Two municipalities in Hokkaido have expressed their intentions to be candidate sites for a final repository of high-level radioactive waste. The government has to narrow down the most suitable place while deepening local understanding.
The first name to emerge was the town of Suttsu. Earlier this month, the mayor submitted application documents to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO), which is in charge of constructing the disposal facility. The neighboring village of Kamoenai followed suit in response to requests from the central government.
A final repository is a facility where nuclear waste generated by nuclear power plants is buried underground. It is significant that the selection process for candidate locations, which had been at a longstanding impasse, has taken a step forward.
Over the next two years, local governments that have submitted their applications will be screened for suitability as candidate sites based on documents and data. That will be followed by soil excavation and a geological examination, and then underground facilities will be constructed to confirm the stability of the ground. The series of surveying procedures will take 20 years.
Nuclear waste to be disposed of should be stored in double- or triple-layered containers and isolated at a depth of more than 300 meters underground. An administrative building will be set up on the surface to manage the facility and the loading of waste into it. It is considered to be the safest and most reliable disposal method at present, and has been adopted in various countries.
Still, there will be questions and concerns among local residents. It is important for the government and NUMO to utilize the long time it takes to carry out the survey to meticulously explain the safety and necessity of the repository.
To take case of Sweden as an example, eight candidate sites were finally narrowed down to one, leading to a final decision on the building site. In the process, the authorities stationed officials in the locality and dialogue meetings were held repeatedly to build trust.
With regard to the selection of candidate sites, the town of Toyo, Kochi Prefecture, became the first to file an application in 2007. However, fierce protests arose, and the town was immediately forced to retract the application. In Suttsu, there was an arson attack against the mayor’s house. Discussions must be held in a calm manner.
In Hokkaido, there are other areas where residents wish to apply. There are a number of suitable places in the country where there are no volcanoes or active faults. It is advisable to choose the most suitable site, one that meets conditions best among various candidate sites.
Municipalities that accepted the first phase of the survey will receive up to ¥2 billion in subsidies. Local governments that have applied are suffering from depopulation and financial difficulties. They must think of the future of their communities in taking this opportunity.
Countries with nuclear power plants always need repositories. This will not change even if a country becomes a non-nuclear power nation in the future. The construction of the repository will be completed 30 years from now. The central government should also make efforts to help the national public understand the gravity of the role of the local government that accepts nuclear waste.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 20, 2020.