MORIOKA, Japan — Livestock farmers in three disaster-hit prefectures in the Tohoku region of Japan are having difficulty disposing of rice straw contaminated with radioactive cesium from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Cattle farmers are complaining that the central and local governments have not decided how to get rid of the contaminated straw.
More than 600 bales of straw sat in one greenhouse at a cattle farm in southern Iwate Prefecture. Their combined weight was more than 60 tons, the farmer said.
Radioactive cesium of more than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram was detected in the straw, more than the limit allowed for incinerating the straw or taking it to a landfill.
A woman at the farm said in bewilderment, "How long will this situation continue?"
According to the Iwate prefectural government, 230 cattle farms in 23 municipalities in the prefecture are storing a total of 700 tons of contaminated straw.
In August, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry announced interim measures to deal with contaminated straw. According to the policy, straw contaminated with cesium of more than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram should be stored temporarily on farmers’ land or public land by covering it with sheets. Straw contaminated with cesium of 8,000 becquerels or less should be incinerated or sent to landfills as general waste by municipalities.
Municipalities in the prefecture preferred sending straw with lower levels of cesium to landfills, because it would be difficult to get residents worried about scattered ash to agree to incineration.
But the Environment Ministry is recommending against such a measure. According to a spokesman, "It’s unrealistic to put the straw in landfills, given the massive amount. It might produce gas and result in a fire."
However, incineration would involve a different problem. Radioactive cesium might be condensed in the ash, making it difficult for municipalities to store ash contaminated with cesium beyond the government-set limit.
The prefectural government decided at the end of August to fully subsidize municipalities’ expenses for disposing of contaminated straw. However, concrete methods for disposal remain undecided.
Shigemi Takaizumi, chairman of a commercial cattle production organization in Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, comprising 28 cattle farmers, said: "It will snow in a month. If the contaminated straw isn’t removed by then, we can’t store this year’s straw."
Takaizumi, 60, said cattle farmers who have a large amount of contaminated straw have to rent land to store new straw or leave the new straw outside.
In Miyagi Prefecture, about 4,700 tons of contaminated straw is being stored by livestock farmers and straw dealers in 22 municipalities, according to the prefectural government.
The prefectural government plans to keep the straw at temporary storage sites to be set up in collaboration with municipalities.
According to a government projection, a total of 35,000 square meters of storage space will be needed. Municipalities are in the process of selecting suitable sites. The contaminated straw will be incinerated after temporary storage, but the time and place for incineration have yet to be decided, the government said.
In Fukushima Prefecture, 143 livestock farmers currently store contaminated straw. The prefectural government instructed them to separate contaminated straw from ordinary straw by covering contaminated straw with sheets or coloring it with a spray.
The prefectural government plans to deal with straw contaminated with cesium of over 8,000 becquerels after the central government decides on a disposal method.