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Consumers must also accept to deal with the waste

 December 2, 2013


Japan Political Pulse: Disposal of nuclear waste should fall to biggest consumers of power



Shigeru Ishiba, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has declared that the government will propose a suitable site for a final disposal site for spent nuclear fuel on its own responsibility. Perhaps this move could be seen as a result of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's calls for the elimination of nuclear power.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO), capitalized mainly by electric power companies, has been soliciting local governments to host such a facility for more than 10 years, but none of them has come forward so far.

It is natural for people to demand more power but want others to accept radioactive waste. The site for a radioactive disposal facility could never be determined if NUMO is to continue asking local bodies to accept spent nuclear fuel in such a lukewarm way.

Such being the case, there is no choice but to rely on smaller facilities to dispose of spent nuclear fuel throughout the nation instead of asking a certain region to accept all of such waste generated across the country, regardless of whether the national government will play a leading role in selecting sites for such facilities.

A half century ago, novelist Shinichi Hoshi (1926-97) predicted such a dilemma for a society dependent on nuclear power in "Oi detekoi" ("Hey, come out"), one of his best short-short stories:

After a typhoon passes, a deep hole appears in the remains of a Shinto shrine in the outskirt of a village that was devastated by a landslide. A villager shouts, "Hey, come out," but nobody responds. He throws a stone into the hole but hears no sound. When villagers are about to bury the hole, which they feel is creepy, a spoiler buys the hole and converts it into a waste disposal site. A nuclear power plant operator pays a large amount of money to the spoiler to dump radioactive waste into the hole while a bureaucrat in the central government discards classified documents at the site.

The hole gives city dwellers a sense of security because people in urban areas are enthusiastic only about the mass-production of nuclear power but nobody is willing to consider ways to clear up the mess resulting from the mass-production of nuclear power.

One day, a construction worker taking a break on a steel frame he is building hears the words, "Hey, come out." He looks up but can see only blue sky. He thinks his ears are playing tricks on him, but a stone is dropped from the direction where he heard the voice. However, he fails to notice the stone as he was absorbed in the beautiful sky above the city.

This work has long been interpreted as a satire on civilization centering on the mass-production of nuclear power as well as environmental contamination. Since Japan experienced the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis on March 11, 2011, however, the work could also be read as a parable that predicted the arrival of a society relying on nuclear power and its subsequent failure.

The theme of the novel is the "natural results of one's deeds" and "punitive justice." It was released in 1958 when Japan still did not have a single atomic power station; the No. 1 reactor of the crisis-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant began operations in 1971. The hometown of the novelist happens to be the Nakoso district of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, which is within a 100-kilometer zone from the nuclear plant.

The Nov. 28 edition of the Asahi Shimbun national daily carried a letter from a reader that calls on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is promoting the export of nuclear plants, and Hiroyuki Hosoda, head of the LDP's panel that promotes a stable supply of electric power, to build final disposal sites for radioactive waste in their own constituencies.

This may appear to some people an absurd opinion, but it is not. Of course, it would be unfair to force Yamaguchi Prefecture, where Abe has been elected, and Shimane Prefecture, where Hosoda's constituency is located, to host all such disposal sites. However, nothing can be called a sound view if the reader's opinion urging top politicians to take the lead in setting good examples for breaking the deadlock over selecting a final disposal site were not regarded as a reasonable request.

A petition based on a similar idea circulated in the political world in 2011. It proposed that all the nation's 47 prefectures be obligated to accept and store spent nuclear fuel but that they be allowed to trade in disposal quotas, just like transactions in greenhouse gas emission quotas. However, the government then led by the Democratic Party of Japan did not take up the proposal and a government official who wrote the petition has subsequently left the bureaucracy.

This rational reasoning was ignored because of the illusion that radioactive waste can be dumped around the Fukushima nuclear plant, as well as Mongolia or Siberia, among other locations. It would be risky if Japan is to promote the export of nuclear plants without casting off this illusion.

Japan must show the world a 21st century example in which those who consume massive amounts of electric power must accept highly toxic waste left as a result of generating such power. (By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)

December 02, 2013(Mainichi Japan)


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