Tag Archives: nuclear lobby Japan

Lots of Money Forever for Waste that Lasts for Forever: Nuclear Waste in Japan

Since August 2020, two local governments on the western shore of Hokkaido in Japan have said they will apply to the central government for a survey that could eventually lead to their municipalities hosting a permanent underground repository for high-level radioactive waste. The fact that these two localities made their announcements about a month apart and are situated not far from each other was enough to attract more than the usual media attention, which revealed not only the straitened financial situations of the two areas, but also the muddled official policy regarding waste produced by the country’s nuclear power plants.

The respective populations of the two municipalities reacted differently. The town of Suttsu made its announcement in August 2020, or, at least, its 71-year-old mayor did, apparently without first gaining the understanding of his constituents, who, according to various media, are opposed to the plan…. Meanwhile, the mayor of the village of Kamoenai says he also wants to apply for the study after the local chamber of commerce urged the village assembly to do so in early September 2020. TBS asked residents about the matter and they seemed genuinely in favor of the study because of the village’s fiscal situation. Traditionally, the area gets by on fishing — namely, herring and salmon — which has been in decline for years. A local government whose application for the survey is approved will receive up to ¥2 billion in subsidies from the central government… Kamoenai, already receiving subsidies for nuclear-related matters. The village is 10 kilometers from the Tomari nuclear power plant, where some residents of Kamoenai work. In exchange for allowing the construction of the plant, the village now receives about ¥80 million a year, a sum that accounts for 15 percent of its budget. According to TBS, Kamoenai increasingly relies on that money as time goes by, since its population has declined by more than half over the past 40 years.

Since Japan’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization started soliciting local governments for possible waste storage sites in 2002, a few localities have expressed interest, but only one — the town of Toyo in Kochi Prefecture — has actually applied, and then the residents elected a new mayor who canceled the application. The residents’ concern was understandable: The waste in question can remain radioactive for up to 100,000 years.

The selection process also takes a long time. The first phase survey, which uses existing data to study geological attributes of the given area, requires about two years. If all parties agree to continue, the second phase survey, in which geological samples are taken, takes up to four years. The final survey phase, in which a makeshift underground facility is built, takes around 14 years. And that’s all before construction of the actual repository begins.

Neither Suttsu nor Kamoenai may make it past the first stage. Yugo Ono, an honorary geology professor at Hokkaido University, told the magazine Aera that Suttsu is located relatively close to a convergence of faults that caused a major earthquake in 2018. And Kamoenai is already considered inappropriate for a repository on a map drawn up by the trade ministry in 2017.

If the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s process for selecting a site sounds arbitrary, it could reflect the government’s general attitude toward future plans for nuclear power, which is still considered national policy, despite the fact that only three reactors nationwide are online.

Japan’s spent fuel is being stored in cooling pools at 17 nuclear plants comprising a storage capacity of 21,400 tons. As of March 2020, 75 percent of that capacity was being used, so there is still some time to find a final resting place for the waste. Some of this spent fuel was supposed to be recycled at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant in Aomori Prefecture, but, due to numerous setbacks, it doesn’t look as if it’s ever going to open, so the fuel will just become hazardous garbage.

According to some, the individual private nuclear plants should be required to manage their own waste themselves. If they don’t have the capacity, then they should create more. It’s wrong to bury the waste 300 meters underground because many things can happen over the course of future millennia. The waste should be in a safe place on the surface, where it can be readily monitored.  However, that would require lots of money virtually forever, something the government would prefer not to think about, much less explain. Instead, they’ve made plans that allow them to kick the can down the road for as long as possible.

Excerpt from PHILIP BRASOR, Hokkaido municipalities gamble on a nuclear future, but at what cost? Japan Times, Oct. 24, 2020

The Nuclear Village in Japan

After an earthquake and tsunami created a creeping nuclear catastrophe two years ago the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) said it would get the country out of nuclear energy by 2040. Although it quickly backtracked, almost all of Japan’s 50 commercial reactors are still lying idle.

In February this year (2013), Shinzo Abe, leader of the then incoming Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said the new government would restart reactors after they passed a forthcoming set of new safety tests. The country’s “nuclear village”, a cosy bunch from industry and government, cheered. But now the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is starting to alarm the public once more. On April 15th, 2013 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN body, flew in to investigate a series of dangerous incidents.

A power outage in March (2013) left four underground pools that store thousands of the plant’s nuclear fuel rods without fresh cooling water for several hours. A rat, it later emerged, had gnawed through a cable. Workmen laying down rat-proof netting caused another outage. Then this month regulators discovered that thousands of gallons of radioactive water had seeped into the ground; the plant’s operator had installed a jerry-rigged system of plastic sheeting, which sprang leaks. The quantity of contaminated water has become a crisis in its own right, the manager has admitted. And now the pipes used to transfer water to safer storage containers are leaking too.

Experts who examined the causes of the 2011 catastrophe reckon the LDP has paid too little attention to what went wrong. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the chairman of a parliamentary investigation, says the country may be moving “too hastily back towards nuclear power, without fully regaining the trust of the Japanese public and the international community”. Yoichi Funabashi, a former editor of Asahi Shimbun newspaper who headed a private-sector investigation, says it is unfortunate that the 2012 election, which brought the LDP back to office, did not include a proper debate about the future of nuclear energy.

Now the set of policies known as “Abenomics” is making a return to nuclear power ever more pressing. The LDP is expected to push hard to restart plants if it wins a crucial election for the upper house of parliament this summer. Mr Abe’s focus on the economy has given greater say to the voice of business, including the big utilities whose plants are idle. Smaller firms clamour for cheaper power too.

Japan’s broader economic future may be at stake… [the deterioration of  overall current-account balance]  could affect Japan’s ability to keep funding its huge public debt domestically. A big cause is the cost of energy imported to fill the gap left by nuclear power. A weaker yen, the result of the central bank’s radical loosening of monetary policy, is further pushing up the price of imported oil and gas…[T]he public is still afraid of nuclear power. A nationwide poll  in February 2013 found that around 70% of respondents wanted either to phase out all the plants, or to shut them down immediately. Opposition is likely to be strongest at the local level, as regions move to switch their reactors back on. This week an Osaka court ruled on a suit brought by local residents to have Japan’s only two operating reactors, at the Oi plant in Fukui prefecture, shut down. They lost, but their suit looks like only the first of many battles

Japan’s nuclear future: Don’t look now, Economist, Apr. 20, 2013, at 44.