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Fukushima grapples with toxic soil that no one wants via The Guardian

Eight years after the disaster, not a single location will take the millions of cubic metres of radioactive soil that remain

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In the years after the disaster, about 70,000 workers removed topsoil, tree branches, grass and other contaminated material from areas near homes, schools and public buildings in a unprecedented ¥2.9tn (£21bn) drive to reduce radiation to levels that would enable tens of thousands of evacuees to return home.

The decontamination operation cleaned generated millions of cubic metres of radioactive soil, packed into bags that carpet large swaths of Fukushima prefecture.

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Japan’s government has pledged that the soil will moved to the interim storage facility and then, by 2045, to a permanent site outside of Fukushima prefecture as part of a deal with local residents who do not want their communities turned into a nuclear dumping ground.

But the government’s blueprint for the soil is unravelling: so far, not a single location has agreed to accommodate the toxic waste.
While workers inside the ruined nuclear plant struggle to contain the build-up of more than 1m tonnes of radioactive water, outside, work continues to remove, process and store soil that will amount to 14m cubic metres by 2021.
The task is expected to take another two years, according to Jiro Hiratsuka, an environment ministry official who is guiding a small group of foreign journalists, including the Guardian, around the interim storage facility.

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There is opposition, too, to the idea of using soil with lower radiation levels – or less 8,000 becquerels per kilogram – as the foundation for roads, embankments and other infrastructure in Fukushima.

The storage facility straddles the towns of Okuma and Futaba, located west of the power plant, where radiation levels are still too high for residents to return. So far, 2.3m cubic metres of soil – about 15% of the total – have been brought to the site.

The storage facility straddles the towns of Okuma and Futaba, located west of the power plant, where radiation levels are still too high for residents to return. So far, 2.3m cubic metres of soil – about 15% of the total – have been brought to the site.

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Greenpeace investigation revealed high levels of radiation in areas that had been declared safe, and accused the government of misleading the international community about the risks faced by returning evacuees and decontamination workers.

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Minoru Ikeda, who took part in the decontamination effort, said workers cut corners to meet strict deadlines. “There were times when we were told to leave the contaminated topsoil and just remove the leaves so we could get everything done on schedule,” he said. “Sometimes we would look at each other as if to say: ‘What on earth are we doing here?’”

He was sceptical of official claims that a permanent home would be found the for soil. “I don’t believe for a minute that they will be able to move all that soil out of Fukushima,” he said. “The government has to come up with a plan B.”

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