The flower bed in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden where decontaminated soil from Fukushima Prefecture will be reused

February 25, 2023

Residents of Tokyo and Saitama are up in arms at an Environment Ministry plan to reuse decontaminated soil from Fukushima Prefecture in their midst, including a major park in the capital’s Shinjuku district. 

They formally submitted requests on Feb. 24 asking to suspend the plan to distribute the soil that was formerly contaminated from radioactive fallout due to the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The plan, announced in December, is aimed at reducing the volume that would go to the final storage site. 

One potential test site is Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in the heart of Tokyo.

At a meeting on Feb. 24 between about 50 local residents and Environment Ministry officials, a request was submitted asking to cancel the plan as well as holding explanatory meetings about the project.

After the meeting, one of the residents, Kunikazu Hirai, 70, said, “We are angry at the danger of having soil that was once contaminated with radiation brought right next door to us.”

According to Environment Ministry officials, there were about 1.2 million visitors to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in fiscal 2021, although annual visitors numbered about 2 million prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The two other candidate test sites are the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, and the National Environmental Research and Training Institute in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture.

All three sites are managed by the Environment Ministry and officials believe that consent of local residents is not needed to proceed with their plan.

However, Saitama residents not only attended the Feb. 24 meeting with Environment Ministry officials but also submitted their own request to stop the project.

The unpopularity of the plan is understandable. A proposal to reuse soil in two municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture went nowhere after local residents raised strong opposition.

Only soil decontaminated to levels below 8,000 becquerels per kilogram will be used in the trial runs.

The plan for Tokyo calls for reusing the soil in a flower bed in an area of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden that would be off-limits to the public. The flower bed would be 10 meters by 3 meters with a hole dug 1 meter deep.

A plastic sheet will be placed in the hole before about six cubic meters of decontaminated soil covers it. A 50-centimeter layer of soil will be placed on top of the decontaminated soil.

The water collected in the sheet will be moved to an adjacent tank and measured for radiation levels. If the levels are under government standards, the water would be released into the sewage system.

The Environment Ministry held an explanatory meeting on Dec. 21, but only 28 people showed up, in large part, because notification of the scheduled meeting was given at the last minute.

Shinjuku Mayor Kenichi Yoshizumi said while the project was completely in the hands of the central government, he expressed dissatisfaction at the explanation and documents presented by the Environment Ministry, which he called “difficult to understand.”

Tokorozawa residents raised objections at an explanatory meeting held in their community in January, and Mayor Masato Fujimoto said it would be difficult for the project to proceed if residents were opposed.

Kenichi Oshima, a professor of environmental economics at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, said the ministry likely wanted to conduct the trial in Tokyo to attract more attention and gain understanding.

But he added, “What has to be paid attention to is not to create a dispute between various regions by having the central government pressuring localities with comments such as, ‘Are you saying you will not cooperate to help Fukushima Prefecture?’”