Japan’s Latest Nuclear Crisis: Getting Rid of the Radioactive Debris via The Atlantic

KITA KYUSHU, Japan — Disposing the more than 20 million tons of rubble caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is proving to be a difficult problem for Japan, not least because much of the rubble has been irradiated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The government’s plan — to destroy 4 million tons of potentially radioactive earthquake debris in garbage incinerators around the country — is dividing the nation and further delaying the country’s ability to put Fukushima behind it.

More than a year after the disaster, over 90 percent of the debris from disaster-stricken areas is still sitting around, waiting for disposal. Under a government pledge to clear the rubble entirely by 2014, the Ministry of the Environment is leading an effort to distribute the rubble to municipalities around Japan for speedy incineration and burial. But people across the country have met the plan with strong opposition, objecting that it needlessly spreads radiation to unaffected areas.

Last week, trucks carrying earthquake debris from northeastern Japan arrived in the south-western island of Kyushu, as part of the national government’s plan to disperse and destroy debris. Protestors blocked the road for 8 hours over fears that incinerating the debris would spread radiation to areas that have not yet been contaminated by the nuclear disaster. The waste was burned last Thursday in the first “trial burn” of radioactive tsunami debris to be conducted in this part of Japan.

The protest in front of the main gate of Hiagari Incineration Facility in Kita Kyushu City was the latest in a divisive debate over the effort to ship roughly 20 percent of earthquake debris from the Tohoku region (where Fukushima is located) to municipalities around Japan for incineration. The plan, which calls for shipping the debris as far as the southern most island of Okinawa, has been promoted as a symbol of Japan’s national unity and collective reconstruction effort.

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