• Kyodo

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A town and a village in Hokkaido said Thursday they will launch preliminary research into the suitability of hosting a disposal site for high-level radioactive nuclear waste.

Masayuki Takahashi, mayor of Kamoenai village, and Haruo Kataoka, mayor of Suttsu town, announced their decisions at respective news conferences, despite opposition from Hokkaido leaders, local residents and fishermen.

If either of the two municipalities undertakes the research — the first of a three-stage process to select a disposal site — it will be the first time local authorities have taken such action.

Like many other countries, Japan struggles to find a geological disposal repository for high-level radioactive waste.

High-level radioactive waste, produced as a result of the process of extracting uranium and plutonium from spent fuel, must be stored in concrete structures at least 300 meters below ground for permanent disposal so as not to impact human lives or the environment.

Municipalities that accept the research can receive up to ¥2 billion in state subsidies for around two years. But Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki and fisheries associations in the area have been opposed to the idea of hosting such facilities.

Kamoenai and Suttsu, approximately 40-kilometers apart, have been under financial stress due to the declining fishing industry and population.

In apparent protest against the municipalities’ move, a small fire was started at Kataoka’s home in the early hours of Thursday.

Police suspect the fire, which caused no injuries, was likely arson. Kataoka told the police that a Molotov cocktail was thrown into his house.

The central government released a map in 2017, which indicates the suitability of potential disposal sites across the country in different colors. Locations near volcanoes and active faults are deemed unfavorable.

According to the map, a wide area of Suttsu is evaluated as favorable, while only a small portion in Kamoenai is designated as suitable.

During explanatory meetings for local residents joined by officials of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, many residents of Suttsu voiced their opposition.

In the meantime, many residents of Kamoenai, closer to Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari nuclear power plant, voiced their support for hosting the disposal facility.

Other than the two municipalities, the town of Toyo in Kochi Prefecture had applied for research based on documents, but it withdrew the application in 2007.

Kataoka said in August that the town would consider applying for the suitability assessment for a disposal facility candidate site.

The Kamoenai chamber of commerce submitted a request to the village assembly in September for deliberations on whether or not to apply for the preliminary research.

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