As nearly five years have passed since the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, radiation levels of the designated waste are believed to have declined. According to an estimate, the amount of designated waste whose radiation levels have fallen below criteria for the designation stands at more than 3,000 tons.
When contaminated with radioactive materials and its concentration level of radioactive cesium exceeds 8,000 bequerels per kilogram, waste is defined as designated waste. Most of it is incinerated ash, sludge and rice straw. Following the designation by the environment minister under the Law on Special Measures Concerning the Handling of Radioactive Pollution, the central government becomes responsible for its disposal.
When such entities as local governments apply for the removal of the designation to the central government, and the waste stored in their areas is recognized as fulfilling the requirements for removal of the designation, the material in question can be delisted. After that, the waste can be disposed of in accordance with rules applied to regular waste. This will likely lead to a reduction in the total amount of designated waste currently stored at temporary sites across the nation.
Though the designation standards are stipulated in the Law on Special Measures Concerning the Handling of Radioactive Pollution, which came into force in August 2011, there are no rules concerning the removal of the designation. Therefore the ministry plans to revise the ministerial ordinances under the law to deal with the matter.
Among types of radioactive cesium that are used as evaluation standards for the radiation concentration level, cesium-134 is said to have a half-life of about two years. The total amount of designated waste whose concentration levels have already gone below the standards was estimated to be 3,172 tons as of the end of June, which accounts for more than 10 percent of the total waste currently stored in Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba prefectures – the five prefectures with which the central government is struggling to settle talks about where to construct the final disposal facilities to store the radioactive waste for the long term.
The ministry determined how the designated waste should be handled following the 2011 disaster, but without anticipating that the nation would struggle hard to find disposal sites and that radiation levels would decline during the struggle.
It plans to allow the removal of the designation when local governments and others apply to do so and required conditions are met, such as 1) radiation concentration levels are confirmed to have declined enough in reexaminations and 2) a final disposal facility to accept the waste is decided.
The central government will decide the details of disposal measures by taking the local governments’ wishes into consideration. It is also considering shouldering some disposal costs even after the removal of the designation.
But one likely factor in local governments’ decisions about making the application is that they will become responsible for the waste once the designation is removed.
What a stroke of bureaucratic brilliance to have come up with the enigmatic label, “designated waste,” in the first place.