Eight things to know about the Japanese Government’s plan to spread tsunami rubble around the country

Eight things to know about the Japanese Government’s plan to spread tsunami rubble around the country:

1:  Japanese Government is pushing ALL local governments in Japan located outside of the disaster stricken area to incinerate tsunami rubble and landfill the ashes.

2: On the one year anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the national government reinvigorated its campaign to push local governments to accept tsunami rubble using  personal letters and phone calls, the promise of  financial assistance for rubble processing,  and a taxpayer-funded mass media campaign (website, commercials, posters, and a nation-wide road show—videos from Kanagawa and Kyoto).   Many cities which originally did not accept the rubble in 2011 suddenly changed their minds.

The new deadline for local governments to accept/reject the national government’s request was Friday, April 6, 2012 (less than one month after its large scale campaign).  Some accepted by the deadline and many are still considering accepting it or running ‘test burns.’

3:  Following March 11, 2011, the government increased its safety level for disposing of radionuclide contaminated debris from 100 becquerels per kilogram (bq/kg) of cesium-137 to 8,000 bq/kg for the entire country without any explanation of the reason or health and environmental repercussions.  Concerning rubble, so far only cesium-137 is measured as an indicator of safety.

4: The government is in charge of testing the rubble, and although data on the Environmental Ministry’s website indicates that the debris contain radionuclide contamination (Original Japanese, English Translation) politicians continue to say the debris are radiation free.  Measurements shown to the public in commercials, roadshows and other exhibitions on the safety of the debris are done using geiger counters, which only measure atmospheric gamma rays and cannot calculate the total amount of radionuclide activity in the debris (measured in bq/kg).  Also, the government is only measuring cesium-137, disregarding the presence of other dangerous radionuclides and pollutants.

5: Although the disaster stricken area contained many toxics-producing industries (pharmaceutical plants, chemical companies and oil refineries), the government is only testing the debris for the one radionuclide, cesium-137 (which is proving to be problematic in itself).  There are currently no tests being done to identify other toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including dioxins, or asbestos which pose great public health and environmental risks when incinerated.

6: Tokyo was the first city to accept rubble. 1,000 tons of contaminated rubble was brought to Tokyo by train on Nov 4th, 2011which has been burnt and dumped into Tokyo Bay. A total of 500,000 tons of rubble will come to Tokyo in the next two years.  While the government continues to say processing the rubble is safe, experts have been warning people about the high levels of radionuclide pollution in Tokyo city which could be a result of Fukushima fallout, or the incineration of rubble.  In addition, in a test incineration in Shimada City, Shizuoka, the bag filters which the government promised would prevent 99 percent of radionuclides from escaping in the air during incineration only successfully contained 60 percent of radionuclides when tested.

7:  Despite large number of protesters in Kyoto, Governor Yamada from Kyoto prefecture said he may dispose of the disaster rubble without informing the people about where and when it is done (Original Japanese ; English Translation ).

8: Many local government officials who announced they would accept rubble are related to industrial waste industries.

What can I do to help stop this?

Resources

Rubble in Tohoku, Japan:

Chemical Aftermath: Contamination and Cleanup Following the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami (Bird and Grossman, 2011)

Radiation basics:

Radiation basics (Nuclear Information and Resource Service-NIRS)

Radioactive and mixed waste:

Incineration of Radioactive and Mixed Waste (Institue for Energy and Environmental Research-IEER)

“Low level” nuclear waste (NIRS)

Radioactive waste recycling (NIRS)