CNIC Statement: We Resolutely Protest the Revision of the Basic Policy on the Final Disposal of Nuclear Waste

— Amplifying mistrust and division; creating local flashpoints —

April 28, 2023

On April 28, the Cabinet approved a draft revision of the Basic Policy on the Final Disposal of Specified Radioactive Waste. The formulation of the basic policy is stipulated in Article 3 of the Act on Final Disposal of Specified Radioactive Waste (Final Disposal Act) and is an important statement that will determine the future direction of final disposal site policy. This is the first revision since 2015. The new basic policy, which clearly states the “responsibility of the government,” is extremely irresponsible in that it could lead to a widening and acceleration of local divisions. CNIC strongly protests the revision of the basic policy, which is problematic both in terms of content and procedure.

There are four new major additions to the update. First, the government will form a joint team with the National Organization for Nuclear Energy and Environment (NUMO), which is responsible for implementing the disposal project, and electric power companies for a nationwide tour. It is said that the team will make individual visits to municipal heads to share updates on final disposal. The second is the establishment of a new forum for discussions between the central government and local governments concerned. The forum will be used to discuss and examine, and aims to resolve, issues regarding and methods of handling applications for literature reviews. The forum will also apparently include briefings for the National Governors’ Association and municipalities that have shown a deeper interest out of those visited by the joint team.

Third, the government will make phased approaches to areas that have expressed an interest. The targets of the approaches will be local officials, such as those in chambers of commerce and industry and on local councils. The government will be able to lobby these officials to request that the municipality head, who has the authority to do so, apply for the literature review, the first step in the establishment of a final disposal site. The fourth is the establishment of a framework for cooperation among related ministries and agencies. A new Liaison Council of Relevant Ministries and Agencies and a Liaison Council of Local Branch Offices will be established to provide consultation and support to areas that have become the subjects of literature reviews on how to use the grant funds in accordance with local needs.

But these revisions are riddled with problems. I would like to criticize the revisions from four perspectives: expediency, secrecy, the targeting of local personalities, and the strengthening of financial inducements. Firstly, with regard to expediency, it seems that the government considers itself responsible solely for the planned and certain implementation of final disposal in order to “contribute to the proper use of nuclear energy for power generation,” which is the purpose of the Final Disposal Act. It is as if the government were thinking of final disposal policy as if they were somehow exempted from the responsibility for continuing to produce nuclear waste in the first place. How many Japanese people will sympathize with the arbitrary “responsibility” of a government that only wants to promote nuclear power?

The second problem is secrecy. The names of municipalities contacted by the central government will not be made public when a joint team of the central government, NUMO and electric power companies visits them or when discussions are held with related municipalities. Negotiations on an application for the literature review could possibly proceed in secret, with the risk of opaque decision-making that ignores local public opinion. In Suttsu Town, Hokkaido, a proposal to apply for a survey suddenly appearing without any explanation to residents, threw the local community into confusion. Looking back, Toyo Town in Kochi Prefecture was also split in two from 2006 to 2007 when the mayor of the town made a unilateral application for a literature review. Suttsu Town’s problem is similar in that community disruption has occurred due to lack of transparent decision-making. Has the government learned nothing from these mistakes? If they can’t do something publicly, they shouldn’t be doing it at all.

The third problem is the practice of targeting certain influential personalities in the area, such as those in the chamber of commerce and industry and local councilors. Intensifying outreach to certain groups and organizations that can place effective pressure on the head of the municipality, who has the authority to apply for the literature review, results in alienation and distrust among many the residents who do not participate in these groups or organizations. What is important is that many residents participate, engage in exhaustive discussions, and build consensus throughout the area. The phased approach by the government is an unfair approach that goes against this. There is a movement in Tsushima City, Nagasaki Prefecture, to apply for a literature review, but there is a risk of deepening divisions in the area if the national government makes requests to the local chamber of commerce and industry or the local council.

Fourthly, there is the issue of the strengthening of financial inducements. If the government intervenes extensively in the development of towns under the auspices of the government ministries and agencies through its subsidies for power source location areas, it is more likely that the focus of attention will shift toward how to use the subsidies rather than the safety of the study area. Discussions about safety should not be bartered off with grants. The focus on grants threatens to erode the spirit of resident autonomy. There are also concerns that friction with neighboring municipalities may intensify. Above all, discussions on high-level radioactive waste become dwarfed by those on the municipalities that receive grants. What needs to be done is not the strengthening of measures on grants, but discussions that include a review of policies that center on monetary incentives.

The process of revision of the basic policy is another problem. Revisions were first presented at a meeting of ministers concerned with final disposal on February 10. However, the Radioactive Waste Working Group (WG), a council of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of which CNIC’s Takano Satoshi is a member, held no discussions on the premise of a revision of the basic policy. Then, on March 2, the WG finally discussed the revised draft, but how meaningful is a discussion that takes place after the policy has been settled at a ministerial meeting? Decisions taken in an environment in which the council’s independence has been lost do not bode well for ample deliberations, and procedural fairness is adorned with question marks. It is hard to find any rational basis for such a hasty and abrupt style of decision-making. CNIC calls for the withdrawal of the latest policy revision, which brings mistrust and division to local areas and violates democratic procedures.


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