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No utility has any idea how to safely dispose of low-level waste

No utility has any idea how to safely dispose of low-level waste

February 16, 2018


All utilities lack disposal sites for low-level waste from reactors

By TSUNEO SASAI/ Staff Writer


Seven electric power companies that plan to decommission nuclear reactors have yet to secure disposal sites for the low-level radioactive waste produced in the dismantling process, an Asahi Shimbun survey showed on Feb. 16.


It may take years for the utilities to gain approval from local governments to dispose of the waste, some of which must remain buried for 100,000 years, meaning that the decommissioning work could be suspended.


Low-level radioactive waste generated during conventional operations of nuclear reactors can be buried at a disposal site of Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.


However, the electric power companies themselves must dispose of the low-level radioactive waste produced during decommissioning work.


The Asahi Shimbun asked 10 electric power companies, including Japan Atomic Power Co., about whether they have secured disposal sites for low-level radioactive waste.


Seven companies--Tokyo Electric Power Co., Chubu Electric Power Co., Kansai Electric Power Co., Chugoku Electric Power Co., Shikoku Electric Power Co., Kyushu Electric Power Co. and Japan Atomic Power--replied that they have not secured sites despite their plans to decommission reactors.


In total, they plan to decommission 17 reactors.


The demolition of a 1.1 gigawatt-class nuclear reactor produces more than 10,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste.


The three other companies--Hokkaido Electric Power Co., Tohoku Electric Power Co. and Hokuriku Electric Power Co.--also have not secured disposal sites, but they have no decommissioning plans at the moment.


“We are not considering decommissioning our nuclear reactors,” a Hokuriku Electric Power official said. “As of now, we have not yet decided on a plan to secure disposal sites.”


There are three categories of nuclear waste--L1, L2 and L3--depending on their radioactivity levels.


L1 waste, which has the highest radioactivity level and includes control rods, must be buried more than 70 meters deep into the ground for 300 to 400 years.


After that, the government manages the waste for 100,000 years.


The government is currently studying regulation standards for such waste.


Electric power companies decided to decommission some of their nuclear reactors after the March 2011 disaster unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.


Full-fledged decommissioning work is expected to start soon, but parts removed from the reactors have high radiation levels and cannot be placed temporarily in the compounds of nuclear power plants.


High-level radioactive waste is also produced as a result of the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. The government is looking for a disposal site for such waste.


Electric power companies could heighten their demands that the government get involved in efforts to secure disposal sites for low-level radioactive waste.


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