CNIC Webinar Report: Problems with Japan’s Nuclear-waste Disposal Policy as Seen from the Literature Review Currently Underway in Suttsu Town, Hokkaido.
By Takano Satoshi (CNIC)
On March 18, 2023, CNIC held the second of its webinar series on “Critical Investigation of Japan’s basic policy on GX (green transformation).” It was titled “Problems on the government’s nuclear-waste disposal policy as seen from the literature review currently underway in Suttsu Town, Hokkaido.”
We invited Namba Hisashi, co-representative of a local citizens’ group A Nuclear-waste-free Suttsu for Our Children! (hereafter referred to as the citizens’ group) and asked him to make a speech. This citizens’ group is running a campaign against the literature review, the first step for establishing a final storage facility for high-level radioactive waste in the town. We also asked a member of the citizens’ group, Ohgushi Shingo, to make additional comments on their campaign.
Mr. Namba’s speech began with his remarks on the attractive points of Suttsu and his attachment to the town. He was born in Suttsu and lived there until he was 18. He then moved to Tokyo. His father was the owner of a seafood processing business in Suttsu, but died when Mr. Namba was 55. Mr. Namba then returned to Suttsu to take over his father’s business. The special products of Suttsu are various kinds of seafood, such as atka mackerel, red salmon, sea urchin, and salmon roe. He mentioned that he was very impressed by the beauty of the sea when he saw herring swarming to the Suttsu coast to lay eggs in the spring. This made him want to preserve the beautiful sea of Suttsu and leave the rich fishing grounds in Suttsu Bay for future generations. He went on to say that this is why he continues to oppose the government’s plan to construct a final repository for highly radioactive nuclear waste in Suttsu.
In fact, the youth division of the local seafood processing cooperative initiated the campaign against the literature review in Suttsu. On August 13, 2020, the Suttsu Town residents suddenly learned through local media that Mayor Kataoka Haruo was intending to apply for the literature review. One week later, the youth division of the cooperative organized an opposition group and started a signature campaign. They collected about 700 signatures at that time. In the following month, the group changed its organizational structure so that all the other town residents could participate in the movement. They also renamed their group A Nuclear-waste-free Suttsu for Our Children!
Mr. Namba said there are three reasons for opposing the literature review. First of all, it was the mayor’s arbitrary decision to apply for the review, made in complete disregard for the residents’ opinions. This was symbolized by his remark that “more than half of the town residents are in favor of the literature review, according to my intuition.” He had no perception that it was possible for him to apply for the literature review only if he had the mutual trust of the residents, carried out transparent decision-making in the usual way, and confirmed the local residents’ consent for the application.
Secondly, it is not certain if the planned repository is geologically safe. By holding lecture meetings and other research activities, the citizens’ group has conducted an independent investigation of the geological safety of the final disposal site. In this process, they came to realize that Japan, an earthquake-prone country, has a completely different ground structure from those of Finland and Sweden, which plan to host final repositories, For this reason, the group members became skeptical about the feasibility of constructing such facilities in Japan. They also became doubtful about the long-term safety of the final repository over the period of hundreds of thousands of years.
Thirdly, there is a problematic provision of the law on the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste. It stipulates that the government should listen to the opinion of the municipality head, who has the authority to decide on the permanent repository project, and respect his opinion. This provision, however, guarantees the municipality head only an opportunity to express his opinion, while it is the government that makes the final decision. In other words, the local government has no right to reject the project. On the other hand, the law stipulates that the national government is obliged to proceed to the next stage once it has started the literature review. This law is, therefore, very convenient for the government.
The next speaker was Mr. Ohgushi. He explained about the local divisions that have emerged in Suttsu. According to Mr. Ohgushi, local residents have a tendency to refrain from talking with each other recently to avoid arguments regarding the literature review. Those who support the literature review have stopped going to shops run by anti-literature review residents, and vice versa. Even at Suttsu High School, students were asked to refrain from speaking to the media about their opinions on the literature review because it might have a negative effect on their school grades. Even today, the mayor and the deputy mayor look away from the members of the citizens’ group whenever they come across them in the town.
Japanese society as a whole should pay more attention to the current situation in Suttsu, where local divisions are evident due to the government’s policy to force them to accept the permanent repository for nuclear waste. The citizens’ group must make efforts to resolve the division and we must support them to strengthen opposition to the literature review. Whether or not Japanese civil society is able to create a large wave of opposition in solidarity with the Suttsu citizens’ group is now being tested.
* The citizens’ group website can be seen at: kakugomi.no.coocan.jp/index.html. (In Japanese) The site gives information on the group’s activities thus far, and their bank account for accepting donations.