Nuclear Waste Disposal Site: Genkai Decision for Literature Survey Should Lead to National Discussion

A final disposal site for high-level radioactive waste generated by nuclear power plants is an essential facility for any country that uses nuclear power. It is important to expand discussions for selecting the site nationwide, rather than making it an issue for specific local areas.

Mayor Shintaro Wakiyama of Genkai, Saga Prefecture, where Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai nuclear power plant is located, has announced the town’s intention to allow a literature survey to be conducted for the selection of a final disposal site. This is the third municipality to announce its acceptance of a literature survey following the town of Suttsu and the village of Kamoenai, both in Hokkaido, and it is the first municipality that hosts a nuclear power plant to do so.

The mayor had previously been negative about accepting the survey, but the town assembly adopted by a majority vote the petitions of three groups in the town requesting to apply for the survey, and the mayor changed tack. The mayor must have made his decision after careful consideration and out of respect for the will of the town’s residents.

Municipalities that decide to allow a literature survey to be conducted will receive a grant of up to ¥2 billion from the central government. However, the town of Genkai has a firm fiscal base, and the mayor has emphasized that the decision is not for the purpose of receiving funds and that he hopes the move will be a step toward stimulating national debate on the issue.

The disposal site should be chosen from among many candidate sites. It is hoped that Genkai’s acceptance will deepen discussions, and that a fourth and fifth municipality will follow suit.

Some residents of Genkai, which already hosts a nuclear power plant, have reportedly said that they cannot accept the additional burden. On the other hand, as residents of a nuclear-plant-hosting municipality, it may be easier for them to understand the significance of constructing a disposal site.

The central government had also sought for Genkai to approve a literature survey of the town, and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Ken Saito met with the mayor. This can be said to be a significant step, both in clarifying the central government’s responsibility for the construction of the final disposal site and in supporting the mayor’s decision to accept the survey.

However, Genkai is not necessarily the most suitable site. Because of its small size and the existence of underground coal fields, most of the town is classified as an “area assumed to be unfavorable” on the government’s scientific features map, which designates an area’s suitability as a disposal site.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO), which is responsible for the construction of the disposal site, should carefully assess, through the literature survey to be conducted, whether sufficient land for construction can be secured.

The construction of the disposal site is a critical project related to the nation’s energy policy. The government must take the lead in deepening the understanding of the public, both in Saga Prefecture and the nation as whole.

Sweden, which has already decided its own construction site, had selected it from a list of eight candidate sites. The key to success when deciding the site was reportedly to dispel the impression that it would be a nuclear waste dump and to spread awareness among local residents that an industrial area where advanced technologies will be concentrated would be built there.

The construction of the disposal site would also have the impact of developing the local area and creating jobs. It is important to share such visions of the future with the local residents.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 14, 2024)