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What about nuclear waste?

November 28, 2012



Municipalities concerned about spent nuclear fuel



In an NHK survey, nearly half of all municipalities in Japan hosting nuclear power plants or storing spent fuel say current safety measures are inadequate.

The survey in October included 34 municipalities. Concern about potential radiation leaks has increased since the March 2011 disaster damaged nuclear fuel storage pools at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Fifteen municipalities surveyed said the current safety measures are inadequate. They said they had asked power utilities and storage site operators to take new steps to make facilities earthquake-proof and improve cooling systems.

Ten municipalities said they want spent fuel storage facilities immediately removed from their jurisdictions.
Another 11 said storage for a certain period is unavoidable.

13 municipalities said they could not respond to the survey. One asked the central government to take responsibility. Another urged that discussions include the municipalities that consume nuclear-generated electricity.

Spent nuclear fuel is stored across the country under a government recycling program. All of the spent fuel is taken to a plant at Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture, northeastern Japan, for reprocessing. But the plant has not been operating at capacity.

As a result, 14,400 tons of the more than 17,000 tons of spent fuel currently stored remain in pools at nuclear plants nationwide. Those plants are now at 70 percent of their storage capacity.

New energy policies announced by the government in September pledged to move the country away from reliance on nuclear power generation in the future, while maintaining nuclear fuel recycling.

In Fukui Prefecture, central Japan, Tsuruga City Mayor Kazuharu Kawase says he wants temporary storage and disposal sites for spent fuel built immediately.

In Ibaraki Prefecture, north of Tokyo, Tokai Village chief Tatsuya Murakami says nuclear fuel recycling has not seen progress in 50 years despite predictions. He said it is wrong to cling to a policy that is not feasible.

Murakami said the current plan to bring all spent fuel in the country to Aomori Prefecture may not be feasible. He said it is more practical to keep the spent fuel at the power plants that used it.




November 27, 2012


Prefectures not positive about nuclear disposal



An NHK survey shows that none of Japan's prefectural governments is positive about hosting a disposal site for nuclear waste generated at power plants.

NHK asked Japan's 47 prefectures last month about a possible proposal by the state government to conduct preliminary surveys for developing such a site.

None of the governments said they would examine the proposal, while 17 said they should never accept it. 30 did not respond.

Some prefectures that responded negatively said a safe method of disposal has not been decided.

Akita Prefectural Governor Norihisa Satake said the state government hasn't even shown whether nuclear waste will be brought to one site or more. He added that the government should ensure the safety of nuclear waste disposal in a country with frequent earthquakes.

Eight of the 30 prefectures that didn't answer said the state, not local governments, should be responsible for choosing a disposal site location.

Japanese law says highly radioactive nuclear waste should be buried more than 300 meters underground. But the government has not chosen a disposal site nearly 50 years after nuclear power plants started operating in the country, due to strong local opposition to preliminary surveys.

Commission recommends revising disposal plans for dangerous nuclear plant waste



The Cabinet Office's Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) on Nov. 27 submitted a draft proposal to the government suggesting that plans to "semi-permanently" bury highly radioactive nuclear power plant waste underground be revised in favor of an approach allowing the waste to be retrieved in the future.

Under current plans, highly radioactive nuclear waste that remains after reprocessing spent nuclear fuel is supposed to be solidified with glass and then cooled aboveground for 30 to 50 years before being inserted into metal containers to be stored some 300 meters or more below the ground's surface for tens of thousands of years.

The JAEC, however, says that current plans do not properly reflect the latest scientific expertise or make an effort to achieve a shared awareness with the public on the issue.

Citing difficulties in guaranteeing the stability of geological layers tens of thousands of years into the future and the possibility of more stable disposal areas and better disposal methods being discovered in the future, the JAEC proposal says the government should evaluate the necessity and significance of making it possible to retrieve such waste in the future.

Under the current approach, it will remain possible to retrieve and transport highly radioactive nuclear waste for several decades before tunnels are blocked off, but government plans have made no mention of this.

In its proposal, the JAEC recommended that the government specify the total amount of high-level radioactive waste that will be produced if it goes ahead with energy and environmental reforms limiting the life of nuclear reactors to 40 years and banning new reactors. It did not propose restrictions that specify the total amount of waste produced in advance to restrict the operation of nuclear power plants and nuclear reprocessing facilities.

From 2002, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan has called for local bodies to host nuclear waste disposal facilities, but there have been no applications besides one from the Kochi Prefecture town of Toyo in 2006 (which was later retracted). Even literature-based research has failed to move forward. No country in the world has actually started disposing of high-level radioactive waste underground.

Yaita residents angry over government's radioactive disposal site proposal



YAITA, Tochigi -- As opposition candidates vying for lower house seats in the upcoming election criticize the national government's proposal to designate this city as the final disposal site of highly radioactive waste created by the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster without local approval, regional voters are growing increasingly impatient, as the opposition has not been able to offer any alternative solutions.

Delegations of five to 10 people each from the Social Democratic Party (SDP), New Komeito, Your Party and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) visited the proposed disposal sites in Yaita between mid-October and late November -- around the time the lower house was dissolved. Serving as their guide was Yaita Agricultural Cooperative Association staff member Toshiyuki Onozaki, 63, who heads All Yaita, an alliance of about 80 civic organizations including the local chamber of commerce, that are seeking the government's retraction of Yaita's disposal site candidacy.

It was in early September that then Vice Environment Minister Katsuhiko Yokomitsu visited Yaita City Hall and revealed the government's proposal to designate a national forest in the city as the final disposal site of radioactive waste with concentrations of over 8,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram generated in Tochigi Prefecture. The national government had deemed the site "appropriate" because there was only one private home in close proximity, and there would be little impact on the ecosystem. Taken by surprise, Yaita Mayor Tadashi Endo rejected the proposal on the spot.

There are approximately 75 households in Yaita's Shioda district where the proposed site is located. Freshwater crab, trout and loach live in the nearby Yaname River, and the local elementary schools use the forest to teach students about nature. Onozaki, too, was born and raised in this district, where now, red banners saying, "No to the disposal site," are seen everywhere.

Senior opposition party officials have visited the site and criticized the government in front of television cameras with comments like, "It's wrong that residents' lives have been ignored in making this decision," and "The Environment Ministry's selection standards are half-baked."

"We're looking for the proposal to be retracted after the lower house elections, and really hope that it will happen," Onozaki says. However, because of the vast number of parties that are contesting the election, there are fears the disposal site issue will be largely swayed by the new administration's framework.

Meanwhile, Shikio Nagai, 72, who lives in the one private home in close proximity to the proposed site, says his wife inherited the land. He moves back and forth between his house located approximately 300 meters from the proposed disposal site and another home in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, but he had been planning to move to Yaita full-time next spring.

"The government is trying to force the disposal site on us without resolving whose responsibility it is that the waste was created in the first place," Nagai says. "I hope the proposal is taken back, but the opposition parties have not yet come up with any specific alternative solutions, either."

A citizens' alliance has also been formed in the Ibaraki Prefecture city of Takahagi, which was selected as a candidate site for radioactive waste generated in the prefecture. Mayors of both Yaita and Takahagi signed a joint agreement Nov. 9 seeking a retraction of the government's disposal site proposals. An outdoor rally is set to be held in Yaita on Dec. 2, with organizers hoping to mobilize 10,000 participants.


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