Not even TEPCO is willing to accept radiation-contaminated wood chips, because of the concern for radioactive ashes from burning the chips.
My bigger question is: Why are the lumber companies operating their mills at all in Fukushima, when they should know very well by now that the mountains and forests in Fukushima have been doused with radioactive materials?
Yomiuri Daily (English) has a more detailed story than the Japanese version.
From Yomiuri Daily (English) (4/4/2012; the segments in blue indicate the segments that exist only in the English version of the same news):
TEPCO declines wood chips as fuel for thermal power generation
Tokyo Electric Power Co. has declined requests of the timber industry to use wood chips from Fukushima Prefecture and surrounding areas as fuel for thermal power plants out of fears of cesium contamination, leaving local businesses stuck with about 25,000 tons of wood waste.
High levels of cesium were detected in part of wood chips after the crisis broke out at TEPCO's Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. But the radiation level of the wood waste is below the safety standards now. Nonetheless, a huge amount of wood chips are sitting in Fukushima and Tochigi prefectures with no plans for removal.
A local timber industry group repeatedly asked TEPCO to accept the wood chips, but the utility has turned down the requests.
Worried that TEPCO's action could fuel harmful rumors, concerned government offices are planning to ask TEPCO to accept the request.
"If the situation remains unchanged, [timber] factory operations may have to be suspended, forcing some operators to close their businesses," said Yoshiaki Munakata, an executive of the Fukushima prefectural timber cooperative association, which governs about 200 timber and related companies.
The firms are struggling particularly over bark generated during lumber processing. Usually, one ton of bark is sold for about 1,000 yen and is usually used as compost or bedding for livestock.
However, an August survey conducted by the Forestry Agency after the March 11 disaster showed a maximum of about 2,700 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium in some of the bark. Although a follow-up survey found the figures dropped to 200 to 300 becquerels per kilogram--below the government-set limit of 400 becquerels for compost. But only one-fourth of 4,000 tons of bark the prefecture generates each month has been sold or taken in by other entities.
According to the association, 20,000 tons of bark is currently sitting on timber company lots. The bark has been compressed and is piled four to five meters high. The association is worried the bark may combust after fermenting, association officials said.
Neighboring Tochigi Prefecture faces similar problems. As of March, a dozen companies in the prefecture had about 5,000 tons of bark.
The association came up with the idea of using the wood chips as fuel to generate thermal power. Chugoku Electric Power Co. began power generation by burning coal and wood biomass such as bark simultaneously in 2005. Since then, other utilities have followed suit and TEPCO had also planned to start from this fiscal year.
The association said it asked TEPCO to take the wood chips on four occasions between October and February, but the requests were declined.
TEPCO initially told the association that using the wood chips to generate thermal power is technically difficult. But the utility later changed its rationale, saying such a measure is difficult to be taken at the moment because burying ash that contains radioactive cesium requires consent from local residents.
According to the Forestry Agency, the density of radioactive cesium in ash from burned bark is about 30 times higher than that of bark before incineration. But the radiation level for the bark ash is expected to be less than 8,000 becquerels per kilo-gram--an allowable level for landfill.
Officials of the Forestry Agency and the Natural Resources and Energy Agency view TEPCO's refusal as an act that goes against the purpose of the special law requiring the utility to cooperate in antiradiation measures. The agencies therefore plan to ask TEPCO to take in the bark, the sources said.
Meanwhile, a TEPCO spokesperson said the refusal is due to concern over a stable power supply.
"If we don't have clear prospects for disposal of the [bark] ash, that would affect operations of our power stations," the spokesperson said.