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Shioya Resists Role as Fukushima Radiation Dump

Water Is Life

“Water is Life”: A protest signboard in Shioya Town

By Michael Penn and Nobuaki Masaki

SNA (Shioya) — As the Japanese nation approaches the fifth anniversary of the March 11 tragedy, the burden of dealing with the widespread radioactive contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster continues to expand. Now this issue is seriously impacting even a small community in Tochigi Prefecture called Shioya.

The process leading to Shioya’s problems began on November 11, 2011, when the Noda government issued a cabinet decision stating that radioactive waste exceeding 8000 becquerels released by the Fukushima disaster should be disposed of within the prefectures where they were found. In September 2012, as the Noda administration was entering its final weeks, the city of Yaita was fingered as the location within Tochigi Prefecture for the construction of such a facility.

However, after the advent of the Abe government–and due to the fierce resistance of this city of more than 33,000 people–the Yaita plan was dropped in February 2013.

More than a year later, in July 2014, the Abe government selected the much smaller community of Shioya Town (population 11,000) as the new location for the radiation disposal facility.

The criteria used were said to be proximity to parks and pristine natural areas, water supplies, and people’s residences. Although the government insists that these criteria were confirmed by the local mayors of Tochigi in the many meetings that it had with them, the precise content of these meetings has not been fully disclosed to the public.

Many residents in Shioya strongly believe that their town is unsuitable for the site. There are indeed precious natural treasures near the proposed site, such as Mt. Takahara, which is the source of locally-famous spring water.

Furthermore, many residents of Shioya assert that the mountainous landscape surrounding the proposed site makes it particularly susceptible to flooding. They do not believe that this was adequately considered in the selection of the area because the government had previously indicated that it would not consider areas that could be exposed to flooding.

The government has responded by saying that they will review the possibility of floods in this part of Shioya during the final investigations leading up to the construction of the site, but that it is unlikely that this will be enough for the government to retract its decision.

Local people fear that the disposal site will drive away business from their town.

Mr. Masaaki Mizuno, the owner of a cafe in the immediate vicinity of the proposed site, says that Shioya will feel the effects of the negative rumors about radiation: “Concerning agriculture, there are people who are already saying that they will not buy Shioya’s rice anymore.”

Ms. Makiko Kano, the administrator of a local lodge, adds, “In Shioya, the primary industry is agriculture. Farmers will be affected by the negative rumors. Because the town’s culture and community is based on its agriculture, damage to this industry is damage to the entire town.”

There are additional fears about the biological effects of radiation. According to the Ministry of the Environment, 99% of the radiation can be removed during the incineration process for the waste. However, the residents of Shioya are concerned about the remaining 1%, which could amount to a total of 67 million becquerels of radiation, according to Mr. Kazuhide Sueda, a blogger on the subject of the environment and nuclear power.

Mr. Mizuno believes “because the proposed area was covered with water in the last flood (i.e. September 2015), radioactive materials could flow downstream into other areas.”

The website of the Shioya municipal government makes clear that it shares the views of those residents who oppose the central government decision. The local administration has repeatedly posted information online arguing that the site should not be built inside their town.

Additionally, painted signs are posted all over the town expressing opposition to the hosting of the facility.

Before the selection process began, there was a proposal in the mayoral meetings to store all of the designated waste within Fukushima Prefecture. However, the Fukushima prefectural government as well as the central government came out against this notion, arguing that the prefecture is already beset by an extremely difficult situation in dealing with the waste that it currently has.

According to the previous decision of the Noda cabinet, prefectures must take responsibility for the radioactive waste found inside their respective borders, even if the power plant in Fukushima was the actual epicenter of the disaster.

The Abe government is having considerable difficulty finding any permanent sites for the disposal of Fukushima Daiichi radiation since every municipality has become quite sensitive to the potential effect of negative rumors on their local economies.

At present, the waste is being stored in a series of temporary sites which are said to be more vulnerable to further natural disasters or even strong weather conditions.

Michael Penn is President of the Shingetsu News Agency and Nobuaki Masaki is a contributing writer.