Japan seeks final resting place for highly radioactive nuclear waste — Deutsche Welle

” With communities refusing to come forward to host the by-product of Japan’s nuclear energy industry, the Japanese government is drawing up a map of the most suitable locations for underground repositories.

The Japanese government is putting the finishing touches to a map of the country identifying what its experts consider to be the safest location for a repository for 18,000 tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste for the next 100,000 years. The map is expected to be released next month and will coincide with the government holding a series of symposiums across the country designed to explain why the repository is needed and to win support for the project.

Given that the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in March 2011 is still fresh in the memory of the Japanese public, the government’s plan is not expected to win much understanding or support.

The original proposal for a repository for the waste from the nation’s nuclear energy sector was first put forward in 2002, but even then there were few communities that were willing to be associated with the dump. Fifteen years later, and with a number of Japan’s nuclear reactors closed down for good in the wake of the Fukushima accident, the need for a permanent storage site is more pressing than ever.

Radioactivity release

The disaster, in which a 13-meter tsunami triggered by an off-shore earthquake crippled four reactors at the plant and caused massive amounts of radioactivity to escape into the atmosphere, also underlined just how seismically unstable the Japanese archipelago is and the need for the repository to be completely safe for 100,000 years.

Aileen Mioko-Smith, an anti-nuclear campaigner with Kyoto-based Green Action Japan, does not believe the government can deliver that guarantee.

“You only have to look at what happened in 2011 to realize that nowhere in Japan is safe from this sort of natural disaster and it is crazy to think otherwise,” she told DW.

Given the degree of public hostility, Mioko-Smith believes that the government will fall back on the tried-and-trusted tactic of offering ever-increasing amounts of money until a community gives in.

Government funds

“They have been trying to get this plan of the ground for years and one thing they tried was to offer money to any town or village that agreed to even undergo a survey to see if their location was suitable,” she said.

“There were a number of mayors who accepted the proposal because they wanted the money – even though they had no intention of ever agreeing to host the storage site – but the backlash from their constituents was fast and it was furious,” Smith added.

“In every case, those mayors reversed their decisions and the government has got nowhere,” she said. “But I fear that means that sooner or later they are just going to make a decision on a site and order the community to accept it.”

The security requirements of the facility will be exacting, the government has stated, and the site will need to be at least 300 meters beneath the surface in a part of the country that is not subject to seismic activity from active faults or volcanoes. It must also be safe from the effects of erosion and away from oil and coal fields. Another consideration is access and sites within 20 km of the coast are preferred.

High-level waste

The facility will need to be able to hold 25,000 canisters of vitrified high-level waste, while more waste will be produced as the nation’s nuclear reactors are slowly brought back online after being mothballed since 2011 for extensive assessments of their safety and ability to withstand a natural disaster on the same scale as the magnitude-9 earthquake that struck Fukushima.

Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University, agrees that the government will have to pay to convince any community to host the facility.

“They will probably peddle it as subsidies for rural revitalization, which is a tactic that all governments use, but there are going to be some significant protests because Fukushima has created a nuclear allergy in most people in Japan,” he said.

“I expect that the government would also very much like to be able to phase out nuclear energy, but that is simply not realistic at the moment,” he said.

When it is released, the government’s list is likely to include places in Tohoku and Hokkaido as among the most suitable sites, because both are relatively less populated than central areas of the country and are in need of revitalization efforts. Parts of Tohoku close to the Fukushima plant may eventually be chosen because they are still heavily contaminated with radiation from the accident. ”

by Deutsche Welle

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Updated 4/20/2015: Kepco appeals injunction blocking restart of Takahama reactors; Fukui court forbids Takahama nuclear plant restart– The Japan Times

Posted April 20, 2015, The Japan Times, “Kepco appeals injunction blocking restart of Takahama reactors“:

” The operator of a Japanese nuclear plant whose restart was blocked this week by a court injunction said Friday it would appeal the ruling.

Kansai Electric Power has submitted “a motion of complaint to Fukui district court” over Tuesday’s injunction banning the refiring of the Takahama nuclear plant’s No. 3 and 4 reactors, a company spokesman said.

In its ruling, the court said the safety of the reactors at Takahama had not been proved, despite a green light from the Nuclear Regulation Authority, whose guidelines, the court said, were “too loose” and “lacking in rationality.”

“We genuinely regret that the court did not understand our argument,” the spokesman said, adding that the temporary court order “includes significant factual errors.”

Kepco also warned of huge economic damage if the reactors are not restarted.

The utility had been aiming to begin operating the facilities as early as November, but it cannot restart them unless the ban is removed or suspended. … ”

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Posted April 17, 2015, The Japan Times, “Takahama nuclear restart injunction polarizing“:

” A provisional injunction handed down Tuesday by the Fukui District Court against the restarting of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors is a boost to opponents of nuclear power, even as the decision draws criticism from senior politicians, nuclear regulators, Kepco, and pro-nuclear Japanese media.

A panel of three judges led by Hideaki Higuchi handed down a provisional injunction banning the restart of the two Takahama reactors, saying that the earthquake-risk prediction method used by the Nuclear Regulation Authority in approving the reactors’ restart was flawed.

“It is hard to find, for a nuclear power station that must be prepared for a remotely possible accident, the rationale for establishing a basic earthquake ground motion that is based upon the foundation of the image of a mean earthquake,” the ruling said.

“This signifies that basic earthquake ground motion has lost its reliability (as an assessment method) not only based upon the track record but also, logic.”

The text was welcomed widely by the anti-nuclear camp.

“The great thing about the Fukui court’s ruling is that it’s written in relatively easy-to-understand Japanese. The NRA and Kepco are saying they don’t understand the ruling, but the fact that they don’t understand is strange,” said Yuji Kano, a lawyer who supported those seeking the provisional injunction.

The question now is whether the decision will influence efforts to block the restart of reactors elsewhere.

Whether it becomes an important precedent rests on two factors, one political and one legal.

While not legally required, precedent demands that the utilities seek the “understanding” of local governments hosting the reactors before any restart. Fukui’s local governments are pro-nuclear and anxious to have the reactors restart for economic reasons, but some other localities greeted the news about the provisional injunction with more caution.

In Hokkaido, where Hokkaido Electric is seeking the restart the Tomari nuclear plant, Gov. Harumi Takahashi, who was re-elected on April 12 and has indicated she favored a restart, said Wednesday that she was now unsure if the Fukui decision would effect Tomari.

Those involved in seeking the provisional injunction of the Takahama reactors said Friday that they hoped the decision would spur local governments to think more seriously about evaluating the safety of nuclear plants in their midst rather than just waiting for experts in Tokyo to tell them what to do.

“Here in Kansai, the (seven prefecture, four city) Union of Kansai Governments has said that as far as the safety of nuclear reactors is concerned, not only specialists from the central government but also local safety specialists appointed by local governments should be relied upon to evaluate a broad range of issues like local evacuation plans and to talk about problems related to the overall safety issues affecting the restart of reactors,” said Hidenori Takahashi, one of those involved in seeking the court injunction.

But the legal issue starts with how other courts hearing appeals for provisional injunctions might rule. Tadashi Matsuda, also one of the nine plaintiffs, said he worries the Fukui court ruling could be the exception rather than the precedent.

“The Fukui court judge’s ruling was based on the people’s right to human dignity. But the government and probably most Japanese are living lives based on economic values, and making judgments based on economics,” he said.

“Even if we don’t want judges elsewhere to rule on reactor restarts based on economic values, there’s a possibility the results will be influenced by a priority on economics,” Matsuda said. ”

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Posted April 16, 2015, The Japan Times, “Nuclear watchdog hits out at injunction against restart of Takahama reactors“:

” The head of the nation’s nuclear watchdog said Wednesday a landmark court provisional injunction banning the restart of two atomic reactors was based on a judicial “misunderstanding” of basic facts.

“Although I haven’t studied it in detail, many things that are based on misunderstandings are written in the verdict,” Shunichi Tanaka told reporters, when asked about the court injunction that was issued on Tuesday.

“It is internationally recognized that our new regulatory regime is one of the strictest . . . but that was apparently not understood (by the judge),” the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) told reporters.

Tanaka’s damning comments came a day after a district court in Fukui Prefecture granted a temporary stop order in response to a bid by local residents to halt the restart of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama nuclear power plant.

That came after the NRA said last December that Takahama’s reactors met tougher safety standards introduced after a powerful earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011. … ”

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Posted April 15, 2015, The Japan Times, “Fukui court forbids Takahama nuclear plant restart”:

” Plans to bring Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 nuclear reactors back online were dealt a severe setback Tuesday when the Fukui District Court ordered that they not be restarted, citing safety concerns.

It marks the first time in Japan’s nearly half-century of commercial atomic power operations that a court has approved a provisional injunction against firing up reactors.

The decision comes despite the Nuclear Regulation Authority appraising the reactors against technical and safety criteria and clearing them for restart last November.

The provisional injunction, unlike civil suit rulings, took effect immediately and remains valid until it is suspended or a request for a stay of execution is approved. Kepco plans to appeal the order and request a stay of execution.

The injunction is expected to push back Kepco’s schedule — it originally envisaged restarting the reactors this November — but the longer term impact is unclear.

For Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, resuming nuclear power is key to domestic revitalization, particularly the success of his “Abenomics” policy mix.

In its ruling, the court challenged Kepco’s assertion that the reactors were safe. Presiding Judge Hideaki Higuchi, who in a regular lawsuit last year ruled that the Oi No. 3 and 4 units not be restarted, said Kepco had not shown evidence its earthquake simulation data, which were used to conduct the safety evaluation, could be relied upon.

“This ruling is a giant step for efforts to abolish nuclear power, and, in practice, stops the restart of the reactors,” said lawyers representing nine people seeking the injunction.

“I was not that surprised, as we had indications that the court would rule in our favor,” said Atsuko Nishimura, one of the nine.

Part of the reason for the lack of complete surprise was that Nishimura and those seeking the injunctions felt that Higuchi, at least, might be on their side. So did Kepco, which undertook legal efforts to remove him. Those attempts failed last week when a high court rejected an appeal to overturn a lower court’s dismissal of a move to unseat them.

In a statement, Kepco expressed regret over the decision but said it remained determined to restart the Takahama reactors.

“We’re preparing to file the necessary papers to get the injunction lifted at the earliest possible date and will make efforts to stress the safety of the reactors,” the utility said.

Pro-nuclear Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, who was elected to a fourth term on Sunday, had no comment on the ruling and only addressed the safety issue in a written statement.

“The government is pursuing the restart of those reactors whose safety has been confirmed by the NRA. Fukui will respond to the ruling by sufficiently confirming the central government’s and Kepco’s response, and by making safety the top priority,” Nishikawa said.

Kyoto-based anti-nuclear activist Aileen Mioko Smith said the ruling would likely have a huge political impact on restart plans elsewhere. But she added that she hoped the injunction will also influence nuclear safety policy at the NRA.

“The (injunction) ruling is a preventative measure. Seismologists have warned this area could see another big earthquake. To have an injunction will, hopefully, prevent another nuclear disaster like Fukushima, or worse,” she said. ”

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Subsidies for storing nuclear debris from Fukushima plant offered by Tokyo — South China Morning Post

” Running out of space to stockpile soil and water contaminated with radiation from the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in March 2011, the Japanese government is offering billions in subsidies for communities that agree to store the debris.

An environmental group says the “subsidies” are more akin to bribes and that communities approached by the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), the operator of the crippled facility, will feel obliged to agree.

Tokyo has offered to pay an annual subsidy of 301 billion yen (HK$22.8 billion) to the Fukushima prefectural government and the towns of Okuma and Futaba in return for permission to construct a temporary storage facility for 25.5 million cubic metres of soil and debris contaminated with radiation.

The government has committed to finding a permanent solution to dealing with the debris within 30 years, the amount of time that experts believe the two towns will be uninhabitable because of high levels of radiation.

An earlier plan to nationalise 16 sq km across the boundaries of the two towns to serve as a temporary dumping site had to be abandoned when residents objected out of concern that the location would eventually become the final disposal site.

Yesterday, Tepco began pumping up groundwater from beneath the Fukushima plant and storing it in tanks. The utility intends to test the radioactivity of the water and examine whether levels can be reduced.

If that can be achieved, Tepco has applied to the nuclear regulatory authorities to release the water into the Pacific Ocean, although local fishermen are expected to voice opposition. The government is likely to step in to provide additional subsidies to help sway the fishermen.

“Any community or organisation that receives these payments feels beholden to the government or Tepco, and that’s ironic because those are the very two entities that created this problem in the first place,” said Aileen Mioko-Smith, of Kyoto-based Green Action Japan.

The government’s attitude towards the issue was summed up in June, she pointed out, when Nobuteru Ishihara, the minister given the task of overseeing the recovery from the nuclear disaster, let slip that he considered finding a final storage space for the waste as merely a question of how much money the government offered local authorities.

“I was shocked that he was being so honest as to blurt out something like that,” said Mioko-Smith. “But that is their attitude; people will give in if they raise the amount high enough.”

In an editorial, the left-leaning Mainichi Shimbun called on the government “not to resort to money in settling the matter, but instead to explain repeatedly the necessity and safety of the storage facility and the future path of the host town so as to gain residents’ understanding”.

The paper noted the subsidies would come from higher taxes and higher electricity charges. “

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Japan’s anti-nuclear movement: Where’s the protest? — The Economist

” Across the rice-paddy fields from the Sendai nuclear plant, at the southern tip of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, Ryoko Torihara is battling to prevent two nuclear reactors being switched back on. She is in her 60s, and runs the local anti-nuclear association from her sitting room. That is a typical profile for the movement in Japan, which first gathered numbers in the 1960s. Her association has lacked the force to halt progress towards a restart of the reactors at Sendai, she admits. Sendai (with no relation to the tsunami-afflicted region in northern Japan) is set to become the first plant to start operations since the last of Japan’s nuclear fleet was shut down last autumn. The plant’s owner, Kyushu Electric, has dispatched a small army of around 80 public-relations staff to blitz local officials.

Another seasoned campaigner is Yoshitaka Mukohara, a book publisher who lost a race for governor of Kagoshima prefecture against the pro-nuclear incumbent in 2012, Yuichiro Ito. He won only half as many votes as Mr Ito. Even in the aftermath of the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in 2011, it proved impossible to win on an anti-nuclear platform when people wished to hear mainly about the government’s economic plans to better their livelihoods. One reason for the weakness of the movement in Kagoshima prefecture and beyond, Mr Mukohara says, is that its members are usually part-timers.

In Japan it took 15 months for mass anti-nuclear protests to emerge after the disaster of 2011, while thousands of miles away in Germany and elsewhere people took to the streets far sooner. When Japanese did mobilise, mainly in Tokyo, a large proportion were amateur protesters, including plenty of young mothers and unemployed youth. Their energy, and the size of rallies, diminished soon afterwards. Since then the anti-nuclear movement has largely failed to gain political traction. Its nadir came in February this year when not even the backing of Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s charismatic former prime minister, helped an anti-nuclear candidate win an election for governor of Tokyo. The movement has proven “stunningly ineffective”, says Jeff Kingston of Temple University in Tokyo.

There are some notable exceptions, such as Green Action, a Kyoto-based NGO. It is one of the few anti-nuclear organisations able to employ full-time professional staff. Aileen Mioko Smith, its director, says that the anti-nuclear movement has enjoyed a measure of success over the years. Local groups halted the construction of dozens of planned new reactors, including the Ashihama project in Mie prefecture, which was cancelled in 2000. Yet anti-nuclear groups have not managed effectively to lobby politicians or energy-industry leaders to shape government policy, she says, nor have they roused the general public to take action.

The fault may lie in the movement’s own structure. Eric Johnston, a journalist at the Japan Times, describes its elderly members as being out of touch with the media techniques of modern NGOs. Local groups in the regions are fragmented, parochial and suspicious of outsiders. They do not necessarily welcome the younger members who could bring fresh ideas. Potential recruits feel shut out by traditional groups’ seniority systems. And the movement is divided where it could be united. The organisations that demonstrate each year against nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain quiet on nuclear energy.

Anti-nuclear sentiment has made a strong impact in the politics of one prefecture, in addition to Fukushima itself. Last month, Taizo Mikazuki from the Democratic Party of Japan won an election for governor of Shiga prefecture after running a strongly anti-nuclear campaign. The public’s anger over the way in which Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, handled a change in national-security policy was crucial to his victory. But fears about more than a dozen reactors across the prefectural border in Fukui also played an important role. Polls of public opinion show that a consistent majority of Japanese, when asked, would prefer a total phase-out of nuclear power. With more modern and professional methods, the anti-nuclear movement might achieve more than it has. ”

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Aileen Mioko Smith on the Japanese reactor restarts — Corbett Report Interview

” The Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Agency is currently considering applications from eight different utilities companies to restart 17 of the nation’s 54 nuclear reactors, which have been taken offline in the wake of the Fukushima crisis. Today we talk to Aileen Mioko Smith of Green Action Japan about the anti-nuclear movement in Japan and their efforts to stop the reactor restarts from happening. ”

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