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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 August 28 - September 3  > Lack of disposal site for radioactive waste casts cloud over planned decommissioning of nuclear reactors
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2019 August 28 - September 3 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Lack of disposal site for radioactive waste casts cloud over planned decommissioning of nuclear reactors

August 28, 2019

With Tokyo Electric Power Company’s decision to decommission four reactors at the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant, a total of 24 reactors at commercial NPPs across Japan are now on the list to be decommissioned. However, at present, there is no available disposal site for radioactive waste generated when nuclear reactors are decommissioned.

The current situation illuminates the carelessness in the government nuclear policy which was also revealed with the issue of spent nuclear fuel management.

Waste generated from decommissioned reactors are categorized as low-level radioactive waste (LLW) and graded L1, L2, and L3 according to their radioactivity levels. In order to dispose of L1 type of LLW, the most radioactive among the three, it is necessary to store them 70 meters or more under the ground and kept under careful monitoring for 300-400 years.

Let us take a look at Japan’s first decommissioning project of a commercial NPP, in which Japan Atomic Power Company in 1998 decided to dismantle its Tokai NPP.

It is projected that the scrapping of the Tokai NPP will generate 27,000 tons of radioactive waste that needs to be kept under the ground. Concerning the least radioactive L3 waste, the Japan Atomic Power Company plans to bury them at its site located in Tokai Village (Ibaraki Prefecture) and is waiting for the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s approval of the disposal plan. However, the utility has no plan concerning L2 and L3 waste. This makes it impossible for the utility to initiate demolition work at the reactor although it initially planned to start the work in 2011.

NPP operators in Japan have no concrete plan in place for the disposal of decommissioning-related nuclear waste other than the JAPC’s plan for storage of L3 waste at the Tokai NPP. It is estimated that 487,000 tons of such radioactive waste will be produced if all commercial NPPs are actually decommissioned.

Iwai Takashi, former researcher at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, said, “You cannot assume that private companies will properly run a disposal site for L1 radioactive waste for 300 years. I think that the state should be held responsible for the disposal of nuclear waste, with full departure from nuclear power in mind. Disposal costs should be shouldered by NPP operators.”

Past related articles:
> No municipality should be placed under gov’t pressure to accept disposal sites for nuclear waste [August 5, 2017]
> JCP Kami demands transparency from nuclear research center [March 3, 2013]
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