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2014年7月 4日 (金)

核廃棄物処分 「針路なき航海」から脱しよう

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nuclear waste disposal plans must not remain ‘aimlessly adrift’
核廃棄物処分 「針路なき航海」から脱しよう

Deciding on disposal sites for “high-level radioactive waste” that comes from spent nuclear fuel at nuclear power plants is a pressing matter.

Shunsuke Kondo has been appointed president of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO), the entity overseeing the selection of the sites and the construction of the disposal facilities. Kondo was previously chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. Eight of NUMO’s top 10 executives were replaced at the start of this month, including the previous president, who left his position before his tenure was up.

In a report compiled in May, an expert committee of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry detailed problems in the lack of progress made in the drawn-out process of selecting candidate sites for disposal facilities since NUMO was established in 2000. The report blasted the process as being “aimlessly adrift on the ocean.”

Bringing new faces to the executive lineup was a response to this criticism. For all intents and purposes, the move marks a fresh start. This reborn NUMO must work closely with the government to deepen public understanding of the disposal issue and make progress in selecting sites to host these facilities.

As a professor at the University of Tokyo, Kondo researched nuclear safety topics. When he was head of the Atomic Energy Commission, he visited many parts of the nation to hold talks with residents and local authorities to broaden his knowledge of the disposal facility construction problem.

At a press conference after being appointed to his NUMO post, Kondo indicated he planned to speed up efforts to make progress on this matter. “The nuclear waste problem should be resolved by the generation that created it and has responsibility for it. I won’t leave it for future generations to deal with,” he said. We have high expectations for Kondo’s leadership on this matter.

Lessons from abroad

Other nations have compiled plans to bury spent nuclear fuel and the high-level radioactive waste generated when it is disposed about 500 meters underground. By isolating this waste deep underground, its strong radiation can be blocked off for a very long time.

Finland and Sweden have already decided on their proposed disposal sites for nuclear waste. The business entities that will handle the disposal have earned the trust of residents in these areas by frequently explaining what the process entails. The governments in these nations also have carefully explained that the disposal sites will be safe and have taken other steps to reassure the public. This proactive support by these governments has been instrumental in getting the wheels turning on this issue.

The lack of such efforts by the government in Japan is the cause of the long delay in selecting disposal sites here.

Based on the law regarding final disposal of radioactive waste, Japan employs a method of selecting disposal sites from cities, towns and villages that have offered to host such facilities.

In 2007, the town of Toyo in Kochi Prefecture came forward as a candidate site to host a disposal facility, but it eventually withdrew its application as opposition to the plan spread among local residents. NUMO and the government were unable to come up with effective support for the town.

In its basic energy plan released in April, the government said the state “will take leadership and strengthen its effort to find proper solutions for final disposal of high-level radioactive waste.”

From now on, the government will narrow down the list of possible sites based on geological conditions and other criteria, and revise its method for encouraging municipalities to apply to host disposal facilities.

Many nuclear plants in Japan already have no more room to store spent nuclear fuel.

The government should quickly put a framework in place for selecting candidate sites to host final disposal facilities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 3, 2014)


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