Okiluoto in Finland has been chosen for the construction of the world’s first high-level radioactive waste depository, and construction is currently underway with the plant expected to go into operation in 2020. Japan, however, has yet to make a firm decision on a depository for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Whether you’re in favor of nuclear power or not, the disposal of radioactive waste and the decommissioning of reactors are issues that cannot be ignored. These issues need to be addressed positively, with consideration given to the safe management of nuclear power and energy.
1. Tackle the problem of nuclear waste squarely, and ensure the government exercises its authority in the selection of a depository for final disposal
With more than 50 nuclear reactors located in Japan, we cannot escape the issue of nuclear-waste disposal. In Japan, fuel used at nuclear power plants is reprocessed to extract uranium and plutonium, while the unusable portion is disposed of in a vitrified form. If nuclear power is used to supply half of all the electricity used by households, factories, etc., the amount of vitrified material produced for each Japanese person throughout their life (assuming a life expectancy of 80 years) would be the same size as approximately three golf balls.
Rather than releasing CO2 into the atmosphere and damaging the earth’s environment, it would clearly be far more eco-friendly to use nuclear power instead of emitting CO2 and to properly manage these “three golf balls.” However, little progress is being made in the selection of a depository location for final disposal. Japan has long adopted a passive approach to the selection of disposal sites, whereby it “receives offers from local governments,” but continuing with such a process would probably mean that a decision will never be made. With the help of strong political leadership, we who are alive today have the responsibility to move forward with the selection of site for final disposal.
2. Reduce nuclear waste, and by reusing it, create a nuclear fuel cycle that produces new energy
It’s no secret that Japan is a resource-poor nation. Japan only supplies 4% of its own energy, or 19%, which is still an extremely low figure, if nuclear energy is included in domestically-produced energy. As a result, Japan has pursued a nuclear fuel cycle policy based on extracting plutonium and uranium from nuclear fuel used at the country’s nuclear power plants and reusing (recycling) it as fuel. The nuclear fuel cycle has two key advantages: (1) Not only is nuclear waste used effectively and recycled, but (2) the amount of high-level radioactive waste that must be subject to final disposal is far lower than the once-through method of direct disposal.
To allow reprocessing to be completed within Japan, the reprocessing plant at Rokkasho in Aomori prefecture needs to be put into operation quickly. In addition, regarding fast-breeder reactors, which generate electricity while producing more nuclear fuel than is consumed, it would be desirable if the knowledge accumulated at the Monju Power Plant be employed to contribute to the commercialization of safe fast-breeder reactors not only in Japan but also overseas.
3. Prepare for the decommissioning rush by steadily accumulating technical knowledge
When a nuclear power plant is dismantled, large quantities of low-level radioactive waste are generated. In addition to research reactors such as Fugen and the Japan Atomic Power Company’s Tokai Power Plant, reactors 1-6 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and reactors 1 and 2 at Chubu Electric Power’s Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant have become the first commercial reactors to be decommissioned. To prepare for the decommissioning rush that is set to occur in the future as more and more commercial reactors are dismantled, it will be important to steadily accumulate technical knowledge and knowhow. If technical knowledge can be increased, it will probably be possible to win contracts for decommissioning projects overseas.
Basically, all forms of energy pollute the earth. Even solar power requires that mountains be flattened, cultivatable land be used, or greenery be removed over wide areas. Wind power, meanwhile, kills birds, generates low-frequency sounds, and destroys the ecosystems of mountains and seas. Thermal power pollutes the air, while nuclear power requires the final processing of nuclear fuel. Given the good and bad points of each form of energy, it is necessary to choose and implement energy policies that are kind to the earth’s environment, highly stable, and based on recycling.