Revisions to Basic Policy on High-level Radioactive Waste Disposal
As noted in CNIC’s statement (cnic.jp/english/?p=6519), a ministerial meeting on final disposal of nuclear waste was held on February 10, proposals for revising the basic policy on high-level radioactive waste disposal were formulated, and public comments were solicited through March 12, 2023. During that time, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) also released “Regarding Stronger Efforts in Governmental Initiatives for Realizing Final Disposal of High-level Radioactive Waste.”
This comes against a background of no indications that the public will accept literature reviews outside of Suttsu Town and Kamoenai Village in Hokkaido, which have already embarked on the Literature Review stage. Suttsu Town Mayor Kataoka Haruo says he will not hold a town referendum on whether or not to proceed with an Overview Survey (the next stage) until a number of other localities also accept a Literature Review. This is why Japan’s government is applying stronger pressure. However, reports that the municipalities being targeted for participation in talks with the national government in these matters have “deep ties to nuclear power,” have offended the municipalities that are hosting nuclear power plants (NPPs). They assert that they also have an interest in and awareness of the issues involved. Though not venues for discussion as such, briefing sessions for municipalities on deep geological disposal scheduled for February 2 and 9 had to be canceled due to insufficient registration of prospective participants.
The effectiveness of the revisions to the Basic Policy is unclear, but the clarification that “the government will take responsibility for working toward final disposal” is a big change, given that in January 1998 the government didn’t even respond to the Federation of Electric Power Companies’ request saying “We would like the national government to take full responsibility for waste disposal since nuclear energy is being utilized under the government’s energy policies.” Moreover, this change can be said to have paved the way for the power companies to abandon their own responsibility.
Surveillance Camera Monitoring Interrupted at Rokkasho Recycling Plant
During maintenance work on a power supply panel on January 28, 2023, all of the lights went out in the cell where spent fuel is supplied to a shearing machine inside the preprocessing building at the Rokkasho Recycling Plant, plunging it into complete darkness. This resulted in monitoring by IAEA’s surveillance camera being interrupted for about two hours. When lights were turned off to check out eight locations of one of the plant’s two lighting circuits, the back-up light bulbs in each of the three locations on the other circuit that were to be used were discovered to be burned out. IAEA pointed this out to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on February 9, and it was announced to the public on February 22 when the NRA requested Japan Nuclear Fuel, Limited (JNFL) to report on its investigation into the cause and measures to prevent recurrences. A subsequent investigation also revealed that the light bulbs in question were no longer being manufactured.
At a regular press conference on February 28, JNFL President Masuda Naohiro stated, “We have heard that monitoring by the surveillance camera was disabled, so IAEA and the government of Japan will work to confirm that no spent fuel was misplaced during the time period in question.” He explained that after this occurrence, “The operators will perform patrols daily to check the lights, and if any bulbs are out, those will be registered as non-compliant and that information shared so that everyone involved in the company can be aware of the problems. This way a system will be created for monitoring the activities of each group under the supervision of the plant manager overseeing it all.”
Takahama Unit 4 Automatically Shut Down
Detection equipment in two places outside the Takahama Unit 4 reactor (PWR, 870 MW), which Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kanden) aims to operate beyond 40 years, detected a sudden abnormal drop in neutrons on January 30, initiating an automatic shutdown.
Repeated testing to reproduce the effect, identified one of the 48 control rods as having dropped out of position. When a cable linked to a device holding the control rods in place was checked, a temporary reduction in electric current was confirmed to have occurred in an electromagnet holding three control rods, including the one that had fallen. It appeared that the weight of other cables stacked on top of the cable conveying electric current to these electromagnets resulted in a poor connection, causing the device securing the control rods to fall off.
Kanden had the problematic cable cut off, restoring the link by a back-up route. It is also calling for other nuclear power plants to investigate whether their cables are similarly stressed.
Unjust Verdict in Lawsuit for National Compensation for Second-Generation Hibakusha
Hiroshima District Court (with Judge Morizane Masato presiding) ruled on February 7, 2023 to dismiss the claim by the children of atomic bomb survivors, called the “second-generation hibakusha,” in their suit seeking compensation from Japan’s government for violating Article 14 (equity under the law) and Article 13 (respect for the dignity of the individuals and the right to pursue happiness) of Japan’s Constitution in excluding them from aid under the Act on Support for Atomic Bomb Survivors. As his reason for dismissing the case, Judge Morizane said that it could not be considered “unfair discrimination.” The Japan Congress Against Atomic And Hydrogen Bombs (GENSUIKIN) issued a statement the next day, on February 8, with the following content.
This suit was filed in Hiroshima District Court on December 17, 2017 and in Nagasaki District Court on December 20 of the same year, led by Zenkoku Hibaku Nisei Dantai Renraku Kyogikai (National Liaison Council for Children of Atomic Bomb Survivors), and the ruling by Nagasaki District Court (Judge Amakawa Hiroyoshi presiding) on December 12, 2022 similarly dismissed the claim.
While pointing out that the possibility of harm to health could not be clearly denied and that it would be natural for the second-generation hibakusha to live with anxiety over their health, the ruling held that requesting measures to address the second-generation hibakusha’s health concerns was not a right guaranteed by Article 13 of the Constitution, with the judge noting that “health damage resulting from radiation from an atomic bomb is no different from any other damage caused by wars,” referring to a “war responsibilities” argument used in a 1968 Supreme Court ruling. Also, regarding the possibility of impaired health, he argued that failure to apply the Act on Support for Atomic Bomb Survivors could not be deemed unreasonable discriminatory treatment and that it could not be considered contrary to the principle of equity under the law provided for in Article 14 of the Constitution. He explained, “Possible genetic effects of radiation are a possibility in the sense that they have not been scientifically proven or disproven,” and the hibakusha referred to in the Act are “persons who were possibly directly exposed to atomic bomb radiation,” and that therefore there was a qualitative difference between atomic bomb survivors and their children in terms of the existence and accuracy of scientific knowledge.
GENSUIKIN places the blame on the national government, which has been slow to promote research to establish scientific knowledge in line with the challenges faced by the second-generation hibakusha. The government is clearly responsible for having delayed addressing the problems faced by the children of the hibakusha, and this ruling, in stating that it is within the discretion of the government to determine these matters, is reprehensible.
On the other hand, the ruling by Hiroshima District Court does not deny the possibility of radiation damage in second-generation hibakusha, and since it notes the discrepancy in the existence and accuracy of scientific knowledge, it does not deny the plaintiffs’ claims as unjustified. The Japanese government’s response to health concerns of the second-generation hibakusha, as also noted in the text of the ruling, has been insufficient thus far. However, in making consistent assertions of “no scientific basis” and “no genetic effects,” the judge failed to respond in a sincere manner to the needs of the second-generation hibakusha, who are themselves unable to point to scientific evidence regarding genetic effects of exposure. It must be clarified that the government bears responsibility for that. Also, for as long as these matters cannot be clarified and the possibility of effects is not zero, the government must take responsibility for the anxiety and medical care of the second-generation hibakusha.