4 months on, disaster debris still a huge, smelly problem
A makeshift wreckage storage site sits near municipal housing units in Minami-Sanriku in Miyagi Prefecture. (Shiro Nishihata)Debris from the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami is piled up next to Ishinomaki Commercial High School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. (Hiroyuki Yamamoto)Students at Ishinomaki Commercial High School chat in front of a provisional dump site for debris in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. (Masaru Komiyaji)
ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Prefecture--Four months after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, sections of northern Japan remain a dystopian nightmare, defaced by mountains of debris.
Only about 35 percent of an estimated 21.83 million tons of rubble in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures has been cleared and transported to makeshift dump sites to make space for rebuilding.
The debris removal and storage operations have also created new problems for already beleaguered survivors, forcing them to live side by side with towering heaps of often foul-smelling junk.
Ishinomaki Commercial High School in Ishinomkai, Miyagi Prefecture, is plagued by more than 100,000 tons of wreckage. Ranging from concrete fragments, lumber and tatami mats to home appliances and polluted mud, the debris has been dumped around the school since April.
The presence of massive amounts of rubble has caused health problems among students.
"It smells awful," said Toru Kazusa, an assistant principal at the school, adding that school officials were not given details about the dump site beforehand. "The dust and flies are awful."
Many students are complaining about itchy eyes and sore throats.
Students wear masks when they leave the school building for physical education classes and extracurricular activities.
In the two months after a parade of trucks began dumping rubble, one student was diagnosed with pneumonia and a teacher fell ill.
Two fans are placed in each classroom to help students keep cool with the windows closed.
But when the temperature rises, the teachers have to open the windows despite the revolting stench coming off the debris.
The school, together with residents in the neighborhood, pleaded with city officials to do something.
In response, the city raised the fences around the dump site to 9 meters in some sections from 1.8 meters.
In addition to insecticide, lime milk was sprayed at the site to prevent the dust from rising. Still, the flies and odor persist, school officials said.
On July 7, people who lost their homes began moving to temporary housing units built for about 110 households in two nearby locations.
Kazusa said the only solution is to move the rubble somewhere else.
"We cannot solve the problem any time soon without help from other prefectures," he said.
Local governments in the stricken prefectures plan to permanently dispose of the rubble in three years.
But with a shortage of incineration facilities, many are skeptical.
According to an Asahi Shimbun survey of 37 affected municipalities along the coast in the three prefectures, Iwate Prefecture had made the most progress, with 51.4 percent of a total of 4.46 million tons of wreckage cleared.
Miyagi Prefecture, burdened with the most debris, at 15.09 million tons, removed 31.3 percent, while 26.8 percent of 2.28 million tons in Fukushima Prefecture was dealt with.
Of the 37 municipalities, Ishinonmaki had the most wreckage at 6.16 million tons. The figure exceeds more than a century (106 years) of waste disposed of by the city and is more than the entire yearly disposal by Iwate Prefecture.
The city has already moved 890,000 tons, the most by the municipalities, but it is only 14 percent of the total.
With little level ground, Ishinomaki faces a serious shortage of rubble storage sites.
Workers sort and recycle wreckage at provisional dump sites. Wood debris is burned at incinerator plants. Nonflammable waste is buried.
Local governments in Fukushima Prefecture, home to the embattled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, have suspended cleanup out of concern that radioactive substances may spread if incinerated.
Work is unlikely to resume until a plan to dispose of the incinerated ash can be worked out.
Five towns in the "no-entry" zone, a radius of 20 kilometers from the plant, have not even started cleaning up.
災難後4個月 垃圾仍如山 發異味
Nitrogen injection at Fukushima plant faces setbackBY EISUKE SASAKI STAFF WRITER2011/07/09
TEPCO is facing difficulty as it prepares to inject nitrogen gas into the containment vessel of the No. 3 reactor at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to prevent another hydrogen explosion. Tokyo Electric Power Co. used a robot to inspect the connection port for the injection pipes, but could not photograph the location. Also, the radiation level remains high in the reactor building. TEPCO said in a July 7 news conference that work on the piping, originally scheduled to start on July 8, was likely to be delayed. The injection of nitrogen is intended to drive out hydrogen gas accumulated in the containment vessel. TEPCO's road map toward bringing the hobbled plant under control has defined nitrogen injection as one of the pillars of "Step 1" that should be completed by around July 17, and accordingly, as a precondition for the return of evacuated residents. Nitrogen injection has started at the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, but has yet to be done at the No. 3 reactor, where pipes that could be used for injection were lost. On July 6, TEPCO sent a robot inside mounted on top of a vehicle for tasks at high places and tried to inspect a pipe connection port at an altitude of 5 meters above the ground, but failed to photograph the location because of the placement of other equipment nearby. The radiation level was found to be as high as 50 millisieverts per hour near the pipes. This indicated that work on connecting the pipes, expected to last up to an hour, would require shielding the radiation with lead mats, and employees working in shifts. The injection requires approval by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The procedure is expected to take about a week, preparatory work included. Possible injection from a different piping system may be considered if the task turns out to be difficult, but the radiation level is also high near this other location. TEPCO has so far not revised the policy to realize nitrogen injection during Step 1. "It is an indispensable task, and we want to accomplish it by all means," said Junichi Matsumoto, deputy chief of TEPCO's Nuclear Power and Plant Siting Division.