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



Nuclear restart highlights government dilemma over lack of waste disposal sites — The Japan Times

” With an unpopular return to nuclear power generation, Japan can no longer ignore the elephant in the room: where is the country’s highly radioactive nuclear waste going?

The reboot Tuesday of a reactor at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture comes as the government struggles to find a final disposal site for high-level nuclear waste.

Currently, around 17,000 tons is sitting in temporary storage pools across the country, and the restart means the generation of even more.

Spent fuel pools at some nuclear plants will reach their capacity in as soon as three years.

A spokeswoman at Kyushu Electric said the Sendai plant’s storage pools “still have enough room,” suggesting the utility is not planning to immediately take further measures. But they are expected to become full in roughly 11 years, according to official data.

International concerns are also growing over the increase in Japan’s possession of plutonium due to its potential for falling into the wrong hands and being used to make nuclear weapons. As of the end of 2014, Japan had 47.8 tons of plutonium, up 0.7 tons from a year earlier.

Under Japan’s nuclear fuel recycle policy, plutonium extracted by reprocessing conventional uranium fuel is consumed by reactors in the form of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel, known as MOX. But its feasibility remains uncertain, given public concerns after the Fukushima disaster.

Currently, the government plans to store nuclear waste at a final repository more than 300 meters underground. It would sit there for up to 100,000 years until radiation levels fall low enough and there is no harm to the environment.

In 2002, the government-backed Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan began soliciting local governments to host a disposal site, touting economic benefits such as subsidies and jobs.

The process faced a setback in 2007, though, when the town of Toyo, Kochi Prefecture, withdrew after applying for screening as a candidate site. The mayor left office after losing the election he had called to let people judge his plan to host a disposal facility. His successor called it off.

Having waited in vain for volunteers to emerge, the government changed its basic policy. In May, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe introduced a scheme allowing the government to choose candidate sites based on scientific grounds, including resistance to earthquakes.

The move also indicates the pro-nuclear government wants to show it is more actively engaged in addressing the issue, as public criticism has increased over the rush to restart reactors idled following the Fukushima disaster without a solution to the waste problem.

Industry observers say, however, the issue is unlikely to be resolved smoothly, especially amid heightened safety concerns among the public.

“In a situation where trust between the public and the nuclear industry has collapsed, it will be extremely difficult to gain support from people” for the government’s plan to nominate suitable sites, the Science Council of Japan, a representative body of scientists, said in its policy proposals released in April.

Finland is constructing the world’s first permanent disposal site for high-level radioactive waste in Olkiluoto with plans to operating it around 2020.

Many other countries with nuclear plants are still searching for potential locations. In the United States, a plan to build a disposal site in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain was canceled in 2009 due to local opposition.

Hideyuki Ban, co-director of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, said finding a location to build a disposal site in Japan is even more difficult than in other countries due to the public’s sensitivity to nuclear power given the Fukushima crisis.

“For now, there is no national consensus at all on what to do with nuclear power generation down the road,” Ban said. “As the majority of people oppose nuclear power, surely there will be a backlash” against the government’s plan.

Since May, the government has been briefing municipalities on how it selects candidate sites.

Such meetings have been held in all 47 prefectures except Fukushima, but officials from some communities refused to take part out of fear their attendance might be considered a sign of their intention to accept a disposal site.

Questions have also arisen over the transparency of the process.

The central government held all of those briefings behind closed doors — without informing local residents of when and where they were held. That prompted some towns to boycott the meetings.

The government tried to justify the move by saying it was necessary to promote honest discussions.

“We were concerned that municipalities might not attend the meetings if we made it open to everyone, fearing that they might be mistaken for being interested in (hosting a final disposal site),” said Takuya Watanabe, deputy director at the industry ministry’s radioactive waste management policy division. “We will consider making them open next time.”

Ban, however, said it was “an extremely lame handling” by the government, adding that “transparency and fairness are the essential conditions if the government wants to achieve some sort of consensus.”

The government has said resolving the issue of where to locate a disposal facility is “the current generation’s responsibility.”

Nevertheless, it has so far failed to indicate any specific time frame, leaving the outlook for the project unclear. ”