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The outlook for the possible hosting of a final storage facility for nuclear waste in two Hokkaido municipalities remains uncertain, with Wednesday marking one year since a first-stage survey for the site’s selection started there, for the first time in Japan.

The town of Suttsu, along with the nearby village of Kamoenai, is undergoing the first-stage survey, known as literature investigation, to check whether it is suited to host a permanent underground storage site for high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants across the country.

The two municipalities are meeting strong resistance from residents and nearby local governments.

The government is seeking a location for the dump site, which will hold nuclear waste, or the remnants of spent nuclear fuel that has been treated, for a long period said to extend for 100,000 years.

The literature investigation, conducted by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan, or NUMO, will take about two years to confirm that there is no volcanic activity or active faults in the area by reviewing geological literature and data. The first-stage survey does not involve drilling.

Up to ¥2 billion in subsidies from the state will be paid to each location, as well as surrounding municipalities, for the first-stage investigation. The two municipalities plan to use the grants to set up regional revitalization funds.

Suttsu held a mayoral election last month in which the survey became a central topic of debate. Incumbent Mayor Haruo Kataoka, who decided to accept the first-stage research a year ago in line with what he felt was the will of the residents, won re-election.

However, his opponent, who called for a halt to the survey, gained about 80% of Kataoka’s vote count, suggesting that public opinion is still split.

The town government will decide whether to proceed to the second stage of the survey, called preliminary investigation, in a referendum.

Since Suttsu and Kamoenai expressed their willingness to accept the first-stage survey, the assemblies of some nearby municipalities have enacted ordinances declaring a rejection of nuclear waste and their governments have declined state grants related to the survey.

Suttsu and Kamoenai initially planned to have monthly opportunities for residents to exchange opinions on the issue, but the novel coronavirus crisis has limited such sessions to four each so far.

The second-stage survey requires the consent of not only the municipal mayors, but also of Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki, who is opposed to the investigation on the grounds that a prefectural ordinance rejects nuclear waste being brought to the prefecture.

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