Southwestern Japan town proceeds with nuclear waste site survey

Mayor Shintaro Wakiyama’s approval for a preliminary survey in Genkai, Japan, signals a critical step in evaluating the town’s suitability for a nuclear waste disposal site, amid debates over economic benefits and environmental concerns.

Mayor Shintaro Wakiyama of Genkai, southwestern Japan, approved on Friday a preliminary survey to assess the town’s suitability for an underground disposal site for highly radioactive waste, marking a significant milestone for a municipality hosting a nuclear power plant.

This state-led survey initiates the first phase of a 20-year process to designate a permanent storage site for nuclear waste. Genkai’s decision follows similar actions by only two other municipalities, reflecting the government’s ongoing struggle to secure suitable locations.

The approval, prompted by requests from local construction, restaurant, and accommodation sectors, comes with financial incentives, including up to 2 billion yen ($12.9 million) in state subsidies. The survey will scrutinize ground conditions and volcanic activity using geological data.

Initiated in 2020, preliminary site surveys in Hokkaido’s Suttsu and Kamoenai, northern Japan, have exceeded the planned two-year duration. Uncertainty looms over their progression to the second stage, as opposition from the Hokkaido governor casts doubt on the outcome.

In Genkai, proponents argue that the survey will bolster the local economy, leveraging subsidies and cooperation with Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s nuclear plant. However, some assembly members refute claims that financial incentives were the sole motivator, citing the town’s stable finances.

The disposal of high-level radioactive waste poses complex challenges, necessitating secure underground storage for tens of thousands of years. Currently, such waste is stored in metal containers at the Vitrified Waste Storage Center in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.

Genkai’s decision underscores the ongoing debate surrounding nuclear waste management in Japan and the delicate balance between economic interests and environmental safety.