Canada moves ahead of Japan in finding nuclear fuel repository site

Selecting a site for a repository of “used” nuclear fuel, that is, highly radioactive nuclear waste generated after reprocessing “spent” fuel, is a formidable task for any government to grapple with. Even the US government has yet to resolve its repository site issue after a lost decade over a candidate site of Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

However, the Finnish government became the world’s first to issue a license for such a project on November 12, 2015. The government granted a construction license to waste management specialist Posiva for a used nuclear fuel encapsulation plant and final disposal facility at Olkiluoto Island.

Posiva has eclipsed Canadian efforts toward finding such a site, but World Nuclear News (November 3, 2015) reported that the country’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has completed the first phase of a preliminary assessment (“desktop studies”) for Central Huron in Ontario Province.

Surprisingly for Japanese, 21 communities, most of them in Ontario, where many of Canada’s nuclear power plants are located, asked for NWMO to conduct a two-phase preliminary assessment. Not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) mentality appears to be absent in those municipalities. Eleven of them were selected for further phase 2 studies that include field work, WNN said.

Japan’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NUMO) was approved by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and founded in October 2000 for the same purpose. In its 15-year history, NUMO found only one community, town of Toyo, Kochi Prefecture, that was interested in accepting feasibility studies. That was in January 2007. In April the mayor was not reelected.

METI’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) made it clear earlier in 2015 that it will shift the approach in favor of its and NUMO’s search for a site on their own without relying on good will from a willing local government.

An underground repository is typically 300 meters below ground.

ANRE’s plans call for conducting a general survey for seismic and other historical data for two years.

In his book titled Why Reprocessing?, Aiji Yamato (a former official at then-Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp.) says: “Japan is different from Scandinavia or Canada.” However, an eight-year research program prior to the NUMO creation concluded that Japan has “abundant area whose geologic strata would be stable over the next 100,000 years,” Yamato wrote.

ANRE plans to perform a geological survey for the next four years or so with a local government’s approval, which would be followed by 14 years of detailed research.

So, Japan appears to be some 18 years behind Canada after NUMO’s lost 15 years.

 

By Shota Ushio, freelance writer based in Tokyo

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