Stop the rampant production of nuclear wastes – says Japan’s Science Council

The recommendation said it is essential to set an upper limit on the total amount of radioactive waste and to implement controls to prevent it from increasing without limits. 

Science panel recommends delaying burying radioactive waste September 12, 2012 THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, Jin Nishikawa contributed to this article. Citing the country’s geologically unstable archipelago as a threat, the Science Council of Japan is recommending that the government build temporary storage facilities to hold more than 27,000 cylinders of high-level radioactive waste.

The council on Sept. 11 completed a report that calls for regulating the total amount of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants and storing it temporarily.

The report pointed out the high seismic and volcanic activity beneath the Japanese archipelago threatens a burial site for the waste.

“There is a limit to what we can do with currently available
scientific knowledge and technological capacities” to search out
geological formations that will remain stable over tens of milleniums,
the council said.

The report recommended building facilities for the temporary storage
of nuclear waste, from which it can be removed anytime, although it
could be stored there for anywhere from decades to centuries.

Scientists should use that time to study the stability of geological
formations and develop techniques to more quickly reduce radioactivity
in nuclear waste, the recommendation said.
The SCJ is a government-affiliated body of academics that makes policy
recommendations. It submitted its report, which calls for a
fundamental review of the current final disposal policy based on
eventual burial in the ground, to the government’s Japan Atomic Energy

The government’s current policy specifies that all spent fuel from
nuclear plants should be reprocessed. It says the high-level
radioactive waste, generated during the reprocessing, should
eventually be buried at depths of 300 meters or more below ground in
Japan. This reprocessing policy is currently under government review,
which started after the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power
plant in March last year.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan in 2002 started
accepting candidacies by local governments willing to host a final
disposal site. Only one municipality came forward in 2007, and it
later retracted its offer.

To break the impasse, the AEC in September 2010 asked the SCJ to draw
up a recommendation on the matter. The SCJ has since held
deliberations in a study committee.

The SCJ’s report also pointed out a lack of urgency at controlling the total amount of nuclear waste. It said the fear of an increase without limits lies at the bottom of public distrust of the government’s nuclear power policy.
The recommendation said it is essential to set an upper limit on the total amount of radioactive waste and to implement controls to prevent it from increasing without limits. It said the current effort to
decide on the ratio of electricity to be generated by nuclear energy
in the future without discussing a cap on the total waste generated
was tantamount to simply postponing the issue and called on the
government to seek public input.

The government’s current nuclear waste disposal policy assumes that
the waste can be disposed of safely using established techniques. The
latest SCJ recommendation, which said currently available technologies
involve uncertainty and risks, is a fundamental challenge to that
assumption and is a call for policy change.

The SCJ recommendation will be discussed by an AEC panel to revise the
government’s Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy by year’s end. If any
part of the SCJ recommendation ends up in the revised framework, it
will be reflected in the government’s policy.

In the past, the AEC was responsible for determining the policy.
Following the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, however, it
was decided that the government’s Energy and Environment Council will
first draw up the proposal, and that the framework will be drafted
only on that basis.

The council will decide whether to incorporate the SCJ proposal in the
Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy.
The SCJ recommendation pointed out that expert opinion remains divided
over the assumption that it is possible to isolate
radioactive-contaminated waste with certainty even in the event of an
unimagined contingency or disaster. It will be difficult to select a
final disposal site without forming a consensus during careful
discussions by experts and sharing it through a broad public

Some countries overseas have decided on putting nuclear waste in
temporary storage facilities instead of burying it immediately in a
final disposal site. Canada, for example, in 2007 decided to store
radioactive waste temporarily for about 60 years prior to its final

France plans to design a nuclear waste disposal facility so that waste
remains recoverable for at least 100 years.

Japan possesses more than 2,650 cylinders containing vitrified
high-level radioactive materials. It also has the equivalent of 24,700
cylinders of spent fuel at nuclear power plants. The amount of waste
is expected to grow if the government decides to move toward zero
nuclear power generation and to bury spent fuel directly in the ground
without reprocessing it.

Temporary storage means passing the resolution of nuclear waste
disposal to future generations. Even discussions on a storage site
have yet to start. It is vital for policymakers on nuclear issues to
offer solutions to the waste disposal problem.


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