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The Gargantuan Task: Cleaning Up After Japan's Earthquake

Updated on June 27, 2011

Japan is being hit yet again. As if the tsunami and earthquake in March has been not enough, now the task of clean up is just as bad with tons and mega-tons of debris that needs to be dealt with. Just the task of sorting through the wood, metal, chemicals, plastic, concrete, is mind boggling because the devastation was so vast.

Japan estimates that 25 million tons of it must be collected and sorted for proper disposal before they can even begin rebuilding cities and towns. They also estimate that the cost will run almost $9,000,000,000 (9 billion) and take at least three years if they are lucky. The volume of the debris is so massive and endless no one really knows how it will or will not work out. The another massive problem once the debris is sorted is what to do with it. Japan lacks the space to discard it in its current landfill sites. If they burn it, the chemicals will go into the atmosphere. The debris is equal to more than 10 years of normal waste. Handling the nuclear contaminated land and water is still a huge concern. It complicates the recovery tenfold.

The city of Iwate is using a kiln to burn much of the million tons of debris and is able to process 10 tons daily with a high capacity of 300 tons. The kilns turn most everything into ash. Tons of ash! That is the next problem. Since there was a tsunami, much of the debris contains salt causing a whole new set of problems. If the ash content is low in salt, it can be used to make concrete, if not, it is not useful at all. Iwate is trying to recycle the thousands of metal cars and beams that the tsunami crunched. They need 740 acres just to store the debris but they have only 320. Just sorting the debris and little more will take at least two years because of the acres of smashed cars and buildings.

There are simply acres and acres of semi-sorted debris, all metal here, all rubber there, all wood way over there.and so on. All the estimates are mere guesses. Nobody knows because it is so staggering. However, it is safe to say at least four years!


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