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Japanese schools continue to be used as storage for post-Fukushima radioactive waste

Radioactive waste

(NaturalNews) Due to a loophole in Japan's law on radioactive contamination, radioactive soil stored at schools in Fukushima Prefecture will not be moved to temporary waste storage facilities near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, nor will it be moved to the eventual permanent storage facility that the government has promised to build.

According to an announcement by Japan's Environment Ministry in late October, the Fukushima schools were decontaminated before the passage of a January 2012 law that obligates the government to move and dispose of radioactive waste related to the Fukushima disaster. Therefore, the Ministry concluded, it is under no obligation to move the radioactive soil and has no plans to do so.

Government struggles to find site for radioactive soil

In March 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami caused multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima plant, and large quantities of radioactive material were released into the surrounding area. Since then, disposing of soil contaminated in the accident has been a major goal for the government.

In August 2014, the government of Fukushima Prefecture finally accepted a federal government proposal to temporarily store such waste at facilities to be constructed near the nuclear plant. The plan is to concentrate the waste at the temporary facilities starting in January and keep them there until a permanent location can be constructed.

On November 19, the Diet (Japan's legislative body) passed a law approving construction of the temporary storage facility. The law also requires that the waste be removed from Fukushima Prefecture within 30 years -- a condition that the prefecture set when it agreed to the temporary storage.

Although movement of the waste was initially planned to begin in January, officials admit that this goal is unlikely to be met. The government is currently negotiating with more than 2,000 private landowners in efforts to acquire enough land for the facility, which will sprawl across 16 km2.

One obstacle has been identifying and contacting the relevant landowners in the first place, as many owners are still absent after having evacuated their homes following the disaster.

As of yet, the government has not reached a purchase agreement with even a single landowner.

Cleanup plagued by hurdles, failures

The Fukushima Prefectural Government was outraged to discover that, in spite of all these plans and all its agreements, the Environment Ministry plans to exclude Fukushima schools from the disposal program.

"We want the state government to prepare an environment where children can study safely," a senior Fukushima municipal official said.

So far, the Environment Ministry has not responded to the prefecture's demands. Media reports speculated that the ministry may be reluctant to force Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) -- which operates the Fukushima plant and is paying for the cleanup operations -- to bear the cost of shipping the contaminated soil.

However, at least one senior ministry official acknowledged to the press that it may be unfair to discriminate against the schools based solely on the timing of when the law was passed.

Disposing of the contaminated soil is not the only problem faced by the Environment Ministry and TEPCO, not even the biggest.

Removing radioactive fuel from the reactors is also proceeding at a glacial pace. TEPCO now estimates that it may take 40 years to safely remove melted fuel from all four damaged reactors.

Yet, of the 6,000 people who are working to decommission the plant every day, only 200 are working to remove melted fuel rods. The rest are working on TEPCO's various plans to stem the buildup of radioactive water at the plant.

The company "appears unable to stem the flow of radioactive water from the No. 2 reactor building to underground tunnels at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant," the Jiji Press reported on November 19.

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