Group Introduction Thirty years of protest against the construction of the high-level radioactive waste disposal facilities Nuke Info Tokyo No. 161

by Representative, Northern Hokkaido Network against the Invitation of Nuclear Waste Disposal Facilities, Osamu Azuma

Rally against the Nuclear Waste Disposal Facility

In Horonobe Town, Hokkaido, located in northern Japan at latitude 45º north and longitude 141º 50’ east, the underground disposal of high-level radioactive wastes resulting from the reprocessing of spent fuel generated by nuclear power plants, is being studied. Horonobe is the only place in Japan that hosts such a study.

Horonobe is a small town with a population of slightly more than 2,600. In the early 1980s, the town initiated efforts to invite nuclear-related industry to the area to halt the decline in population and revitalize the town. The town succeeded in inviting the research and storage facilities for high-level radioactive wastes in 1984. However, the project was frozen due to strong opposition from municipalities around the town and the Hokkaido population. As a product of compromise, the Underground Research Project started in April 2001 under the condition that no nuclear material would be brought in and only research would be conducted. In the municipalities around Horonobe, many citizen groups were established in the year when the nuclear waste issue became a serious controversy, and in January 1985, the Northern Hokkaido Network against the Invitation of Nuclear Waste Disposal Facilities was established as an organization networking those groups. (Several such organizations were formed across Hokkaido.)

Japan’s first small experimental nuclear reactor was commissioned in 1957, and in 1976, the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Project, which planned to produce plutonium and use it as fuel, became the core of Japanese nuclear policy. However, the issue of disposal of high-level nuclear wastes, which result from the nuclear fuel cycle, has remained unresolved. In 2000, it was determined that the wastes would be disposed of deep underground. The project has proceeded to date without determining the details of waste disposal.

Soon after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, neighboring three reactors out of six at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station suffered meltdowns. It was the world’s worst ever industrial accident. Today, as a result, none of nuclear reactors of the 54 that existed in Japan before March 2011 is in operation. Many people in this country are against the restart of nuclear reactors.

To determine the site for the disposal of nuclear wastes and thus enable a swift restart for nuclear reactors, the government shifted the disposal-site nomination system from a voluntary municipality self-nomination system to a government designation system.

The deep underground research project in Horonobe Town has been conducted based on an agreement that the research would be discontinued in about twenty years. However, the Independent Administrative Institution Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), which oversees the project, has been attempting to extend this period, and has begun to deny the agreement confirmed with local municipalities that the land hollowed out for the underground facilities would be reclaimed after the research had ended. There are still some people in Horonobe Town voicing the opinion that nuclear waste disposal facilities should be invited to the town. Concerns are growing that the town might be designated to host the disposal facilities as a result of unreasonable maneuvering of the project.

To make this situation that is occurring in Horonobe known nationwide, the Northern Hokkaido Network against the Invitation of Nuclear Waste Disposal Facilities began to hold the Horonobe Meeting for a Nationwide Gathering on Nuclear Wastes in August 2009 in order to develop a voice against the disposal facilities. In Japan, there are many active volcanoes, earthquakes are frequent, and underground water is abundant. Scientists seriously question the viability of the underground disposal method. Geologically speaking, the geological structure of Hokkaido is rather new, having been formed only about 100,000 years ago. The area around Horonobe Town is still experiencing deformation and tectonic activity. Below the surface in the area around Horonobe lie mudstones, which contain large numbers of fissures and great amounts of underground water. (The water includes both water from the ground surface and fossiliferous seawater. The daily average drainage volume from the underground research facilities between April 2012 and March 2013 was 310.4 cubic meters.) There are also gaseous emissions. That research into the disposal of high-level radioactive wastes, which need to be isolated for as long as 100,000 years, is being conducted in such a place, indicates a fundamental problem with Japan’s nuclear power policy.

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