Nuclear Waste Disposal Site: Devise Ways to Broaden Understanding of Local Residents

Local consent is essential for the construction of a final disposal site for high-level waste generated from nuclear power generation. It is important to proceed steadily with the project while obtaining the understanding of a wide range of local residents.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan has released a draft report on the so-called literature survey it has conducted in the town of Suttsu and the village of Kamoenai, both in Hokkaido. The survey took more than three years to analyze academic papers and geological data, and concluded that both municipalities were potential candidate sites.

The literature survey is the first step in a process that is expected to take 20 years in total. It can be said that the process for selecting a site for building a disposal facility has reached a milestone.

Next comes the second stage, the preliminary investigation, which will involve actual boring and other work, before the process advances to the final stage, the detailed investigation. The process must be moved forward steadily, step by step.

Before the preliminary investigation can be started, the mayors of the two municipalities and the governor of Hokkaido will have to give their consent. However, Gov. Naomichi Suzuki has indicated he is opposed to proceeding to the next stage at this time.

It is hoped that the issue will be discussed calmly, taking into consideration communities’ visions for their futures and the importance of the project in the national energy policy.

In the draft report, while the entire area of Suttsu was considered a possible candidate site, only a portion of the southern end of Kamoenai was viewed as a potential site after locations that could be affected by volcanic activity were excluded. As the geological surveys progress, it is thought that the area suitable for a disposal site may narrow further.

From the perspective of selecting the most appropriate site, it is desirable that more municipalities besides the two would place bids to be candidate sites. Everyone in the country benefits from nuclear power generation. It is necessary to recognize that the construction of a disposal facility is an issue for more than just a few candidate municipalities for the site.

In Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, the city assembly last year expressed its willingness to host a disposal facility, but the mayor decided not to apply for a literature survey, citing, among other things, a lack of consensus among residents. Since then, no local government has declared a bid for the site.

The heavy pressure that heads of local governments face to make a decision may be one reason why municipalities have been hesitant to apply to host the facility. The central government must take the initiative by explaining the situation to municipalities across the country and increase the number of municipalities that are interested in bidding for the facility.

The last waste left over from nuclear fuel used at nuclear power plants would be enclosed in double- or triple layered containers and buried in strata more than 300 meters underground. This is a standard method recognized around the world, and construction sites have already been selected in Finland and Sweden.

It is imperative to deepen the public’s understanding of the safety of disposal facilities and the industrial development of the region, while sharing with them such background knowledge.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 16, 2024)