Photo/IllutrationContaminated soil produced during cleanup in communities affected by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster is carried on belt-conveyers covered with plastic sheets at an interim storage site in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Oct. 28. (Hiroshi Ishizuka)

  • Photo/Illustraion

OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture--Hailed by the government as a major step to rebuilding, radioactive soil from the cleanup of municipalities impacted by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster began arriving at an interim storage site here on Oct. 28.

However, officials and residents with the towns of Okuma and Futaba fear the repository may end up being permanent as finding a final resting place outside Fukushima Prefecture is expected to be extremely difficult.

Still, local governments welcomed the start since rebuilding has been hampered by the countless number of bags containing polluted soil that have been kept in backyards.

“We are hoping to remove as many bags of contaminated soil as possible from people’s living spaces,” said Tadahiko Ito, vice environment minister who inspected the site on Oct. 28.

All the soil there is supposed to be taken out of the prefecture by March 2045 for final disposal under the law.

The repository began operating at the site, where soil from low-level pollution will be kept after being brought in via a belt-conveyor system. Bulldozers will afterward flatten the surface.

After a certain amount of soil is brought in, the ground will be covered with uncontaminated soil. The site can hold about 50,000 cubic meters of soil, according to the Environment Ministry, which oversees the project.

The ministry began building the interim storage facility about a year ago. As of the end of September, contracts had been signed for about 40 percent of the 1,600 hectares of land needed for storage in Okuma and Futaba, which co-host the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

A total of seven facilities will be built to keep polluted soil.

The ministry also plans to complete two facilities to store more radioactive waste in fiscal 2019.

Overall construction costs are estimated at 1.1 trillion yen ($9.67 billion) for all the interim storage facilities.

They can store up to 22 million cubic meters of soil and other waste.

According to the ministry, about 15.2 million cubic meters of contaminated soil from decontamination work are piled up or buried at about 150,000 location in Fukushima Prefecture, including plots near houses and schoolyards.

The ministry envisages moving 12.5 million cubic meters of the total to the interim sites by the end of March 2021.