Thursday, March 15, 2012

2 Other Reasons Why Municipalities in Japan Want Disaster Debris

The first and foremost is a fat subsidy they will get from the national government (which is beyond broke, so it will tax the citizens today and for the foreseeable future) for saying yes to having the disaster debris contaminated with radioactive materials and toxic chemicals shipped to their cities and towns to burn and bury the resulting ashes.

But it is slowly emerging that there are equally short-term, other reasons these local politicians and bureaucrats want the contaminated debris.

  1. The incinerators, if they are state-of-the-art, need more garbage even to operate, so the disaster debris is god-sent;

  2. The incinerators, if not state-of-the-art, badly need upgrading or even building new ones (or so they say), and by saying yes to the debris the municipalities will get the subsidy from the national government for the upgrade or building new ones.

1. State-of-the-art incinerators cannot operate without enough garbage

This has been known among people who has been following the disaster debris processing, but now even the major tabloid magazine picked up.

Here's from Shukan Post Seven (3/14/2012):


The government wants to do the "wide-area disposal" by bringing the disaster debris to municipalities all over Japan and burn it, but the opposition by the local residents has spread who tell their governments "Don't bring the radiation." Desperate, Prime Minister Noda is saying "We'll give you money if you take the debris" to the municipal governments.


Newspapers and TV report it as "forcing the debris" or "egotism of the residents", but the reality is totally different. Below the surface, disaster debris is money, and the parties involved are competing with each other to get the debris.


You may be surprised to hear, but Japan "lacks garbage". There are 1,600 garbage incineration facilities in Japan, which is home to 70% of incineration facilities in the world. A person in charge of municipal waste management says:


"Most of these incineration plants are state-of-the-art facilities that cost tens of billions of yen [hundreds of millions of US dollars] per plant. They do not let out toxic substances like dioxin and smoke. But there is a week point in these plants. In order to operate, the incinerators needs to burn at a certain temperature for 24 hours. So there is a lack of fuel, that is, garbage."


Then the March 11, 2011 generated a large amount of debris. Most of the debris is flammable, such as wood debris from the houses that collapsed.


"Waste management divisions of municipalities want disaster debris very badly. The cost to transport the debris will all be paid by the national government, and it will come with a subsidy. There is no better fuel than the disaster debris."


Last May, right after the disaster, the Ministry of the Environment set the budget for disaster debris disposal for 350 billion yen [US$4.16 billion] in the 1st supplementary budget, and decided on the wide-area disposal by shipping the debris all over Japan. 500 municipalities and businesses have said yes to the debris, including Okinawa Prefecture.


To transport the debris from Tohoku to Okinawa by sea would cost a fortune. The Ministry of the Environment's true aim is to build a network of concessions on garbage transportation by wide-area disposal of disaster debris. The industrial waste processing industry is booming with this special procurement.

For example, the state-of-the art incinerator (melting furnace) in Shimada City in Shizuoka Prefecture (where the mayor single-handedly decided he would just burn the debris against the strong opposition from the residents) cannot operate unless it is at least 60% filled with garbage and debris.

Why are there so many state-of-the-art incinerators in a country with fast-declining population? My guess is "the Lost Decade or Two" in Japan (going into the 3rd decade...) - economic stagnation after the real estate bubble made much, much worse by the government's incessant Keynesian intervention of creating useless public work projects. That money went to roads, bridges, river embankment, breakwater, big construction projects like half-empty Minato Mirai in Yokohama or small construction projects like municipal incineration plants.

2. Aging incinerators need upgrade or rebuild, and now is the chance to have it funded by the national government by accepting the debris

The case in point is Takeo City in Saga Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, as far away you can get (with the exception of Okinawa) from radioactive materials from Fukushima I Nuke Plant.

42-year-old Keisuke Hiwatashi, the mayor of the city and a former bureaucrat at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, was all for accepting the debris last November, but the reaction from the residents when they knew about it (mostly via the Internet) was fast and furious, and the mayor had to table the idea.

But now, the City Assembly just passed the resolution demanding the city to accept the debris, with only the Communist Party assemblymen dissented. The ostensible reason is of course "to help the recovery of Tohoku", the "kizuna" spirit that Mr. Blustein laments sorely lacking in the selfish Japanese in the post-disaster Japan.

But I think I've found the more likely reason. I looked up what kind of facility the city has for incineration. After some digging, I found that the disaster debris would be burned at "Kito Clean Center". So I googled "Kito Clean Center", and up popped the newsletter from 2007 by the Kito Wide Area Municipalities Union in Takeo City. In it, the general manager of the union says:


The current Kito Clean Center started operation in April of 1988 with the incineration facility, oversize garbage processing facility, and a landfill. In 2001, the facility was upgraded with the installation of exhaust gas treatment facility in order to reduce the emission of dioxin. It's been 19 years since the center started operation, and the aging facilities needs constant repairs that cost a large amount of money. So we will need to build a new facility...

On checking the semi-annual newsletters, there is no mention of a new facility being build.

On March 4, Prime Minister Noda said his government would pay the municipalities for expanding or building the disposal sites. On March 5, Minister of the Environment Goshi Hosono promised that the national government will compensate for the "shortened" life of the incinerators and disposal sites because of processing the disaster debris starting the new fiscal 2012 (in April); compensation amount will be determined by the weight of the disaster debris that the municipalities take.

So here's the chance for Takeo City to do the much needed (or so they say) upgrade of their aging incinerator with the national government's money as long as they accept disaster debris contaminated with toxic substances and radioactive materials. Clearly, the bigger the amount of disaster debris they take in the better.

What a country.


Anonymous said...

All of this is "normal Japan", too bad the radiation issue gets in the way. Wouldn't it be nice if all was "normal" again?

Chibaguy said...

Inzai in Chiba is under point two here sadly.

Anonymous said...

If what they need is a full load of garbage to operate, they can wait until the storage area is full to start burning.

Anonymous said...

Great investigation !
Now it is up to the citizens to keep on fighting until victory.

kintaman said...

Chibaguy, how are your plans for leaving Japan coming along? Do you have a timeline in place yet?

Anonymous said...

Interesting take on this story, but I question the criticism of why Japan should need or want state-of-the art incinerators. Japan's population rate may be on the decline, but it is still a country of 120 million people, and will continue to be a country of 100+ million for quite some time. The land available for dumping waste is severely limited. Like it or not, Japan must either burn its waste, bury it, or export it. In an earthquake-prone country, I think the push for energy-efficient and CO2 (and dioxin) reducing incinerators is, in general, a good thing. Whether or not these incinerators can be built with or without public funds is a different matter, but my guess is that handling the waste of 120 million people is one of those areas for which there is no entirely "free-market" solution.

Anonymous said...

Good point. Besides Japan may have become the 3rd or even 4th economic country but it remains 1st for garbage production:when that triple packaging that you didn't dare refuse at your bakery comes back with a vengence!See we’re all responsible for this.

Darth3/11 said...

Even with triple packaging, the current incinerators don't have enough garbage, especially so if the government furnishes new big ones demanding much more garbage to work.

This tactic completely begs the question of what happens in the future when all the debris has been incinerated. (IF this happens.) The plants will be super-sized follies that can't operate efficiently as there will again not be enough garbage.

Maybe in ten years, after the radiation has been spread throughout Japan, and the debris has been incinerated all over us, we will see quadruple packaging come into fashion.

Why do I even bother to recycle? So depressing.

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