Did Two Hokkaido Municipalities Really Put their Names Forward for the High-Level Radioactive Waste Repository Selection Process? The True Nature of the “Literature Review”

By Nishio Baku, CNIC Co-Director

In August, the mayor of Hokkaido’s Suttsu Town suggested that the town should consider applying for the “literature review” that is carried out in the run-up to the selection process for the site of the high-level radioactive waste (HLW) repository. This was followed, in September, by the chamber of commerce of Kamoenai Village, also in Hokkaido, submitting a petition to consider applying for the “literature review” to the village council.

This “literature review” is a premise to the HLW repository selection procedure, to determine whether the location is suitable for selection as a candidate for the HLW repository. It is hoped that there will be around five to ten locations which will undergo this review. After the “literature review,” an “overview survey” is conducted, where boring and other activities are implemented in the most promising three to five candidate locations. This is followed by a “detailed survey” that is combined with the establishment of an underground research laboratory in the one or two “planned sites.” (The numbers of locations are those hoped for by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.)

The supposed “review”

Municipalities (cities, towns and villages) are able to apply for the “literature review.” The municipality may apply on its own initiative or may consent to an approach from the government. Government regulations preclude interference by prefectures (which include Hokkaido, Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto). The application is addressed to the organization implementing the “literature review,” the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO), the statutory corporation charged with executing duties related to the disposal of “specified radioactive waste,” which is high-level radioactive waste, transuranic waste (TRU) and other long half-life waste materials.

Thus far, no “literature review” has been implemented since the initiation of site recruitment began in 2002.

According to the NUMO pamphlet “Literature Reviews for Geological Disposal,” “A literature review consists of desk research based on literature and data including geological maps and academic papers.” One would suppose that the review would be carried out on literature that can only be obtained at some “desk” in the municipalities that had decided to accept the review, but looking at the list of “main literature and data to be used in the assessment,” these are all materials that are available at “desks” in the Tokyo headquarters.

So, what is the accepting local municipality supposed to do? The pamphlet states as follows: “NUMO will establish a base in the locality of implementation, and through ‘forums for dialogue’ and others will perform the core functions of, for example, promoting continuing dialogue with the locality, PR on the geological disposal project, explanations of the progress in the literature review, and materialization of the development vision for the locality.”

The Agency for Natural Resources and Energy website positions “the literature review as a part of dialogue activities.” Thus, “through the ‘literature review’ the municipalities will deepen discussion on such matters as the project and the impacts the project will have on the locality. As a result, in the case that the project is to proceed to the next stage, the ‘overview survey,’ a forum to hear the views of the local people will be conducted, in accordance with the law.”

So, we can see here that the “review” is nothing more than a “review” in name, and in fact the reality of the “literature review” is that it consists of manipulation of the local people for proceeding to the next stage of the disposal site selection, known as the “overview survey district” (or “repository candidate site” as it was known in the jargon of the former Atomic Energy Commission High-Level Radioactive Waste Panel before the Designated Radioactive Waste Final Disposal Act was enacted).

Grants for what?

To understand why moves toward applications for such a “literature review” take place, one needs to know that a “Grant for Power Source Area Measures” is made available, totaling 1 billion yen per year, or a maximum of 2 billion yen for a two-year survey period. Since the NUMO pamphlet states clearly that “no local work such as boring, etc. will take place” and therefore there will be no impact on the environment, this is a boon for municipalities who are suffering financial resource shortfalls.

However, to receive the grant, the projects for which the grant money will be used and their required costs must be declared. From the fact that the grant is received for only two years, it is very likely that the municipality will decide to construct buildings, and then will have to bear the burden of their maintenance thereafter. It seems that deciding on what will remain after the “literature review” is completed is a very difficult problem.

Withdrawal after just the “literature review”?

Even so, the reason why a number of municipalities have thus far tried to submit applications, and like Toyo Town, Kochi Prefecture, have actually applied (but all fell through due to opposition movements – the Toyo Town application being withdrawn due to the election of an opposition movement mayor) is that it is said that it is possible to withdraw after having just the “literature review” implemented. The municipality can accept the grant and get out without allowing the repository to be built.

The act governing the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste states, “The Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, when about to stipulate the location of an overview survey district, etc., must hear the views of the prefectural governor and the municipality’s mayor under whose jurisdiction the said overview survey district is located, and must fully respect those views.” Thus the government cannot enforce a decision that is in opposition to the views of the prefectural governor or mayor of the municipality. Over time, the government is able, however, to change the views of the prefectural governor and mayor of a municipality through such means as elections of local leaders.

Minister Kajiyama Hiroshi answered a journalist’s question at a press conference following the cabinet meeting on September 8 by stating, “Generally speaking, I believe that the governor and municipality mayor will make a judgement based on the will of the people at the time. The government will respect this judgement to the fullest extent possible, but I understand that whether that judgement is a permanent one or not is not something that the government is in a position to state.”

If it turns out that a literature review is initiated at Suttsu Town and then later followed by Kamoenai Village and others, in order for them to declare, “Look, we can get out of it,” it may actually be that they would be allowed to withdraw. If some locations are to be moved on to the overview survey district stage, it would be fine, from the government viewpoint, for any other locations to withdraw, and, in fact, if the other municipalities did not withdraw the government process might be bankrupt. But it is likely the two chosen locations will never be allowed to renege on their commitment.

If the government is really serious about the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste, it should stop fishing for candidate sites with grant money and start discussing why disposal is necessary in the first place.

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