Earthquake Debris Disposal Divides Japan


Photo taken on August 24, 2011 by flickr user infradept (BY -NC-ND-2.0) showing a pile of debris accumulated during reconstruction efforts following the 311 Tohoku Tsunami in Rikuzentakata, Japan

One year and ten months have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake hit on March 11, 2011. The affected areas are now making steps towards recovery thanks to the support from all over Japan and around the globe. However one remaining issue, disaster debris incineration, is dividing the country.

There are 910,000 tons of disaster debris in Miyagi prefecture, and another 430,000 tons in Iwate prefecture which need to be incinerated [ja]. 370,000 tons of debris from Miyagi prefecture and 170,000 tons from Iwate prefecture are being arranged to be incinerated in 10 other prefectures, because there is just too much debris for them to dispose of themselves.

In May 2012, Kitakyushu city accepted the debris, and protesters desperately tried to stop incineration by crawling under the truck [ja] loaded with debris. A website [ja] dedicated to compiling information about local governments accepting disaster debris mapped the status of rubble from tsunami stricken areas.


Map of local authorities accepting rubble (as of April 16, 2012)Image used with permission.

Flickr user watashiwani posted this illustration with much concern about debris incineration:


Image by flickr user watashiwani, used with permission. ( CC-BY-2.0 )

But people in the affected areas, who have to see piles and piles of disaster debris every day, feel very differently about the debris distribution incineration program. The town of Onagawa in Miyagi prefecture showed their gratitude to Tokyo prefecture for accepting debris by distributing 60,000 saury fish for free at the Hibiya Park on October 20, 2012. The following comments are from Twitter mentioning the free saury distribution with a hashtag #秋刀魚収穫祭 ( saury harvest festival).

@monchicamera ハッシュタグで#秋刀魚収獲祭を検索すると、みなさんの楽しんでいる様子が写真付きでツイートされていて、こっちまで嬉しくなっちゃう! #秋刀魚収獲祭

@monchicamera Once I looked up this hashtag #秋刀魚収獲祭, I saw photos and comments of people enjoying the festival and it made me happy.

@leo_orebushi 女川が100年かかっても町内では処理できない被災家具のうちの10万tを引き取ってくれた東京都へのお礼に、さんま10万匹を届けるという企画が2012/10/20(土)に日比谷公園で催されます。  いい企画だね。

@leo_orebushi This is such a good idea. –> Event detail : Onagawa town is to distribute 100,000 saury on October 20 to say thank you to Tokyo for accepting disaster debris which would otherwise have taken a hundred years to dispose off in their town.

今日日比谷公園である #女川 #秋刀魚収穫祭 。魚ってどうなの?って思ったのでHP見てみたらこんなページが。私は行けないけど、 きちんと取組んでる人達を応援したい。【放射能測定は毎回の水揚げごとに行っています。】

@hosssssyna I wondered about the radiation level of fish for the #onagawa festival #秋刀魚収穫祭 and looked up their website and found this page. I can't make it to the festival but I want to support people who are doing a great job –>[by measuring the radiation level  with every haul] …

The town of Taki, in Mie prefecture had to withdraw its offer [ja] to accept debris, because 12 out of 13 members of their town council were against it. The prefecture is still looking into the incineration program, but Hahanowa [ja], a group of mothers handed a proposal to the Mayor of Ise City in Mie Prefecture on December 4 2012, asking for a clear explanation about debris incineration with a request to stop accepting all debris in the future.

In the blog of Hahanowa [ja], a mother of a one-year-old child writes about her anxiety about the wide debris distribution incineration program:


I have participated in various study groups [on debris incineration], and I also went to one hosted by Mie prefecture. But our anxiety continues to grow. The Ministry of the Environment and Mie prefecture tell us “low dose exposure [to radiation] is safe”, ” it's safe because no radioactive substance is attached to debris” and so on, all of which is completely opposite to what we have learned in study groups. What are we supposed to do about this?

Kyushu Himawari Project, a group that studies problems related to wide area incineration made a call to action [ja] to send letters, faxes and emails asking Governor Murai of Miyagi Prefecture to stop transporting debris to other prefectures.

Given that the petitions to stop debris from entering Kitakyushu city are flooding in to Miyagi's assembly, the Twitter account of newspaper Asahi Shimbun's Sendai branch commented that these persistent actions are giving mixed feelings to him [ja].

Another Twitter user yuirin25 commented:

@yuirin25 あたしはこの朝日の意見にまったく同感だわ。被災地がどんだけ困ってるか見てるからこそ、陳情を見てこれでいいのかとギモンを抱いたりもするんじゃーないか。また送ってくる側の行動が執拗に見えたりもするんだろう / “Twitter / asa…”

@yuirin25 I totally agree with the comment by Asahi [Sendai branch Twitter user account]. Because reporters there must have been witnessing the struggle of the affected areas, no wonder they question the petition, I assume. And when letters never cease to arrive, it looks relentless.

According to a document published by the Japanese government's Reconstruction Agency [ja] on November 27 2012, of a total of 18,020,000 tons of disaster debris, only 27 percent has been disposed. The Reconstruction Agency's goal is to finish disposal of disaster debris by the end of March 2014.


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