Two years after the triple calamities of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster ravaged Japan's northeastern Pacific coast, debris containing asbestos, lead, PCBs — and perhaps most worrying — radioactive waste due to the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant looms as a threat for the region.
[...] It will leave Fukushima, whose huge farm and fisheries industry has been walloped by radiation fears, with 31 million tons of nuclear waste or more. Around Naraha, huge temporary dumps of radioactive waste, many football fields in size and stacked two huge bags deep, are scattered around the disaster zone
The cleanups extend beyond Fukushima, to Iwate in the north and Chiba, which neighbors Tokyo, in the south. And the concerns are not limited to radiation. A walk through areas in Miyagi and Iwate that already were cleared of debris finds plenty of toxic detritus, such as batteries from cell phones, electrical wiring, plastic piping and gas canisters.
Japan has the technology to safely burn up most toxins at very high temperatures, with minimal emissions of PCBs, mercury and other poisons. But mounds of wood chips in a seaside processing area near Kesennuma were emitting smoke into the air one recent winter afternoon, possibly from spontaneous combustion.
Workers at that site had high-grade gas masks, an improvement from the early days, when many working in the disaster zone had only surgical masks, at most, to protect them from contaminated dust and smoke. [...]
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