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ECONOMY > Energy

Radioactive waste may end up at bottom of sea

  • August 10, 2016
  • , Tokyo Shimbun , p. 2
  • Translation

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) adopted a draft measure on Tuesday to evaluate the suitability of a location as a disposal site for high-level radioactive waste, including spent fuel from nuclear reactors.


Because the radioactive waste will emit high-level radiation for an extended period of time, the government plans to mix the waste with melted glass and seal it in metal canisters to be buried more than 300 meters underground. Still, radioactive waste requires over 100,000 years of isolation, and is a cause of serious concern in a country where frequent earthquakes may pose a threat to locations designated as suitable for disposal.


According to the standard set by METI, a location that is within 15 km of a volcano, near an active fault, or on soft ground is an “area of low suitability.” Other areas are all “suitable areas,” the category that covers most of the country.


After considering social factors such as population density, METI will finalize and publish a map of Japan that shows areas determined as suitable for radioactive waste disposal by the end of the year. METI will then ask for the cooperation of municipalities that are interested in establishing disposal sites in their regions.


One notable aspect of the map is that areas formally designated as “suitable,” including ocean bed within 15 km from the shore, are labelled as “highly suitable”. Although disposal at the bottom of the sea is considered logistically easier, there is no precedent for constructing an underwater disposal site for highly radioactive nuclear waste. METI’s willingness to consider the ocean bed comes from the fact that it is essentially publicly owned land, and therefore does not cause a lot of legal problems in its utilization. The disposal site is expected to be two hundred times the size of Tokyo Dome.


One potential obstacle is that the entrance to the underwater disposal site must be built on the ground, necessitating an agreement with the local municipality. In the process, the plan will likely ignite opposition from local residents and fishery associations.


Some experts are bewildered that the government would consider the ocean bed as a suitable location for disposal of radioactive waste as it poses even more uncertainty than other places. (Abridged)

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