A year on, only five percent of tsunami rubble cleaned up

02/23/2012
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Where is it all going to go? Tsunami wreckage poses problems nationwide.

TOKYO (majirox news) — Mariko Tanaka travels across the areas that were devastated by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami last year, auditing small banks and credit unions.

The tsunami knocked out the trains from her home, which is near Sendai Airport, for more than a month. A tsunami wave surged across Sendai Airport, located in the Miyagi prefecture.

Even now, getting to some of her clients involves long journeys transferring between the train lines that have been restored, by car and even bicycle when necessary.

“What strikes you most is the fact that none of the rubble has been cleaned up,” Tanaka, a bank auditor specializing in internal fraud and embezzlement, said. “None at all.”

She added that she felt flabbergasted when she visited the city of Rikuzentakada in Iwate Prefecture a few days ago. “I used to go there occasionally before the tsunami, and communications have been only now recently restored. Where the city used to stand there was nothing at all. It had just been swept away clean. Surrounding it were vast piles of rubble. I discovered my clients in temporary buildings behind the rubble.”

She says her clients have returned to doing business and the small banks and credit unions are functioning, but almost all of them are in deep trouble.

“The problem isn’t with the banks or credit unions themselves,” she says. “The problem is that many of their customers have died in the tsunami, been forced to relocate, or just can’t or won’t return to cities that are nothing anymore but rubble.”

According to some estimates, the amount of rubble and debris left by the earthquake and tsunami is equivalent to between 11 to 19 years of normal waste.

At a press conference on Feb. 21, Environmental Minister Goshi Hosono acknowledged that very little progress has been made in this area.

“Only five percent of the rubble from the three prefectures hit by the tsunami last March has been cleaned up,” he said. This portion amounts to 1.176 million tons — a vast amount by normal standards, but a drop in the ocean when compared to the 23 million tons left behind by the tsunami and quake.

The government claims to have plans to clean up all the rubble by 2014, but even Minister Hosono admits it is extremely doubtful that this target will be achieved.

Radiation fears frighten away most other prefectures from accepting the rubble from these areas. There is, however, an even more fundamental problem: Well before the tsunami struck, Japan was already on the verge of running out of places to disposed of rubble and waste, and illegal dumping had become a major issue. The disposal of the tsunami debris is already starting to turn a major headache into a virtually insoluble problem.

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