The state is experiencing the worst drought in its history. Find out just how bad the situation is getting and what it means for you.

Almost a year after the Japanese Tohoku earthquake and mega-tsunami, the Pacific Ocean is still dealing with the consequences of the catastrophe.

A mass of debris was washed out to sea as floodwaters receded from the land, and some of that wreckage continues to float around the ocean.

Most of it headed eastwards, according to modelling work by the Hawaii-based International Pacific Research Center.

Its staff have given an update to this week’s biennial Ocean Sciences meeting.

"We can only use our model to make projections," explained International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) scientific computer programmer Jan Hafner.

"So far, the debris field has spread in length more than 2,000 nautical miles, and is more than 1,000 nautical miles wide," he told BBC News.

That is approaching 4,000km by 2,000km.

Japanese estimates suggested perhaps 20 million tonnes of debris were generated by the earthquake and the incoming rush of water on 11 March last year.

Most would have stayed on land, and a fair proportion pulled out to sea would have sunk rapidly. But it is possible a million tonnes is still floating on the ocean.

Tuesday, May 4, 1999

Dioxin: Proximity to Tokyo dooms Tokorozawa


Second in a series Staff writer

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — Eiko Kotani’s backyard is known the nation over for its garbage. A resident of Tokorozawa’s Kunugiyama district for nearly two decades, she has spent the last nine years watching the forest behind her home become a haven for waste incinerators.

Today, the area goes by the colorful moniker “industrial waste Ginza.”

It was in November 1991 when rancid smoke first assaulted Kotani and sent her into the forest behind her house to find its source. She was shocked to find a smoldering pile of garbage in an open space concealed by trees a few hundred meters from her home. This was one of the first incinerators in Kunugiyama.

The area, a scraggly belt of forest at the junction of four municipalities — Miyoshi, Sayama, Kawagoe and Tokorozawa — is simply called Kunugiyama by locals and has gained dubious distinction as one of, if not the most, concentrated waste incinerator sites in Japan.

Despite its appearance, Kunugiyama is not a natural forest. This once naked plain was planted by locals at the request of the resident feudal lord over 300 years ago to prevent topsoil erosion. Historically, this wall of trees has supplied a wind block as well as a local source of fuel and fertilizer. The forest helped create and sustain a fertile environment that in turn helps sustain one of the nation’s top tea-producing areas.

"Before 1991, there were only one or two waste incinerators in the area," said Susumu Yokoyama, a farmer who produces mostly organic produce and uses leaves from the forest as fertilizer.

But that changed at the beginning of this decade. Incinerators began to pop up in and around the woods in the area, then soon became pervasive, he said.

Until recently, nearly 60 of the prefecture’s 277 incinerators operated in the area of the four municipalities. The smokestacks of roughly 16 of these pierce the forest canopy within a 500-meter radius of Kunugiyama.

As the number of incinerators billowing black clouds increased, so did the residents’ unease. This was heightened when results from an independent study released in December 1995 found high dioxin levels in the soil and ash in Kunugiyama and the surrounding area, including Koku Koen — a popular park in central Tokorozawa.

Concern deepened when half of the 30 air samples taken by the municipalities in the area found dioxin concentrations exceeding the national standard of 0.8 picograms per cubic meter. A picogram is one-trillionth of a gram. Six of the sites where the samples were taken were schools.

Further investigation and calculation by citizens using government statistics have found infant mortality rates higher than the prefectural average in municipalities with higher concentrations of incinerators.

But why this concentration of incinerators around Tokorozawa?

Both citizens and government officials agree that more than one factor is involved.

The largest factor at play is probably the area’s proximity to Tokyo.

Less than the ideal neighbor, the metropolis exports its waste to surrounding areas to be processed before it is shuttled to the oceans or the mountains for final disposal. Citizens estimate that more than 80 percent of the garbage sent to Saitama Prefecture for processing originates in Tokyo.

And just one exit from Tokyo on the Kanetsu Expressway, the Tokorozawa interchange sits on an ideal location for waste disposal companies. Kunugiyama has the misfortune to lie a mere 15 minutes by car from this highway exit.

"We think the reason incinerators sprang up around Kunugiyama from around 1992 is because that is the period when Chiba Prefecture began to cut the amount of industrial waste it allows in from other prefectures by introducing a prior consultation system," said Toshihiko Maeda, the leader of a local citizens’ group.

It also makes economic sense for waste disposal companies, because Saitama Prefecture is on the way to final disposal sites, according to Maeda.

"Tokorozawa and Kunugiyama are only 20 or 30 km from Tokyo, and from here companies can easily take the garbage to Nagano, Gunma, Fukushima and Aomori prefectures or the Hokuriku region. It is very convenient geographically for (waste disposal) companies, and it allows them to make more money since most of them get paid per trip."

In addition to its “prime” location, the Kunugiyama area straddles four municipalities and does not fall under the jurisdiction of any one administrative entity. This makes it difficult for citizens to air their complaints and concerns toward any one municipality or individual.

To field the citizens’ criticism and concerns, like those of Maeda, the prefectural government set up a unit to handle dioxin policy in April 1998.

"Until 1997, the dioxin issue was addressed mainly from the position of waste and garbage incineration," said Ikuo Sakurai, a member of the prefecture’s dioxin policy team.

"From 1997, the problem really became more evident, and we realized that we needed to conduct surveys of the soil, air and (dioxin) levels in blood and human ingestion."

In addition, Saitama Prefecture, one of the prefectures without a prior consultation system to limit the shipping of garbage from other areas, plans to introduce one this fall, he added.

After a February news report warning of high levels of dioxin contamination in local produce that temporarily made spinach produced by farmers such as Yokoyama almost worthless, the prefecture urged incinerator operators to voluntarily shut down on Sundays and holidays.

But this has not visibly reduced the amount of waste being burned, which reached almost 500 tons per day in 1998, according to prefectural statistics obtained by locals.

While the air may clear on Sundays, this has only forced incinerators to change their hours of operation, citizens say, citing an increase in the number of facilities that run at night.

The recent setting and gradual tightening of incinerator dioxin emissions limits are part of government efforts to reduce the amount of dioxin released nationwide by almost 90 percent of 1997 levels by 2002.

In December 1997, the Health and Welfare Ministry revised the Waste Disposal Law, reducing dioxin emission limits for the first time ever. These revisions took effect on Dec. 1, 1998.

Under the revised law, incinerators in operation Dec. 1 are allowed to release up to 80 nanograms of dioxin per cubic meter of emissions until December 2002, at which point, depending on their size, they must meet standards of 10 nanograms or less. A nanogram is a billionth of a gram.

Newer facilities are faced with even stricter standards, of between 0.1 and 5 nanograms, depending on their capacity.

But critics contend that this law is merely an indirect endorsement of the status quo, and that the interim effluent value of 80 nanograms is much too high — 800 times that allowed by Germany or the Netherlands.

"There is not a single facility in Kunugiyama that has been stopped because it is releasing more than 80 nanograms. They have all cleared this level," Maeda said.

"This (80-nanogram) standard is not at all useful in reducing the number of incinerators here."

Of the 59 incinerators currently operating in the Tokorozawa vicinity, 24 have either been scrapped or are retooling to meet new government regulations, according to the prefecture. The remaining 35 all clear the interim standard, Sakurai said.

But even if they all meet the standard, it is the sheer number of facilities that is the problem, say locals, who called on the Health Ministry late last month to adopt policies limiting dioxin emissions in any one area.

However, Kotani maintains that the plants that have closed or are retooling are small and that garbage is simply being transferred to other sites for incineration.

And a former worker at a local waste processing plant agrees.

"If we don’t take the garbage, what will happen? It will rot on the streets and people will get angry. Someone has to burn it," said Fardine Ohara, who worked at a Kunugiyama incinerator up until mid-April.

When it comes to dioxin, few things are certain in Kunugiyama and Tokorozawa. Interest is high and change is on the menu, but not fast enough to satisfy local residents. For now, the garbage trucks continue to roll in from Tokyo with their unpopular cargo.

Thursday, June 27, 2002 

Panel recognizes Suginami sufferers but fails to isolate chemical culprits

The government’s arbitration commission for pollution-related disputes ruled Wednesday that a public waste-processing facility in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward caused a number of illnesses among residents in 1996.

However, the Environmental Dispute Coordination Commission said it was unable to specify which chemicals had contributed to “Suginami Disease,” a series of ailments including eye and skin irritation, chest pain, respiratory problems, headaches and dizziness.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government began operating the household-waste processing facility in April 1996. Residents began reporting symptoms of the disease the same month.

The commission also relayed its decision to related administrative bodies — the Environment Ministry, the metropolitan government, and Suginami Municipal Government — telling them to take appropriate measures.

The metropolitan government said later in the day that it will deal with the matter after closely examining the decision.

According to the commission, it is almost impossible to specify and prove that certain chemicals had caused certain symptoms, even after analyzing hundreds of chemical samples taken from the facility.

The characteristics of many forms of chemical poisoning remain unknown to modern science, the commission said.

Hydrogen sulfide, which was drained by from the facility, was mentioned by the commission as a possible cause of some of the symptoms.

The commission recognized 14 of the 18 residents who filed complaints as suffering from Suginami Disease.

In July 1996, after receiving complaints from local residents, the metropolitan government stopped draining waste water containing chemicals from the facility directly into the sewage network. In September that year, residents reported a drastic improvement in their conditions.

The facility is still in use.

Roughly 2,000 people live in the area, which includes Igusamori Park.

Japan’s Pollution Experience: Island of Waste Part 1 of 4

Japan gained material wealth after rapid economic growth which lifted the people’s living standards. Especially in cities, mass production and consumption led to generation of massive volumes of waste. Japan first handled its waste by burying it in the mountains or using it to reclaim lands offshore. However, this method soon reached its limitations. Industrial waste produced from factories and construction sites had nowhere to go except to less populated countryside and remote islands. These became waste mountains causing much pollution. By the time illegal dumping was exposed, so much waste had accumulated. Garbage pollution is difficult to tackle because it comes from numerous sources both domestic and industrial. Victims and victimizer are not visible to each other, which makes the situation more complex and hard to resolve.

This film features Japanese citizens who questioned their waste legislation and voluntarily started recycling campaign. It recalls the challenges that Nagoya city faced when it withdrew a new reclamation plan, and looks at a typical illegal dumping site in Teshima island, Kagawa prefecture.

Japan’s waste problems are far from over. The film ends with the key question: How can production and consumption minimise waste generation in the future?

TOKYO, December 2, 2011 (AFP) - Japan is looking to launder tsunami debris in a giant washing machine to get rid of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear accident, a researcher said Friday.

In a scheme they hope will result in finally being able to dispose of contaminated waste left by the waves that crushed towns on the country’s northeast coast, a cleaning plant will be built near the Fukushima Daiichi power station.

Shredded waste — including the remains of houses and cars destroyed by the tsunami — will be put inside a huge water-filled drum where steel attachments will scrub away radioactive particles, the researcher told AFP.

The plan is a joint scheme between Tokyo-based construction company Toda Corp. and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.

"We, as a general contractor, have experience of cleaning soil and hope that we will eventually be able to decontaminate soil as well as debris," said a research at Toda Corp, who asked not to be named.

He said researchers will experiment with pure water and detergents to find the best way to decontaminate the waste and hope to be able to recycle the water using a series of filters.

In an initial test they will use a tub 120 centimetres (four feet) long and plan to install multiple washing drums three times larger than that once the project fully launches, he said.

Large areas around the Fukushima plant have been left contaminated with radiation since the tsunami of March 11 knocked out its cooling systems and sent reactors into meltdown.

The world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl has not directly claimed any lives, but has left tens of thousands of people displaced and rendered whole towns uninhabitable, possibly for decades.

The radiation that has leaked from the crippled reactors has contaminated the waste left behind by the tsunami, complicating the clean-up operation.

The Japanese government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power have pledged to bring the reactors to a state of cold shutdown by the end of the year.

Government planners have said radiation-contaminated debris could be stored in a facility in Fukushima prefecture for at least 30 years until its final destination is determined.

Environmental experts in Japan are warning of new fallout from the country’s nuclear crisis.

Radioactive waste is piling up at several sewerage plants, well away from the crippled Fukushima reactor.

Months after the tsunami and earthquake that triggered the nuclear meltdown, the government still has no policy on what to do with the waste.

Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao reports from Saitama.

At least 120,000 tons of sludge and ash either confirmed or suspected to have been contaminated by radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has been put into storage at water treatment and sewage plants in Tokyo and 13 eastern prefectures, it has been learned.

Municipalities concerned have called on the central government to find locations where the contaminated sludge and ash can be treated or safely disposed of.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry on Thursday released the results of a survey on dehydrated sludge being stored at water treatment plants in Tokyo and 13 other prefectures, including Miyagi, Yamagata, Fukushima and Shizuoka, as of July 12.

Data on dehydrated sludge and ash stored at sewage plants as of Wednesday was supplied by local governments in the 14 prefectures and tallied by The Yomiuri Shimbun. The ash was produced by incinerating mud.

Under guidelines for handling radiation-contaminated material announced by the central government on June 16:

— Material contaminated with radioactive cesium of more than 100,000 becquerels per kilogram should be stored in shielded facilities.

— Material with cesium levels of 8,000 to 100,000 becquerels per kilogram should be sent to plants designed to handle treatment of industrial waste.

— Material with cesium levels below 8,000 becquerels per kilogram can be buried.