Benches Made from NPP Radioactive Waste Installed in High Schools: Power Companies Promote Popular Understanding of “Clearance”

By Nishio Baku (CNIC Co-Director)

There is a system in place to make it easier for electric power utilities to dispose of low-level radioactive waste from their nuclear power plants (NPPs). In this system, the waste that emits a lower-than-designated level, the “clearance” level, of radiation is not treated as radioactive waste and related regulations are not applied. Nevertheless, while no longer subject to the regulations for radioactive waste materials, it cannot be denied that this is, in fact, radioactive waste.

In the decommissioning process of aged NPPs, part of the massive amount of steel waste that contains a lower-than-clearance-level of radioactive substances has been melted down and processed into bench legs and other items. The benches were installed in the premises of the electric power company’s office buildings and nuclear power public relations facilities as examples of recycled radioactive waste.

The clearance system will allow NPP operators to recycle such waste for any purposes (named “free release”), for example, for producing steel cans for soft drinks, or for making infant beds. When the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPCJ) introduced this system, they promised they would recycle the radioactive waste within the electric power industry alone until the time when the system becomes widely recognized in Japanese society.

Due to this promise, the utilities installed items made from radioactive waste in border areas between the industry and Japanese society, so that these items would be exposed to the eyes of the public, and the clearance system would become widely known.

Recently, however, utilities are installing these radioactive waste items in some locations outside their industry, such as universities, high schools and technical colleges. The May 14 issue of the Denki Shimbun (Energy and Electricity Daily) reported as follows.

“The Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC) is promoting a project to install items made of ‘clearance’ steel from its nuclear power plants in various places in Fukui Prefecture. In March 2020, the prefectural government formulated a plan called the ‘Reinan E Coast Plan’ with an aim to seek popular understanding of clearance of such waste. Reinan is an area in Fukui Prefecture where many nuclear power plants are located. Since then, JAPC has installed such items in seven places in the prefecture, including educational facilities and research institutes. It plans to increase the number of such places in the future. 

“In April 2021, JAPC installed a bench made of used ‘clearance’ steel from its Tokai Nuclear Power Plant in Ibaraki Prefecture, which is currently under decommissioning, at Fukui Minami High School in Fukui Prefecture. In the high school, students are learning about various problems involving nuclear power generation, such as disposal of high-level radioactive waste, and the subsidy system under the Three Laws for Power Development. (Ellipsis)

“In addition, JAPC installed similar benches made of such steel waste at Fukui University’s Bunkyo Campus, Fukui University of Technology, and the National Institute of Technology’s Fukui College in Sabae City, as well as Fukui University’s Tsuruga Campus, Wakasa Bay Energy Research Center, and Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s Atom Plaza in Tsuruga City.” 

The Reinan E Coast Plan is perfectly open about the objective of the plan as one “to promote activities to enhance people’s understanding of the clearance system, and to establish the system firmly in Japanese society as part of the industry’s efforts to foster the nuclear plant ‘decommissioning business.’”

To achieve this objective, the utility installed the benches made from radioactive waste in local high schools and colleges, forced them to hold bench-installation ceremonies, and urged a student leader to give a speech stating that the installed bench made them feel closer to nuclear power generation, and that dialogue on the topic would probably expand further among local residents. This kind of coercion is totally unacceptable.

Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) has recently sent an open letter to JAPC, jointly with the Kansai Campaign on Nuclear Waste and the Fukui Prefectural People’s Council Opposing Nuclear Power Generation, and received a reply on May 31. Asked if its installation of benches made from radioactive waste in schools and other facilities outside the nuclear power generation industry violates the rule set by the industry itself, the utility did not give a clear-cut answer and made the following excuse instead.

“We are recycling usable materials (roadbed materials, etc.) from nuclear power plants within our industry. When exhibiting such items, we carefully explain that the materials have derived from nuclear power plants, and having gained understanding of that, the items are exhibited in a form that makes it possible to distinguish them as a part of our PR activities.”

This reply indicates that there is a need to investigate a possible violation of FEPCJ’s public pledge, and at the same time, we must pursue the responsibility of the schools and the prefectural Board of Education that showed “understanding” of FEPCJ’s PR activities in allowing the NPP operator to bring its benches onto their premises. Based on this perception, we are determined to continue our efforts to tackle this problem in cooperation with the other two anti-nuclear organizations.

Behind FEPCJ’s move to chip away at its promise, it is actually the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) of the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which seemed to be playing the leading role in this move.

On April 14, the Nuclear Energy Subcommittee (NES) of the Advisory Committee for Energy & Resource Policy (ACERP) compiled a ‘summary of issues,’ in which it stated that it would implement its plan to publicize the clearance system in anticipation of a possible introduction of the free-release system in the future.

In fact, ANRE officials attended a meeting to promote Fukui Prefecture’s Reinan E Coast Plan, and explained to the local government officials about the budget measures and other matters involving the project.

In the first place, we are opposed to the electric power industry’s policy to exclude radioactive waste below the clearance level from radioactive waste materials regulations. There is no justifiable reason for either the clearance level or the method of exclusion. For this reason, the clearance system should not be implemented.

Moreover, it is totally unacceptable to force students, schools, and other educational institutions to participate in these advertising activities. We strongly protest such actions by the government, FEPCJ, JAPC and the Fukui prefectural government.


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