas by the end of August 2013 compared with last August.

Municipal governments, with financial support from the central government, will be responsible for decontaminating areas with annual radiation levels ranging from 1 to 20 millisieverts.

The central government will directly handle decontamination work in the no-go zone within the 20-km radius of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant and the areas designated as "emergency evacuation preparation zones" where residents have been asked to prepare to flee in case the nuclear crisis worsens.

In these areas, with the exception of locations with extremely high levels of radiation, including near the power plant, the central government will engage in decontamination and transport the removed radioactive soil and vegetation to designated temporary storage sites by the end of March 2014, according to the preliminary plan.

A ministry official said the provisional goal is to bring down radiation levels to 20 millisieverts per year and less.

For areas with extremely high levels of radiation, the government has yet to set a numerical target for reducing the contamination.

The government will perform trials to assess the effectiveness of the planned procedures to remove radioactive materials and then set a target.

The proposal was submitted and approved Monday by a panel of experts working out details for the decontamination effort.

After receiving opinions from the public, the Environment Ministry will decide next month which municipalities will be subject to the decontamination effort, officials said.

The plan is expected to set in motion the world's largest decontamination effort, covering all affected areas starting Jan. 1, when a ministry ordinance comes into force.

Radioactive materials will be removed from soil, farmland, forests, buildings, streets, rivers, beaches, ports and lakes, but areas used often by children will be priority targets.

The government has yet to decide where it will temporarily store the huge amounts of radioactive soil and vegetation to be removed. The plan merely states that the Environment Ministry must reach agreements with municipal governments to secure the temporary storage sites.

The central government will be financially and technologically responsible for decontaminating areas with radiation levels between 1 and 20 millisieverts per year, but the municipal governments will have to provide locations for the temporary storage sites.

Details on the temporary facilities for storing and managing the removed radioactive materi-als also have yet to be decided, except that they will have to be in the prefectures with "substantial amounts" of radioactive materials. The central government will bear ultimate responsibility for finding and ensuring the safety of the temporary storage sites.

The plan does not name any candidate prefectures, but a ministry official said Fukushima will be included. The government must also secure the final disposal site for the waste, but nothing has been decided on this either.

Also Monday, the Environment Ministry also said it will officially deem that disaster waste and ash with radioactive cesium of 8,000 becquerels per kilogram and less can be managed the same way as ordinary waste. This figure had been the provisional standard for contaminated ash.

The disposal of ash and sludge containing radioactive cesium of more than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram will be directly handled and controlled by the central government, the ministry said. The waste containers will be sealed to prevent any leakage.

Ash containing more than 8,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium had been found in 42 waste disposal facilities in Fukushima, Iwate, Tokyo and four other prefectures as of Aug. 24.

A land ministry survey also revealed that sludge in sewage treatment facilities in Fukushima Prefecture and other areas in the Kanto region and ash from subsequent incineration were contained more than 8,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium.



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