Photo/IllutrationBags of radioactive soil in a temporary storage site in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, will eventually be transported to an interim storage facility. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture--The Environment Ministry is exploring the idea of reusing tons of radioactive soil as gravel to rebuild infrastructure in this disaster-stricken prefecture and beyond.

To gauge the feasibility of the project, it will conduct tests on whether contaminated soil can be securely contained without spillage while controlling the level of radioactivity.

The experiment is being conducted in a corner of a temporary storage site in the Odaka district here, just north of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power plant.

If the tests go off without a hitch, the government is looking at reusing the soil as a construction material in recovery efforts.

Bags of soil gathered through decontamination efforts are kept at temporary storage sites around the Fukushima plant, which went into triple meltdown in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

The first phase of the experiment involves 1,000 or so bags of contaminated soil that have to be sorted according to levels of concentration of radioactive cesium.

Radioactive soil with readings of about 2,000 becquerels per kilogram will be used for mock-up construction of seawalls and other structures. The soil will then be covered by fresh soil that is not contaminated.

The test will also explore practical safety management issues, including ways to prevent scattering of contaminated soil and keeping track of measurements of radioactivity of structures once they are completed.

Project workers began opening bags and sorting soil on April 24.

The volume of contaminated soil collected within Fukushima Prefecture amounted to a whopping 16 million cubic meters as of the end of January.

It will be kept at an interim storage facility that has been constructed within the jurisdiction of the towns of Futaba and Okuma in Fukushima Prefecture. Within the next 30 years, the soil is supposed to be transported outside the prefecture for final disposal.

The Environment Ministry said it hopes the tests will show that the plan to reuse radioactive soil in construction is safe. Projects under consideration include building foundations for seawalls and roads. The overall aim is to reduce the amount of soil that will need to be processed for final disposal.