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Japan must help dispose of debris floating across Pacific

Publication Date : 05-09-2012

 

Debris swept away by the tsunami generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake last year has started washing ashore along the Pacific coast of North America. The amount of debris arriving on this coastline is expected to spike from October.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Monday the government "will devise measures as soon as possible" to dispose of this debris. This is the natural course of action.

Japan must step up efforts to study what assistance it should provide to the United States and Canada to deal with this debris.

The Environment Ministry estimates 5 million tonnes of wreckage was dragged out to sea from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. Of this, 1.5 million tonnes is believed to be adrift on the ocean, rather than sinking to the seabed. Much of this is said to be the remnants of destroyed houses.

A soccer ball belonging to a primary school student in Miyagi Prefecture was found on a beach in Alaska. This was among several heartwarming stories reported in connection with debris drifting from northeastern Japan.

Big problem for US, Canada

But if debris begins washing ashore in great quantities, disposing of it will certainly become a major headache for US and Canadian states on the Pacific Coast.

Some estimates suggest the debris could keep turning up for several years. The state government of Oregon has already earmarked a budget to deal with it.

There are no international rules stipulating how to dispose of debris that washes ashore after drifting across the sea. Conventionally, getting rid of the debris would be undertaken by the country where it came ashore. So the Japanese government is not officially obliged to get involved in disposing of this debris.

Even so, Japan should not stand aloof. After all, it is the origin of this unprecedentedly huge quantity of debris. Actively helping with debris disposal would be a display of gratitude for the assistance provided by the United States and other nations after the March 11, 2011, disaster.

We think the government should hold frequent consultations with its US and Canadian counterparts on this issue, including talks on sharing disposal costs.

Precise projections crucial

The most pressing task for the time being is to use satellites and other methods to determine as precisely as possible how much debris will come ashore, and when and where this will happen.

Analysing the data will require more detailed exchanges of information between experts from the countries concerned. This acquired data must be shared by the affected nations to help them work out concrete measures for cleaning up coastal areas.

There are fears washed-up debris could bring various problems.

Authorities must remain vigilant to ensure the debris does not endanger vessels sailing in these waters. There is the possibility that Japanese sea life on the debris could propagate after coming ashore and seriously affect local ecosystems as alien species.

The government must put systems in place that can react promptly to every conceivable eventuality.

 

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