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News Navigator: Will a north Japan town be selected as a nuclear waste disposal site?

Haruo Kataoka, mayor of the Hokkaido Prefecture town of Suttsu, is seen in this photo taken in the town on Aug. 13, 2020. (Mainichi/Yui Takahashi)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about where Japan will dispose of its nuclear waste.

    Question: Is the town of Suttsu in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido attracting attention over whether it will apply to become a final disposal site for nuclear waste?

    Answer: Yes. This is because Suttsu Mayor Haruo Kataoka announced in mid-August that his town is considering applying for a bibliographic survey in preparation for the selection of a final disposal site of high-level radioactive waste.

    Q: How is a nuclear waste disposal site used?

    A: Waste generated after plutonium and uranium have been extracted from spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors is extremely radioactive. In Japan, the government seeks to dispose of such waste in the ground at least 300 meters deep. However, there haven't been any prospects for a candidate site, which the national government has been publicly seeking since 2002.

    Q: How is a site selected?

    A: There are three steps: Through a bibliographic survey to study reports and data beforehand, which takes about two years; by conducting an outline investigation to check the geological features using a boring method, which takes roughly four years; and by using a detailed investigation for building an underground facility, which takes approximately 14 years.

    Q: Will subsidies be provided?

    A: The national government provides up to 2 billion yen (around $24.6 million) in subsidies in return for taking part in a bibliographic survey, and up to 7 billion yen (some $66.2 million) in return for conducting an outline investigation.

    Q: Why haven't any other municipalities applied?

    A: Disposal technology hasn't been established and safety concerns still remain. The Kochi Prefecture town of Toyo in western Japan applied in 2007, but this triggered a strong opposition movement, and it later withdrew.

    Q: Will the town of Suttsu become the final disposal site?

    A: There are arguments both for and against the move within the town. To proceed to the next step, both the mayor and the governor need to agree. But as Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki is in opposition, even if the town applies for a bibliographic survey, it cannot go on to take an outline investigation.

    Q: So why is Mayor Kataoka considering applying in the first place?

    A: The 2-billion-yen subsidy for taking the bibliographic survey is attractive for the town, which has an annual budget of around 5.6 billion yen. Kataoka's political view that "it is strange to not discuss about a final disposal site when there are reactors" is behind his thinking. Apart from whether filing an application is right or wrong, discussions on waste disposal and the selection process are certainly necessary.

    (Japanese original by Chie Yamashita, Hokkaido News Department)

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