Japan’s Long Road to Nuclear Waste Disposal

November 1, 2023|Nuclear

The proper disposal of nuclear waste is a critical challenge for countries that rely heavily on nuclear energy, such as Japan. Prime Minister Kishida’s pledge to revitalize the nation’s slumbering nuclear industry, shuttered by the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, underscores the necessity of finding a solution this decade.

More than 20 years ago, Japan began a structured approach toward the geological disposal of nuclear waste and formed the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NUMO) to manage this issue. Since then, the government has struggled to convince suitable municipalities to house the necessary infrastructure.

In recent months, there seemed to be positive momentum around locating a definitive waste storage location. A debate on whether to potentially host such a facility has unfolded on an islet in western Japan. The locality of Tsushima would have been the third to raise its hand as a host candidate in the last three years. However, in the end, turbulent local politics resulted in a stalemate.

Now, all hope rests with the remaining two candidate spots. Both are small settlements in Hokkaido with more than a few challenges, the biggest of which is legislation that effectively bans the movement of nuclear waste into the region. Finding a way around this roadblock, or another town to volunteer as a host, is now center stage in Japan’s nuclear industry.

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