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Editorial: Cool heads must prevail in talks over final disposal site for nuclear waste

  • August 21, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 6:58 p.m.
  • English Press

Finding a final disposal site for high-level radioactive waste is an unavoidable issue for a nation that is pressing ahead with nuclear power generation. Rather than leaving this problem up to future generations to resolve, a way should be found to get construction of such a facility started.


The town of Suttsu in Hokkaido is considering putting its name forward as a candidate site for a final disposal facility. If Suttsu does apply, the government and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan will start research based on documents, data and other materials. This would start the wheels turning on selection of a candidate site — a matter on which there has been no progress for years.


Although some nuclear fuel used at nuclear power plants can be reused, the waste that remains is stored in metal containers. The fuel emits heat and radiation, so the containers will be buried in a stable geological stratum to isolate it. This disposal method, which ensures the waste will be safely stored into the future, also has been adopted overseas.


Japan needs a final disposal facility. This is because once nuclear plants are put into operation, there will still be spent nuclear fuel even if the nation one day abandons nuclear power.


However, choosing a disposal facility site has run into difficulties due to reasons including opposition from local residents. Only a few nations, such as Finland, have actually reached the point of deciding the site for constructing a disposal facility. This can be considered a problem that each nation must face up to.


In 2017, the government released a “scientific characteristic map” indicating areas that have suitable geological conditions to host such a facility. A primary precondition is that the area must not be close to a volcano or active fault. Nuclear waste will be transported to the site by ship, so an area near a port is preferable.


The map showed land suitable for the facility spread across plains all over Japan. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama has revealed that other municipalities also are considering filing applications. It is vital that the multiple options are calmly narrowed down to find the most suitable construction site.


In 2007, years before the map was compiled, the town of Toyo, Kochi Prefecture, was floated as a candidate site. The idea collapsed without in-depth discussion after the prefectural governor bristled at the plan and an opposition movement grew in strength. Such a debacle must not be repeated.


A local government that signs up for the survey can receive state subsidies of up to ¥2 billion, even if it ultimately is not chosen to host the facility. Ideally, local governments would take a positive approach based on the future outlook they have drawn up for themselves, rather than being pushed by the central government.


The research will take about two years. After that, a boring survey and other steps will be taken during the next phase of the process. Once the survey starts, the local government can change its mind at any point.


The government must repeatedly and attentively hold dialogue with residents to explain the importance and safety of the final disposal facility.


The area selected to host the facility likely will receive benefits, including the development of ports and roads and the creation of jobs. This huge project will take several decades to complete, so it requires understanding and support from a broad range of affected parties. It is vital that the entire nation takes an interest in this issue.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 21, 2020.

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