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Japan should consider shifting to direct disposal of nuclear waste

Vitrified radioactive waste in the storage facility at Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture

February 20, 2023

The Kishida administration has unveiled a policy initiative to deal with high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants through “united government-wide” efforts.

The government plans to step up its efforts to find a local government willing to host a final disposal site for nuclear waste. The government should naturally assume the responsibility of dealing with this problem, but it should not pressure local governments to host a disposal facility.

According to the draft revision to the basic policy for tackling the problem, which was announced earlier in February, the government will set up a “council for discussions” with interested local governments to discuss the challenges  and possible policy responses.

Based on these talks, the national government will propose in stages to local administrations to accept a survey for a disposal site.

Under the current basic policy, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry published in 2017 a map of the nation showing potential areas for locating a deep geological disposal site. At this site, spent fuel would be buried in engineered facilities 300 or more meters below ground level.

The initial phase of assessing two municipalities in Hokkaido for their suitability to host such a disposal facility began three years ago. The first stage of the process, called “bunken chosa” (literature survey), involves reviews of geological maps and research papers concerning local volcanic and seismic hazards and other related factors.

No other municipalities have yet to volunteer for undertaking this process.

High-level radioactive waste from spent nuclear fuel, however, is not the only kind of nuclear waste that must be disposed of. Other types of nuclear waste include materials from decommissioned reactors and melted “fuel debris” from the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which has been left untreated.

One inconvenient fact for supporters of nuclear power generation is that no solution has been found as to where all these kinds of nuclear waste should be disposed of.

At nuclear power plants across the nation, growing amounts of spent nuclear fuel are fast filling up the spent fuel pools within the premises, with not much room left. Operating nuclear plants will eventually start generating spent fuel that cannot be stored anywhere.

The government’s move to accelerate its program to build a final disposal site is aimed at defusing criticism about its policy shift toward expanding nuclear power generation by signaling a willingness to tackle these policy challenges.

Since there is already a large amount of spent nuclear fuel, a disposal site is clearly necessary. A broad consensus on the issue should be built through debate involving the entire nation, including citizens of major cities who consume huge amounts of electricity.

It would be better for such a debate to be held at an independent organization that is separated from the industry ministry, which promotes the use of atomic energy. The law for regulating measures related to the final disposal of radioactive waste should be reviewed for necessary revisions.

Since Article 1 of the law refers to the “proper use of nuclear power,” the construction of a final disposal facility could justify the long-term use of nuclear power.

That would mean nuclear plants will keep producing spent fuel for decades to come. This prospect will make local communities that may host the disposal facility concerned about the possibility that radioactive waste may be brought to the site without end.

The law is based on the assumption that a nuclear fuel reprocessing system to recover plutonium and uranium from spent nuclear fuel to be reused in reactors will be established.

Northern Europe and many other countries with an advanced program to deal with radioactive waste have adopted the approach known as direct disposal, a management strategy where used nuclear fuel is disposed of in a deep underground repository, without any recycling.

Instead of adhering to the now unworkable program to establish a fuel recycling system, the government should designate direct disposal as a realistic option.

This is the time to fundamentally rethink the law, which was enacted more than two decades ago without much serious debate, taking into consideration the experiences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.


February 26, 2023 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Disposal of low-level radioactive waste from Fukushima crisis begins

To call that site a storage site is a misnomer. As there will also be incineration and conditioning of radioactive debris there. It would be more accurate to call it a processing and storage facility….. Temporary storage, supposedly for 30 years maximum….
tomioka 17 nov 2017.jpg
FUKUSHIMA – Disposal began Friday of low-level radioactive waste generated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, more than six years after the crisis was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.
A disposal site in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, accepted the first shipment of the waste, which contains radioactive cesium ranging from 8,000 to 100,000 becquerels per kilogram, and includes rice straw, sludge and ash from waste incineration.
The Environment Ministry is in charge of the country’s nuclear waste disposal, which totaled 200,000 tons from 11 prefectures as of the end of September. The majority of the waste, 170,000 tons, originates from the prefecture hosting the crippled nuclear power plant.
“I would like to ask the central government to move this project forward while taking adequate safety steps in mind,” a Tomioka official said. “Building mutual trust with local residents is also important.”
Under the ministry’s policy, each prefecture’s waste is to be disposed of. However, Fukushima is the only prefecture where disposal has started, whereas other prefectures have met with opposition from local residents.
In Fukushima, it will take six years to complete moving the stored waste to the disposal site, the ministry said.
The government “will continue giving first priority to securing safety and properly carry out the disposal with our best efforts to win local confidence,” Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa said at a news conference.
The government proposed in December 2013 that Fukushima Prefecture dispose of the waste at the then-privately owned site. The request was accepted by the prefectural government two years later.
To help alleviate local concerns over the disposal, the government nationalized the site and reinforced it to prevent the entry of rainwater.

November 18, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Reactor decommissioning plan cites ‘sarcophagus’



Reactor decommissioning plan cites ‘sarcophagus’

The government body charged with decommissioning the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says it remains committed to removing the fuel but sealing off the buildings that house them could be an option.

The Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation issued its latest report Wednesday on its plan.

It says 2 methods will be used to remove molten fuel depending on the condition of the reactors.

One entails filling the containment vessels with water to shield workers from radiation. The second does not use water.

The new plan also introduces the option of creating a “sarcophagus” to seal off the buildings with the nuclear fuel inside.

This method was used at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine.

The plan favors removing the nuclear fuel because of the long-term safety issues involved with a sarcophagus. It urges a flexible review of all available options.

It also notes the importance of addressing long-term public concerns about the plan.

The government and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, plan to decide by the middle of next year how to remove the fuel from the reactors. They hope to begin work at one of them by 2021.

Fukushima mayors react to decommission plan

Reacting to the new plan, the heads of municipalities around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have urged the government to stick to its promise regarding nuclear waste disposal.

The mayor of the city of Minamisoma, Katsunobu Sakurai, said the government and TEPCO must be made to abide by their initial pledge to remove the fuel from Fukushima Prefecture. Until this is done, he said, the evacuees won’t feel that it’s safe to return home.

He warned against using the word “sarcophagus” lightly. He said its mention only points out the inadequacy of decommissioning technology.

The mayor of the town of Namie, Tamotsu Baba, said a sarcophagus should not be considered because engineers are hard at work figuring out ways to remove the fuel.

He said all they can do is to have faith that the initial pledge will be kept, even if it takes 30 or 40 years to remove the fuel.

The mayor of the town of Okuma, Toshitsuna Watanabe, also urged the government and the utility to stick to their disposal promise.

July 13, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Low-level nuclear waste to be buried 70 meters underground: NRA

Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Authority pretends it will exist for 100,000 years!

A portion of low-level nuclear waste generated by nuclear reactors is to be buried at a depth of 70 meters underground until it is nearly no longer radioactive some 100,000 years from now, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said on May 25.

NRA officials announced the strategy as forming the organization’s key policy with respect to its regulatory standards.

The low-level nuclear waste materials to be buried are those with a high degree of contamination, including parts inside the reactor that are located close to the fuel rods.

According to the policy, reactor operators will be expected to oversee the waste for a total of 300 to 400 years after it is buried — at which time they will be expected to conduct regular inspections on potential leaks of radioactive materials into the groundwater.

In order to ensure that human beings do not come anywhere near the radioactive waste materials, the government also plans to implement policies restricting nearby excavations, as well as advising that the nuclear waste not be buried near spots that have the potential for large-scale damage — including volcanoes and active faults — for at least the next 100,000 years.

The NRA will begin soliciting opinions on May 26 for a period of around one month as it aims to formulate concrete regulatory standards in this regard.

May 26, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment