The Yomiuri Shimbun
Bundles of straw and pasture grass tainted with radioactive substances are kept in a pasture in Tome, Miyagi Prefecture.
Little progress has been made in the disposal of straw and pasture grass contaminated with radioactive materials from the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, which was crippled by the Great East Japan Earthquake about two and a half years ago.
Among 10 prefectures, 68,000 tons of such straw and grass has yet to be disposed of, according to the results of The Yomiuri Shimbun’s research on the work conducted by local governments.
While other radiation-contaminated materials such as incinerated ash and sewage sludge have been stored at facilities under local governments, the burden of most tainted straw and pasture grass has been left to individual farmers. “How long are we supposed to keep it?” said one such farmer.
A farm in Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, has 170 bundles of tainted straw and pasture grass wrapped in white sheets. Each weighs 300 to 400 kilograms and was originally intended to be feed for livestock.
“I have to keep my cattle away from them, and now I’m concerned about harmful rumors,” a 50-year-old farmer said.
Tome has so many livestock farmers that there are 5,000 tons of tainted straw and pasture grass in the city.All the straw has been designated as specified radioactive waste as it contains more than 8,000 becquerels of radioactive materials per kilogram. It has been stored at temporary collection centers and individual farms. Meanwhile, pasture grass has been kept by about 180 farmers as it contains less than 8,000 becquerels of radioactive substance per kilogram.
In September 2012, the government announced a policy that waste containing over 8,000 becquerels of radioactive materials per kilogram must be wrapped in sheets or other materials and kept on farmers’ properties or publicly owned land plots. Those containing 8,000 becquerels or less per kilogram can be incinerated and buried by local governments in a manner similar to ordinary waste disposal, according to the policy.
Under the Law on Special Measures Concerning the Handling of Pollution by Radioactive Materials, local governments must dispose of specified radioactive waste, which contains high concentrations of cesium or other radioactive materials. Meanwhile, the central government is responsible for constructing permanent disposal sites for such waste with contamination levels higher than the 8,000-becquerel limit.
However, no progress has been seen for the past two years in the construction of permanent disposal sites.
Since local residents often oppose bringing waste containing less than 8,000 becquerels of radioactive materials per kilogram to temporary storage centers, such waste has been stored in plastic greenhouses or buried in farmland.
In Nasu Shiobara, Tochigi Prefecture, about 180 tons of straw and pasture grass exceeding the limit have been kept by 50 farming households. An agriculture and livestock department official of the city government said, “Some farmers are concerned that their property will become the permanent waste disposal sites.”
Miyagi prefectural government initially requested that municipal governments in the prefecture keep waste with contamination levels exceeding the 8,000-becquerel limit for about two years until this autumn. In June, however, it asked that the storage period be extended.
“Many local governments have been giving explanations [on waste containing more than 8,000 becquerels] over and over again to the residents,” said an official of Iwate prefectural government. However, a few local governments have actually incinerated such waste.
(Editor's note: In the wake of the Fukushima disaster the Japanese Government relaxed the safety limit for ionizing radiation in debris including straw and pasture grass up to 8,000BQ/kg from 100Bq/kg in July, 2012, allowing normal incinerators to incinerate radioactive material below 8,000Bq/kg in the same way as normal material.