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Fukushima Seeks Space for Waste

Residents of Fukushima have been struggling for nearly 4 years to deal with radioactive waste left by the nuclear accident. Now the Japanese government says it's made some progress toward securing storage for contaminated soil. But NHK WORLD's Noriko Okada finds that waste taken care of by the agreement they reached with leaders in Fukushima is just a drop in the bucket.

The governor of Fukushima Prefecture and the mayors of 2 towns met with the Japanese environment and reconstruction ministers. The Fukushima officials said they'll permit shipments of radioactive waste into the towns, and allow it to be kept in intermediate storage facilities.

"I decided to allow radioactive soil and other waste to be brought into the towns," explains Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori. "The goal is to clean up the environment and recover from the disaster as soon as possible." Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki expressed his appreciation for what he calls an "extremely difficult decision" and said that "The government will do everything in its power to complete this project, and to reconstruct Fukushima."

Around Fukushima, heaps of black bags sit on the side of roads or the backyards of houses. They hold radioactive soil and other waste collected during decontamination work. The waste sits in more than 75,000 spots around the prefecture, including residential areas. The problem of what to do with the waste has slowed down the entire rebuilding effort.

Last September, leaders in Fukushima agreed to allow the central government begin building immediate storage facilities on 2 plots of land. Construction began this month and officials in Tokyo hope they will start receiving shipments of waste by the end of next month.

The government plans to build intermediate storage sites totaling over 16 square kilometers. But so far, it has received permission to use only the 2 sites. Their small size means they'll be able to hold only 0.1% of the accumulated waste.

Government officials have been negotiating to purchase more property from more than 2,300 landowners, but none of them have agreed to sell. Many of them say they don't want to give up family land.

Some landowners are unhappy that the government is going ahead with the intermediate storage facilities. "I suppose the intermediate storage facilities are necessary," says one resident. "But it's not right that this plan moved forward without reaching a conclusion in discussions with landowners."

There's another reason landowners are dissatisfied. Once the intermediate facilities are up and running, the government will have 30 years to transfer the waste out of the prefecture for final disposal.

Officials say they'll study ways to accomplish this, but so far haven't provided any specific information about where the waste might end up.

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