Rough road ahead for gov’t to choose nuclear waste disposal site

Lager für radioaktiv belastete Abfälle sind in mehreren Präfekturen geplant. Verständlicherweise gibt es Widerstand.

Municipal officials of the town of Kami, Miyagi Prefecture, remove makeshift gates for the municipal road leading to a candidate site for nuclear waste disposal, on June 3, 2015. (Mainichi)
Municipal officials of the town of Kami, Miyagi Prefecture, remove makeshift gates for the municipal road leading to a candidate site for nuclear waste disposal, on June 3, 2015. (Mainichi)

SENDAI — A road leading to a candidate site for a nuclear waste disposal facility opened in the Miyagi Prefecture town of Kami after being closed for months during winter, while locals, including the mayor, remain strictly against the plan to bring radioactive waste into the town.

Town officials removed gates and chains set up in front of a campsite, the entrance to the municipal road leading to the candidate disposal site, at around 10 a.m. on June 3, the same date the gates were opened last year.

A 75-year-old local man who came to watch said, „I would come running here if the Environment Ministry were to visit to survey the site. Depending on circumstances I would not hesitate to stage a sit-in.“

The Environment Ministry picked the towns of Kami and Taiwa as well as the city of Kurihara as candidate municipalities in Miyagi Prefecture to host the disposal site for designated waste, which includes radioactive materials generated by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The Miyagi Prefectural Government has given approval for the ministry to conduct drilling surveys and other assessments, after which the ministry plans to narrow the candidate site to one municipality.

However, local residents began voicing concerns over the effects of a disposal site on the town’s farming industry. The Kami Municipal Government headed by Mayor Hirobumi Inomata then declared its opposition to the ministry’s decision, claiming that there were flaws in the disposal site selection process, including inadequate planning to secure sufficient space for the waste site.

In October last year, Kami residents blocked Environment Ministry officials, who had been dispatched to conduct a ground survey, from entering the candidate site by holding sit-ins. In the meantime, the ministry failed to start assessments in Kurihara and Taiwa — both of which requested simultaneous assessments in all three municipalities — before the snow season, and the municipal road in Kami closed for the winter.

The Kami Municipal Government has been working on countermeasures against the government’s plan, such as establishing an ordinance in December 2014 stipulating that construction of a disposal site requires permission from the town.

While the Environment Ministry held briefing sessions targeting residents of Miyagi Prefecture twice in the prefectural capital of Sendai, some 30 kilometers away from Kami, it was unable to hold such meetings in the town.

Meanwhile, Yasuhiro Muroishi, counsellor for the environment minister’s secretariat, went no further than saying that the ministry plans to conduct surveys at the candidate site as quickly as possible when conditions are met.

There is a total of 3,384 metric tons of designated radioactive waste in Miyagi Prefecture, including rice straw with concentrations of radioactive cesium over 8,000 becquerels per kilogram. While these waste materials are currently stored in front of farmers‘ homes and in greenhouse-type facilities, local residents have asked the authorities to remove them from their property.

At the same time, Miyagi Prefecture Gov. Yoshihiro Murai urged the national government to promptly decide what to do and begin its surveys.

The national government plans to build final disposal facilities for radioactive materials in Miyagi, Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures. The town of Shioya in Tochigi Prefecture, one of the municipalities where a candidate site has been named, is opposing the government’s plan. The Chiba Municipal Government has yet to respond to the national government on whether it will accept the selection of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Chiba Thermal Power Station as a candidate site. For Gunma and Ibaraki prefectures, candidate locations have not yet been named.