Japan's Billion-Dollar Plan To Store Its Contaminated Fukushima Dirt15

Japan's Billion-Dollar Plan to Store Its Contaminated Fukushima Dirt

As the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster has passed, Japan is faced with another conundrum: Where to store thousands of tons of radioactive soil that have been harvested from around the region. This week, officials unveiled a $US970 million plan to build a massive storage facility to house the stuff.

The plan was recommended by a long-running government panel, which suggested building the storage facilities in one of three nearby towns — Futaba, Okuma and Naraha — at a cost of almost a billion dollars. The (roughly) 13sqkm site would hold multiple facilities, each containing soil of differing levels of contamination.

Japan's Billion-Dollar Plan to Store Its Contaminated Fukushima Dirt

The damaged Reactor 3 at Fukushima. Image: Tokyo Electric Co.

But there's another reason to build the site. Many Fukushima homeowners still remain in temporary disaster housing today, because they can't buy new homes without selling their property in the contaminated zone. These storage facilities would allow Japan's government to effectively buy back that real estate — letting people move on with their lives.

At the same time, plenty of people who have returned to their homes are dealing with radioactive soil in their own backyards — literally. A September blog post from a Fukushima resident named Akiko Fukami describes the process of having workers dig a massive hole in the backyard, where they buried bags of radioactive soil in an attempt to decontaminate Fukami's house. "I just want people outside Fukushima to know that there are people here doing their best to protect themselves and families from radiation to live a normal and decent everyday life," she wrote.

Japan's Billion-Dollar Plan to Store Its Contaminated Fukushima Dirt

The new protective structure at Chernobyl, which Japanese officials recently toured. Image: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky.

As we've seen in Chernobyl, where a brand-new steel "sarcophagus" is being built over Reactor 4 as we speak, the responsibility of protecting civilians from nuclear waste will be handed down, from generation to generation, for decades to come. The facility in Fukushima would, in theory, only be stable enough to hold the soil for roughly 30 years — after that, the next generation of scientists will hopefully have come up with a better solution. [Japan Times, PhysOrg]

Lead image: AP



    Can anyone explain how something solid can contain it for 30 years.. and then what happens? Like, not from a logistics standpoint - I mean what happens to the container they put in place now, why does it suddenly become ineffective?

      The facility in Fukushima would, in theory, only be stable enough to hold the soil for roughly 30 years — after that, the next generation of scientists will hopefully have come up with a better solution.
      Basically, it's a stop gap measure.

      I'm assuming that after 30 or so years the structure itself will have absorbed enough radiation that it starts emitting radiation itself. So if there are no better solutions, I guess it'll mean putting another container over that structure much like what they're doing at Chernobyl.

        Hmm - but since radiation is emitted in a relatively small distance from tiny particles - I would assume they could just seal it airtight and keep people a small distance away?

        I'm not saying their idiots, i'm sure they know what they're talking about - just in my mind from my very basic understanding of radiation can't understand.

          Hi Michael Debyl, Radiation is the byproduct of the decay of a radioactive element or radioisotope. Radioisotopes one common use is in human medicine to fight cancer and the very carefully made medicine has very short half life, energy level and requires some lower level of Personal Protective Equipment for medical staff to protect them selves from harm.

          What you have around a nuclear power plant; eg Fuels like Uranium, Plutonium etc are a whole special case. Special in that they need very specialised handling equipment and Personal Protective Equipment for humans AND the decay half lives of some of these things are hundreds or Thousands of years.

          The use of robots will allow the humans to remove themselves from the very dangerous areas. A human going into the worst "hottest" area, could receive a fatal dose as did happen with the "liquidators" at Reactor No 4 at Chernobyl. Sub particles, Alpha, Beta & Gamma can be present in some or all forms across the periodic table, but this is something for Physics class.

          The smaller radioactive lumps particles may exist in around the site (but they can be located with gieger counters, boxed up and stored safely) but the real danger is a fused molten core of superhot fuel that can burn through steel and concrete containments! The site and operator are then at risk of meltdown occurring. We can only hope & pray this has not happened at Fukishima and for the people of the surrounding districts as it will render any stream or water source as "poisoned" if it drops into the water table.

          And just about the containment structure, it does not suddenly become ineffective, radiation from certain energetic products, in prolonged emissions can also penetrate the molecular structure of steel and begin to weaken it - over a long time, yes. Some steels and metallic elements are better shielders than others, eg round Plutonium cores can be shielded by Beryllium etc Shielding is whole area of Nuclear Physics in itself!

          The Chernobyl approach was to bury the whole lot in sand and concrete. The mode of damage at Fukishima is a whole lot different to Chernobyl though, hence the time consuming removal of the debris as resulting from the Hydrogen Explosions. Hydrogen being an unfortunate by product of the melting of the Fuel Rods AND having a very low explosion threshold!

    What sort of idiot would write that "As the immediate aftermath of Fukushima has passed" - wake up, the disaster is on going and far worse than the slimy crooked moron in Tepco and the government let on. It has not abated, it is not getting better and some aspects the recovery won't even start until 2020 at the earliest assuming they don't have another earthquake or Tsunami, in which it's game over. The current task of removing spent fuel rods is highly dangerous and to allow Tepco to be involved is an egregious state of affairs. The entire board should be facing the prison if not the death penalty as should those in the government covering it up and allowing them to operate so incompetently for so many years.

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