Tons of radioactive sewage in Japan is latest crisis

Posted Sep 1, 2011 by Lynn Herrmann
Growing piles of contaminated sewage, located hundreds of kilometers from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, are loaded with high levels of radiactive cesium, and the government has yet to come up with a policy for the country's latest crisis.
Tons of alarmingly high levels of radioactive cesium are being reported at a sewage treatment facility in Saitama, located more than 150 miles southwest of Fukushima, site of the triple nuclear meltdown last March after a devastating earthquake and tsunami.
According to Al Jazeera English (AJE), workers at the plant have been told to store the sewage, but none are qualified in dealing with the hazardous waste. Under normal conditions, the treated sewage is passed along to fertilizer and cement companies, but the radioactive sewage currently has no takers.
“When we run out of space, then we’ll just have to stop the operation entirely. We’re already in an emergency situation, so if that happens, we’re in serious trouble,” said Hiroyuka Takesako, a worker at the plant, AJE reports
Japan currently has more than a dozen sewage treatment plants currently faced with the same predicament and the government has yet to institute a policy in dealing with the quickly growing problem.
A government spokesman declined an interview with AJE, but added the growing piles of radioactive sewage “is not an immediate danger.”
AJE added the government has informed the public as well as the plant workers that the air is safe around the facility.
Sohzoh Suzuki, a soil expert at Tokyo University, told AJE: “This is a disaster affecting all residents of Japan. The level of danger is not that adults and children will die tomorrow, but in five to ten years’ time, cancer or illness will show. We know that from Chernobyl.”
The Japanese government has given the go-ahead for sewage with low levels of radiation to be turned into fertilizer, despite warnings from experts.
At the Saitama plant, workers have been warned to avoid the radioactive waste when not working on it. As the piles of sewage increase, cesium levels increase as well.
In May, Japanese officials had said a cold shutdown of the Daiichi plant was possible by January, but a government spokesman said in August areas around the facility will likely be off-limits for several decades.
The disaster has had a major impact on Japan’s political structure, forcing Prime Minister Naoto Kan to resign in late August.