The government said Tuesday it will consider pursuing a final storage site for nuclear waste that can be opened in the event that policies change or better techniques become available to deal with it.
Officials aim to include the plan in a revised basic policy on the final disposal of highly radioactive waste. The government is currently considering the vexed question of what to do with waste in the long-term, as some of it may need management for tens of thousands of years.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration wants to fire up nuclear reactors again following the hiatus caused by the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns, but public opinion remains opposed.
Critics accuse the government of pushing a return to nuclear without answering the question of where the waste will go.
Also on Tuesday, the Science Council of Japan, a representative organization of various scientists, rapped the government’s stance as “irresponsible,” urging it and power companies to develop concrete measures for handling nuclear waste as a prerequisite for restarting reactors.
To fend off such criticism, the revised policy will also declare that the “current generation” is not only responsible for generating the waste it will also take action on the storage question. However, it falls short of mentioning a time frame for deciding on the final storage.
“In principle, we grant reversibility regarding policies on final disposal . . . so future generations can choose the best way” given the likely emergence of new technology in times ahead, according to a draft document proposed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).
Finland is currently constructing the world’s first disposal facility for high-level radioactive waste. It decided in 2000 that the repository, in Olkiluoto, should be designed in a way that grants future generations access, while ensuring long-term safety.
As for how Japan would store its waste, a policy adopted in 2008 envisions reprocessing the waste, then vitrifying it and placing it deep underground.
But the revised policy is expected to leave open the possibility of other methods, too, including the direct disposal that has been opted for by Finland, Sweden and the United States.
This implies a possible review of Japan’s long-standing but stalled policy of a nuclear fuel cycle that aims to reprocess all spent fuel and reuse the extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel.
It would take a long time to build such a facility. Therefore the government is also seeking to expand storage capacity by constructing new interim facilities as a temporary fix.The revised policy will be adopted by the Cabinet by the end of March.
METI has proposed introducing a system in which the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, a promoter of nuclear power, acts as a third party in the choice of a final disposal site. But some experts who attended the ministry’s panel meeting Tuesday questioned that organization’s independence.
The process of finding local governments willing to host a final repository started in 2002, but there was overwhelming opposition and little progress was made.
The government now plans to choose candidate sites based on their scientific value, rather than waiting for municipalities to step forward.
The Science Council of Japan also suggested that waste be temporarily kept in above-ground dry storage for 50 years in principle, during which the government should try to build a consensus on the issue. It also called for national discussions on how to curb, or setting limitations, on the amount of nuclear waste to be generated.