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Japan Reuses Tainted Radioactive Soil From Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, Extends Nuclear Reactors' Operation

Jul 04, 2016 10:52 AM EDT
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Japan, it seems, is gambling when it comes to nuclear power. Five years after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, the country's Environment Ministry has announced its decision to reuse the tainted soil from the nuclear site even before its radiation level reaches the safety criteria.

The news follows a June 20 announcement from the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) that allowed Kansai Electric Power Company to continue running its two nuclear reactors beyond 40 years.

Using Contaminated Soil for Road Construction

According to The Mainichi, the Environment Ministry has approved the recycling of soil from Fukushima and be used to mound road pavements, despite an estimate that the said soil will only be safe from radioactive concentrations after 170 years.

Not wanting to isolate a piece of land for an extremely long period, the panel claims that the concrete roads will act as radiation shields.

Japan's Act on the Regulation of Nuclear Source Material, Nuclear Fuel Material and Reactors states that the safety standard to recycle materials from nuclear reactors is at 100 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram.

In 2011, after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant tragedy, it was noted that materials above 8,000 becquerels per kilogram are classified as waste, while those who have lower numbers can be reused.

Hokkaido University professor Tsutomu Sato, chair of the working group responsible for the decision said, "We have discussed the matter but haven't decided anything. We just presented our initial idea for reuse (of tainted soil) this time, and we will examine the feasibility of the plan later."

The Environment Ministry will begin experiments later this year to determine the radiation levels of the soil if used in mounds.

No Lesson Learned?

With the permission of two nuclear reactors' extension, former Commissioner Kunihiko Shimazaki has spoken to Reuters about the potential danger this may bring.

"I cannot stand by without doing anything. We may have another tragedy and, if that happens, it could not be something that was 'beyond expectations,'" he said.

Five years ago on March 11, 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi plant owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company caused a nuclear accident after three cores melted following a major blackout caused by a powerful earthquake and tsunami. As a result, the land around the area has been contaminated and radioactive material was released into the ocean, Physicians for Social Responsibility reports.

Meanwhile, NRA Chair Shunichi Tanaka said that the extension "does not guarantee absolute safety but it means the reactors have cleared the safety standards."

Tokyo is currently fixing its law with regards to nuclear power to ensure safety. However, public trust is still hard to come as Reuters reports that more than 50 percent of Japanese citizens are still opposed to the use of nuclear power.

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