Japan Faces Another Type Of Nuclear Crisis — Where To Store All The Waste

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Japan doesn’t have a place to store radioactive waste from its reactivated nuclear power plants after looking for 17 years, according to a Sunday article in The Japan Times.

Japan’s national government spent the last 17 years trying to get a single prefecture or local government to voluntarily agree to host a nuclear waste disposal site. Their efforts have fallen flat, so the national government now plans to simply put the facility where it is most “scientifically appropriate.”

In an attempt to entice local authorities to accept the “scientifically appropriate” site, the national government will offer funding and economic incentives.

Japan has 18,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored in at its nuclear power plants pending approval of a final disposal site for the high-level waste. The government estimates that constructing such a storage facility would cost more than $33 billion and making the site safe from geological activity would be an exceedingly complex process.

“The first stage would be to research the seismological and geological history of a potential site, checking to see how frequently earthquakes and volcanoes in and around the area have occurred,” Iwao Miyamoto, director of the public relations at Japan’s Agency for Natural Resources’ Radioactive Waste Management Office, told The Japan Times. “The second stage would be on-site drilling to determine how porous the rock bed is, and the third step is a precision survey to determine if the site can handle an underground storage facility.”

Simply building the site would take an estimated 20 years.

“The first survey stage is expected to take two years, the second stage four years, and the final stage around 14 years,” Miyamoto said.

Building a nuclear waste storage site is increasingly important to Japan as the country brings its reactor fleet back online.

In 2011, the Fukushima nuclear plant was hit by an earthquake and then a tsunami, causing a meltdown and radiation leaks. No deaths or cases of radiation sickness were reported, but 100,000 citizens were evacuated from the area, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Prior to the disaster, the Japanese government planned to build enough reactors to provide 50 percent of the country’s electricity. Officials promised to replace nuclear power with wind or solar, but this caused the price of electricity to rise by 20 percent.

Japan shut down its nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the earthquake, but is now restarting at least 32 of the 54 reactors. Officials want nuclear power to account for 20 percent of Japan’s total electricity generation by 2030.

The nuclear shutdown made Japan a top importer of oil, coal and natural gas with government estimates of the fuel-importation costs placing it at more than $40 billion annually. Japan’s current government sees a revival of nuclear power as critical to supporting economic growth and slowing an exodus of Japanese manufacturing to lower-cost countries, but has faced popular pushback.

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