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Vietnam's Agent Orange cleanup enlists Japanese tech

Shimizu to build soil decontamination plant at polluted Bien Hoa air base

Danang air base, where the U.S. army stored the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, is one of many areas contaminated with toxins blamed for birth defects.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japanese engineering group Shimizu will work with Vietnam's military on an experimental plant that will decontaminate soil long polluted by the wartime defoliant Agent Orange.

The facility, to be built at Bien Hoa Air Base near Ho Chi Minh City, is supposed to remove more than 90% of dioxins from up to 40 tons of soil per hour. Materials for the plant will be imported from Japan, and Shimizu will bear the project costs.

Shimizu's technology has been used in Japan to clean soil pollutants from Toyosu, the new market that will house Tokyo's fish sellers when they move from Tsukiji later this year. The transfer faced repeated delays over the contamination.

Ground will be broken on the Vietnamese plant as soon as November. Testing is to begin in January and last three and a half months.

During the Vietnam War, American forces sprayed the countryside with defoliant to deny the Viet Cong cover and food supply. Of 28 areas with high concentrations of Agent Orange, the Bien Hoa Air Base, once used by the U.S. military, is believed to be one of the most contaminated spots, with around 850,000 tons of tainted soil.

The Vietnamese government, backed by financial aid from the U.S., aims to completely rid the country of Agent Orange pollution by 2030. The Defense Ministry is considering using Shimizu's technology, among other top candidates, for the task.

The other 30% of the soil that is not immediately reusable will be heated to high temperatures to burn off the contaminant. Shimizu's process costs about half as much as conventional incineration.

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